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Google Shuts Down Its Spotlight Stories VR Film Studio

Google is shutting down its Spotlight Stories immersive entertainment unit, according to an email sent out by Spotlight Stories executive producer Karen Dufilho Wednesday evening.

Google Spotlight Stories is shutting its doors after over six years of making stories and putting them on phones, on screens, in VR, and anywhere else we could get away with it,” Dufilho said in her email sent to supporters of the studio.

A Google spokesperson acknowledged the shut-down in an email, sending Variety the following statement:

“Since its inception, Spotlight Stories strove to re-imagine VR storytelling. From ambitious shorts like ‘Son of Jaguar,’ ‘Sonaria’ and ‘Back to The Moon’ to critical acclaim for ‘Pearl’ (Emmy winner and first-ever VR film nominated for an Oscar) the Spotlight Stories team left a lasting impact on immersive storytelling. We are proud of the work the team has done over the years.”

Google’s spokesperson didn’t address questions about layoffs associated with the move, but a source with knowledge of the situation told Variety that staffers were given a chance to look for new positions within the company. Most artists who had been working on projects for Spotlight Stories were thought to be contractors on a by-project basis.

Spotlight Stories originally began as a group within Motorola, tasked with exploring the future of storytelling for mobile devices. The group then became part of Google’s Advanced Technologies and Products (ATAP) group, and went on to produce a number of 360-degree videos and VR experiences with creators like Glen Keane, Justin Lin, Jorge Gutierrez and Aardman Animation, the makers of “Wallace and Gromit.”

“Pearl,” a Spotlight Story from Patrick Osborne, the director of Disney’s Oscar-nominated short film “Feast,” was nominated for an Academy Award, and won a Creative Arts Emmy for Outstanding Innovation in Interactive Programming in 2017. Most recently, Spotlight Stories released “Age of Sail,” an animated short film directed by Oscar-winning animator John Kahrs.

Google is said to have invested significant amounts of money into Spotlight Stories over the years, without giving the group a mandate to monetize their works. However, while Spotlight Stories films pushed the medium forward, the group didn’t necessarily improve the fortunes of Google’s VR efforts, with the company struggling to find an audience for its Daydream VR headset.

Update: 3/14: This post was updated with a statement from Google.

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