At the VR Storytelling Meetup last night, an interesting conversation with the other panelists got me thinking about frame rates again. Apparently, for filmmakers shooting live-action 360º video, the high frame rate required for playback in a VR device can be a bit of an obstacle. Not just technically, but psychologically: it’s a turnoff for the audience.
I felt that emotional turnoff when I finally saw Peter Jackson’s first Hobbit movie at 48 frames per second. It was astonishing and beautiful in the sweeping exterior shots. But when it was just characters sitting and talking, it felt… fake. I found myself scrutinizing the makeup, looking for flaws and finding them. At the time I attributed it to a cultural bias: because I grew up in an era when high quality entertainment came in the form of 24p films, and cheesy soap operas were 60i video, I must subconsciously associate high frame rates with low quality.
But what if there’s more to it than that?
In a recent interview about Pearl, Patrick Osborne pointed out that simplifying the visual style, removing texture and detail, leaves room for the audience to put themselves into the characters. It lowers a barrier to empathy. Scott McCloud said as much in Understanding Comics. This is why I’ve always preferred non-photorealism over realism. It’s what you leave out that counts.
What if a similar mechanic is at work around the question of frame rates? The secondhand report from the live action VR filmmaker was that at 60fps, it felt too obvious that the people were actors. You could look at a background character and tell instantly that they were pretending. Leaving aside the possibility that it may have just been bad acting: is it possible that the high frame rate itself lets you see through the ruse? Could it be the density of information you’re receiving that pushes your perceptiveness over some threshold, and makes you a sharper lie detector?
And if that turns out to be the case: how should filmmakers respond?
On the YouTube version of Pearl, we got a few comments like this:
Well, the long wait is over. If you have an HTC Vive, you can now download the VR version of Pearl via HTC’s new portal, Viveport. Enjoy!
Pearl is one of twenty finalists for the Future of Storytelling Prize! Now’s your chance to vote for Pearl!
In other news, we’ll also be showing Pearl at the Kaleidoscope VR Summer Showcase, which travels around the world to London, Seoul, Berlin, New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. I’ll be at the SF event on September 30th.
Pearl has also been nominated in three categories (Narrative, Mobile, and Original Score) for the Virtual Reality Foundation’s third annual Proto Awards, coming up on October 8th. The nominees all look amazing. I can’t wait to meet them!
Pearl will have a big presence at SIGGRAPH this year! We’re doing our making-of presentation in a Production Session on Sunday, July 24th from 10:45-12:15, and showing it on the Vive in the VR Village all day from Sunday through Thursday. Pearl will also be shown at the Appy Hour event on Wednesday, July 27th from 5-7 pm.
I’ll only be there Sunday-Tuesday, but I’m sure looking forward to it!
Banana Frog, June 2: The Making of Google Spotlight Stories’ Short Film: Pearl
Nerd Reactor, June 2: Patrick Osborne on ‘Pearl’ VR-animated short and life after Disney
Cartoon Brew, June 1: Nine Can’t-Miss Events at Annecy 2016
iAnimate Podcast, May 31: Interview with Animator & Director Patrick Osborne
Fast Company Design, May 27: Don’t Be Surprised If Google’s New Animated Short Wins an Oscar
Beyond the Cartoons, May 22: Patrick Osborne’s ‘Pearl’ Launched at Google I/O Conference
The Annecy Animation Festival will have a flurry of VR demos and presentations this year, including recent work from Google Spotlight Stories, Aardman, Nexus, Penrose, Baobab, and more.
Several directors and producers from Google Spotlight Stories will discuss their experiences on a panel on Monday, June 13 at 6pm.
Our own short Pearl, as well as Penrose Studios’ beautiful Allumette, will be shown on Tuesday, June 14 from 10am to 5pm.
The next Spotlight Story, Nexus’ charming Rain or Shine, will have its worldwide debut alongside NFB’s Minotaur on Wednesday, June 15 from 10am to 5pm.
And the thoroughly fun creative VR painting app Tilt Brush will be available for live demos on Thursday, June 16 from 9am to noon.
And oh yes, lots of good old linear, non-interactive rectangular films will be shown at the festival too! Here’s the full program. I’ll be there Sunday through Thursday. Vive le lapin!
This just in: next Wednesday, June 1, we’ll be screening “Pearl” in 2D, 360º and VR at an SF-SIGGRAPH event in San Francisco. We’ll also be doing a talk with some behind-the-scenes footage. Seating is limited, so if you’re in the Bay Area and want to attend, sign up now!
The short I’ve been working on for the past year finally goes live today! It should play nicely on any iPhone, iPad or Android device made in the past few years. Here are all the ways to see it:
If you’re on iOS: download the Google Spotlight Stories app.
If you’re on Android: visit Google Spotlight Stories using the YouTube app.
(If you’re on a desktop computer or older device, fear not: you can still see Pearl, as a non-interactive 360º video. But the experience is made for mobile, so that’s really the best way to see it.)
Whatever device you’re using, I recommend plugging in your very best pair of headphones so you can enjoy the 360º ambisonic sound and music!
It’s been wonderful to watch people react to “Pearl” as we take it out on tour. Here are some of the nice reviews and interviews that have come out since our debut at Tribeca:
USA Today, May 17: Google to show off animated VR short at I/O
Cartoon Brew, May 14: Observations from the VR Front: ‘Pearl’, ‘Invasion!’, and ‘Allumette’
Filmmaker Magazine, April 22: Tribeca 2016: Patrick Osborne on Winning an Oscar and his Animated VR Piece Pearl
The Verge, April 22: The best virtual reality from the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival
The Verge, April 21: The brains behind Pearl on bringing Google’s new Spotlight Story to Tribeca
Inverse, April 18: Google’s VR Film ‘Pearl’ Combines Disney Charm and Cutting Edge Tech
Variety, April 16: Google Shows Off First Spotlight Story on HTC Vive at Tribeca