Google Spotlight Stories, the experimental unit of Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects group (ATAP) that explores immersive and interactive 360 storytelling, is shutting down after six years.
The news of the division’s shutdown became known this evening when Karen Dufilho, the executive producer of Google Spotlight Stories, sent out the following emailed statement:
As many of you know, 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. The opportunity to contribute to story, animation, and tech has been like winning the lottery. You’ve all played a part and I’m so so proud of the work we’ve done together. Congratulations! My deepest gratitude to all of you.
The studio had released 16 shorts to date, including projects from filmmakers like Glen Keane (Duet), Jorge Gutierrez (Son of Jaguar), Aardman (Special Delivery), and Jan Pinkava (Windy Day, Piggy). Its last released production, John Kahrs’ Age of Sail, premiered last August at the Venice Film Festival.
One of its films, Patrick Osborne’s Pearl, earned a historic first, becoming the first short created for vr to earn an Academy Award nomination for best animated short. Pearl also won an Emmy for Outstanding Innovation in Interactive Storytelling.
It’s unclear at this point how many jobs will be lost because of the shutdown, since individual directors set up custom units for each project, and most of the crew would disband after each film was completed. Former Pixar director Jan Pinkava was the unit’s full-time creative director.
Google’s entry into interactive storytelling and immersive animation began almost accidentally with their purchase of Motorola Mobility in 2012. Eager to explore the untapped potential of phones as an experiential device, they launched the open-ended ATAP to foster innovation and develop next-generation concepts. Spotlight Stories is one of the ideas that has emerged out of ATAP, alongside complementary technologies like Project Tango.
It marks the end of an era when tech companies invested heavily in vr animation content with open-ended non-monetary goals to develop the technology. Facebook, too, launched a similar initiative — Oculus Story Studio — which it shuttered in May 2017.