Google Debuts 360-Degree Short 'On Ice'

On Ice - Google Spotlight Stories Still - H 2016
Courtesy of Google Spotlight Stories

Google Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) group has released On Ice, a new 360-degree animated short from its Spotlight Stories series, which is now available on its YouTube channel and can be viewed by anyone with Google’s YouTube app on Android devices (in 2D) or using Google Cardboard virtual reality goggles (in 3D).

The comedic short features an ice show during which figure skater Rudy Lazurus has to fight for the spotlight when he’s upstaged by an indifferent grizzly bear on skates.

It was directed by Shannon Tindle, who won an Emmy as character designer on episodes of Cartoon Network's Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends, and whose credits include the story (shared with Marc Haimes) and character design on Laika’s upcoming feature Kubo and the Two Strings. He’s currently writing additional undisclosed animated projects, but with clear interest in where virtual reality is heading.

“I have a lot of [VR] ideas I want to explore — horror, action,” he told The Hollywood Reporter. “I’m thinking longform as well as short.… Content will drive the medium and there are no rules. Nobody is the expert yet.”

One issue directors have identified in VR is how to direct viewers' gaze when they can look anywhere in a 360-degree environment. Tindle says he addressed this in On Ice by using the ice show’s spotlight as a subtle way to guide the viewer.

The ATAP group is focused on innovating in mobile computing, including for 360-degree video/virtual reality, and the Spotlight Stories program involves filmmakers exploring storytelling with these technologies. Previous Spotlight Story releases include the live action Help, directed by Justin Lin (Star Trek Beyond), which debuted in 2015 and is scheduled to be published Friday on the Spotlight Stories YouTube channel. Others recent Spotlight Stories include Special Delivery from Aardman Animations.

On Ice is the first project in the series made with what Google calls its SDK (story development kit), to bring the content to its mobile platform. This is also the first Spotlight Story to achieve blend shape animation in real time in a human character, as well as an improved Ambisonic 360 audio engine.

Tindle's short was produced at ATAP and animation house Evil Eye Pictures. Karen Dufilho exec produced and Rachid El Guerrab was the technical project lead.