Last week, Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects group released the second animated short, Buggy Night, in its Spotlight Stories, a series of interactive mobile-specific animated films available on Moto X phones. Like the first film in the series, Windy Day, which debuted last October, the new short relies on spatial awareness and the sensory inputs of a mobile device to create a distinctive storytelling experience.
Readers would be justified to express skepticism at the words ‘interactive’ and ‘animation’ being used in the same sentence. The concept has been touted often, yet rarely executed in a manner that suggests it could become a viable alternative to linear entertainment experiences. These shorts have finally proven, to me at least, that there is a promising future ahead for interactive animation and immersive worlds where multiple stories can unfold at the individual viewer’s pace, with no two viewing experiences alike. While it still requires some imagination to see where this could all go, and how it might eventually figure into our emerging augmented reality environment and mixed digital-physical world, the idea no longer seems as far-fetched and impractical as it once did.
Before we imagine the possibilities, let’s look more closely at the pathbreaking animated shorts that stand before us today. The stories of both Windy Day and Buggy Night are simple but effective ideas designed to explore the interactive concept: in one, a mouse loses his hat on a windy day, and in the other, a group of bugs attempt to hide from a hungry frog. Since most readers of this site will not have a Moto X readily available to experience these shorts, simply imagine that you are standing in the middle of an animated scene. The action takes place all around you in a 360 degree space. Anywhere you turn your phone—left, right, up or down—could potentially reveal something happening. The film’s running time depends entirely on how often you, the viewer, chooses to move your camera—the more you move it, the longer it takes to finish the story. This video gives a sense of the physicality of the viewing experience: