Category Archives: animation

more “Age of Sail” news

Wow, it’s been a busy few weeks since we launched “Age of Sail“!  Hard to keep track of all the news, but here are a few highlights…

It’s been nominated for four Annie Awards

For the first time, the Annie Awards will honor animated VR productions. Vying for the prize are “Age of Sail” by Google Spotlight Stories and Broadreach Pictures; AtlasV’s “BattleScar”; “Crow: The Legend” by Baobab Studios; “MindPalace” by Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg GmbH; and Polyarc’s “Moss.”

In addition to the VR bid, Google Spotlight Stories’ “Age of Sail” came away with three other nominations, including character animation in an animated TV/broadcast production (Sikand Srinivas); character design in an animated TV/broadcast production (Bruno Mangyoku); and production design in an animated TV/broadcast production (Celine Desrumaux and Jasmin Lai).

Gnomon released the video of the making-of talk that John Kahrs and I did. (John’s part is not to be missed: a life lesson in thoughtful, personal filmmaking.)

Watch The Making of Google Spotlight Stories: ‘Age of Sail’ from Gnomon_School on www.twitch.tv

And AWN just ran a nice interview with me and my partner-in-crime, Chromosphere’s Theresa Latzko, about the art and tech challenges of the ocean, the look, and more.

Still reading?  Really?  Well, here’s some other nice press, about both VR and cinematic cuts:

 

Age of Sail launches today!

The show we’ve been working on for more than a year is finally out in the world, in all its forms!  You can see it:
 

“Age of Sail” was directed by John Kahrs, and produced at Chromosphere, Evil Eye Pictures, and Google Spotlight Stories.  Working on this story, with this crew, has been an unforgettable experience. I’ll have lots more to say about it in future posts, but for now: enjoy the show!

Coming to VIFF this weekend!

New Realities Image

This just in: I’m coming up to Vancouver this weekend for the Vancouver International Film Festival’s “VIFF Immersed” event. We’re showing Age of Sail (a Canadian premiere!) and Back to the Moon in VR.  I’ll also be doing a talk about both projects in the “New Realities in Storytelling” conference, Saturday September 29th from 3:30-4:15 in the Reliance Theatre at Emily Carr University.  Looks like there’ll be lots of other interesting VR-related talks happening all weekend!  Here’s the full conference program.  The VR exhibition will be running from Sunday to Tuesday in the “Hangar” building at the Centre for Digital Media. Tickets are available here.

Age of Sail premiering at the Venice Film Festival!

John Kahrs VR Short ‘Age of Sail’ Premiering at Venice Film Fest

But who’s that guy with the beard, and why does he keep blocking the screen?

Back to Annecy (and the Moon)

I’m off to Annecy for another week packed solid with VR demos, film screenings and talks with the Google Spotlight Stories crew! I’ll be on a panel called “VR: the New Animation Playground” on Wednesday at 11am. We’ll be showing four projects at the Bonlieu Salle de Création: “Isle of Dogs: Behind the Scenes in VR” (Wes Anderson, with Felix & Paul Studios), “Piggy” (Jan Pinkava and Mark Oftedal), “Back to the Moon” (FX Goby and Hélène Leroux, with Nexus and the Google Doodles team) and also a sneak peek of the story I’m working on right now, “Age of Sail” (directed by John Kahrs, in collaboration with Chromosphere).  The creators will also be doing a panel Wednesday at 6pm: “Animation Everywhere!”

If you’re on that side of the planet, come hang out! (But bring an umbrella, I hear it’s gonna be raining all week!)

Holy Fificrd! Premo won an Academy Award!

One of the highlights of my time at DreamWorks was getting to help an amazing team of animators design their next-generation animation software, Premo. The software we’d been using up to that point, Emo, was originally written at PDI in the 1980’s. While a lot of talented engineers had improved it over the years, there was only so much they could build on top of a foundation so old that it predated the GPU! We often dreamed about what the ideal animation tool would be like, if we could somehow start again from scratch.

Incredibly, in 2008, we got the opportunity to do exactly that, and the idea for Premo was born. Rex Grignon led the design effort, and brought on Jason Schleifer, Fred Nilsson, Jason Reisig, Simon Otto, Dave Torres and myself to flesh out the zillions of tiny details that matter so much. We worked closely with engineers Bruce Wilson, Seath Ahrens, Morgwn Mccarty, Brendan Duncan and many others (see this article for the full list!) as they brought their own expertise to bear on all those tiny details, and turned our fluffy wishful ideas into real working code.  After years of development, the animators on How to Train Your Dragon 2 got to take Premo for its inaugural flight, and were spoiled forever by the best software any of us had ever seen. We knew we had something very special on our hands, but I wondered: would anyone outside the company ever know about it?

Now, a decade later, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has honored Premo with a Sci-Tech Award!

Here’s a video of the awards ceremony, with Sir Patrick Stewart introducing some of the team:

And here’s a terrific blog post from Nimble Collective (the company that Rex, Jason and Bruce went on to co-found after DreamWorks) about FIFICRD, our shamelessly awkward acronym for our fiercely held beliefs about how great software can and should be:

FIFICRD – The spark behind DreamWorks’ Academy Award winning PREMO

I’m beyond proud to see this enormous group effort get the recognition it deserves. Go Premo! FIFICRD FOREVER!

Annecy 2017

I can’t believe the Annecy Animation Festival is less than a week away! And man, it’s going to be a busy week. Most days you’ll be able to find me in the Bonlieu Salle de Création: Tuesday, June 13 (showing Gorillaz “Saturnz Barz” on Daydream), Thursday June 15 (showing a VR teaser for Jorge Gutierrez’s Son of Jaguar on Vive) and Friday June 16 (showing Sonaria by Scot Stafford and Chromosphere, also on Vive). Stop by and say hi if you’re there!

Why do we hate high frame rates?

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?