In a little over two months since its original release, director Patrick Osborne's Pearl, released as part of the Google Spotlight Stories series, has become a sort of standard-bearer for 360-degree storytelling. (We liked it so much we made it our Video of the Day.) It wasn't exactly a breakout project for Osborne, who had already won an Oscar for his widely admired animated short "Feast" (2014). But it was an artistic breakthrough that represented an accomplished creative mind coming to grips with the narrative possibilities of a new kind of moving picture. For instance, a 360-degree movie has no frame around its picture and no good way to cut — well, that's what some people said, anyway. But Osborne found a way to frame a shot and make an edit without disorienting the viewer.
At a SIGGRAPH press event held by Autodesk, Osborne spoke to journalists about the challenge of the project, which included extensive previs in Maya. Watch "Pearl" on YouTube or, for an even better experience, via Google's Spotlight Stories app, then read these words of wisdom gleaned from his presentation.
Remote collaborators are your friends. Pearl was the first project Osborne worked on with no actual office where the work took place. Generally, animators worked from home — a perk that helped him bring on board some top talent. Osborne was lucky, in a way, that DreamWorks had recently closed its PDI animation studio, as around eight ex-PDI animators were able to work on the project.
Make it specifically a sit-down or stand-up experience. By setting the point of view inside a car, Osborne ensured that the audience could remain comfortably seated, as if in the car's passenger seat, during the experience, rather than feeling they should be standing or walking around.
When your movie is frameless, look for other ways to frame a shot. Another advantage of having Pearl take place in and around a car was that the environment gave Osborne a convenient hook for visual storytelling and composition. For example, the windows of the car created frames for isolated bits of action within the 360-degree environment that underscored their importance to the overall story.
Audio is important for video. It's crucially important for 360-degree video. Because it's important that audio be properly spatialized for genuinely immersive 360-degree viewing, a 3D tetrahedral mic — Core Sound's TetraMic — was used for location recording to make sure Pearl's sound was as dimensionally accurate as possible.
Previs/storyboard video clip shared by Patrick Osborne and Autodesk. Watch the full presentation below.
Those blocky characters might not look like much — but you still need previs. The crude animation created in Maya featured chunky, blocky characters that didn't exactly inspire confidence in the finished product. Still, they allowed Osborne to preview the full 3D experience in a "fake VR version" that could be checked and double-checked on the phone. That took on special importance since "there is no VR process where you get to see cuts," Osborne said.
For more on Pearl, watch this video of Osborne's full SIGGRAPH Production Session, provided by Autodesk.
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