Concept image from Patrick Osborne's "Pearl." (Click to enlarge.)
Concept image from Patrick Osborne’s “Pearl.” (Click to enlarge.)

Google’s annual I/O developer conference was an animated affair this week, as the company announced a significant expansion of its interactive shorts program called Spotlight Stories, including new projects from Feast director Patrick Osborne and Aardman Animations.

Produced through Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) group, the Spotlight Stories attempt a new kind of immersive, 360-degree film experience by using the sensory inputs of mobile devices. The group has produced three animated projects to date: Jan Pinkava’s Windy Day, Mark Oftedal’s Buggy Night, and Glen Keane’s Duet.

Google announced at the conference that the shorts, previously available only for Moto X and Moto G users, will now be available to all Android users on the Google Spotlight Stories app. An iOS version of the app is expected to follow.

While a new live-action short was debuted at the conference—Help by Justin Lin (Fast and Furious franchise)—the big news was the illustrious slate of animation artists and companies who have committed to produce upcoming Spotlight Stories. If there was any doubt about the future of interactivity in animation, one only needs to look at all the A-list artists who are experimenting with interactive content at Google and Oculus’s similar Story Studio group.

The headliner amongst Google’s announced projects is this year’s animated short Oscar winner Patrick Osborne, who jumped ship from Disney following Feast. His Google short Pearl will take place entirely in a car, and will use a musical format to explore the theme of “gifts we inherit from our parents, both tangible and intangible.”

Patrick Osborne Talks Disney’s Feast

Osborne’s departure from the Mouse continues the troubling brain drain at Disney’s animation division and its inability to retain key talents. The company also lost John Kahrs, the director of its previous Oscar winner Paperman, and Jeff Turley, Paperman art director and Feast production designer, to Paramount’s feature animation division.

At the same time as the Osborne announcement, Google also announced new shorts from Shannon Tindle, who came up with the idea for Laika’s next film Kubo And The Two Strings and had been the film’s original director, as well as two British studios—Aardman Animations and Nexus Productions:

  • Emmy Award—winning artist ​Shannon Tindle​ is currently directing On Ice which is being made with Evil Eye Studios in San Francisco and is due for release this year. On Ice tells the story of an over­the­top, sci­fi themed ice show and its star, who suddenly finds he has competition for the spotlight from an unlikely rival.
  • Aardman ​co­founder and Oscar-nominated director ​Peter Lord​ will oversee Special Delivery, which is being directed by ​Tim Ruffle​ and is tied to the holiday season. Set in an inner-city housing project, a janitor discovers an intruder on Christmas Ever and chases him around the buildings. Viewers will have the option of following the janitor, the intruder, or peep into the homes of building dwellers.
  • London­-based studio ​Nexus Productions (nominated for an Oscar in 2008 for This Way Up)​ is also working on an upcoming Google Spotlight Story, with ​Chris O’Reilly​ as creative director on the project.

The Spotlight Stories group also unveiled their Story Development Kit (SDK), which will enable other studios to create custom projects for the Google Spotlight Stories app.

“​With the SDK, an animator can build a story using familiar tools (e.g. Autodesk’s Maya) and set up an interactive story in an intuitive way,” said Rachid El Guerrab, ATAP’s technical project lead for Google Spotlight Stories. “A lot of work is going into our new ‘film language,’ and how we introduce creators to thinking in 3D, in 360 degrees, with a free camera, and with viewer­based pacing. The SDK also offers various tools to help storyboarding, music and sound design, publishing, testing on phones, etc.”

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