Break the rules. It’s a mantra that can land you in a pile of fun or a heap of trouble but it’s always tempting. Unfortunately, in many of our entertainment endeavors, we rarely get to indulge in this simple pleasure. More so, it’s often an impossibility.
Enter Google Spotlight Stories, a semi-released project from Google Advanced Technology and Projects. You might better recognize the group as Google ATAP, a group within the search giant that specializes in seeking out and developing new ideas that may or may not have commercial, social, or even just any base level of practical value. As ATAP Lead Regina Dugan puts it, they are “a small band of pirates trying to do epic shit.”
While perhaps getting more headlines this past week for things like Project Tango and Google Jump, they also produced Spotlight Stories. Granted, it originally started out as product with Motorola devices like Moto X, but now it has wormed its way onto the greater breadth of Android devices and will soon be on both iOS and YouTube.
The gist of these stories is that you get some folks that like to tell tall tales and let them do it in a way that few have gotten a chance to before. By utilizing technology like Google Jump (as well as more traditional or computer-generated animation), these creators can craft fully immersive, 360-degree experiences in their narratives within these mobile devices. As you turn or look up, the viewpoint presented to you will also turn or look up.
From the static methods of visual storytelling in movies and television, Spotlight Stories attempts to instill within you the idea that doesn’t have be the way you ingest entertainment. You can break that rule and look wherever you want. You don’t even have to resign yourself to picking apart scenes at a ferocious pace at the price of taking in the overall plot. These were made to be watched over and over again, each time with you behind the wheel.
And you know what? It works. Help! is the latest story, created and released in concert with the ATAP segment in last week’s Google I/O event. Helmed by Fast and Furious director Justin Lin, it’s the first of the project’s live action venture and tracks the events of an alien crash landing into the middle of Los Angeles.
It is quite disorienting at first. The first thing to accomplish is to even just recognize that you control the camera. Turn around, look up and down, and try to step forward and back (that, actually, does nothing). It works fantastically but you can’t shake the feeling that you’re breaking the rules.
More than that, you can help but feel like you are missing something. As the creature chases our human friends around, half of your brain is dedicated to the sensation that this is super neat, but the other is constantly wondering if you are catching all the action, which there is a lot of.
However, this isn’t supposed to be a traditional viewing experience. (Or at least I don’t think it is.) It became a lot more interesting once you engaged with the idea that you are building the whole story one run at a time. It’s a rather short film coming in at just a few minutes, but each time you watch you can fill in gaps you left from the time before. Slowly, it all comes together, as if you were solving a puzzle broken and left behind by the creator.
While there’s nothing particularly innovative about the story itself or the smattering of acting we are privy to, it’s something worth indulging in. Glen Keane, the Disney legend behind characters like Ariel and Beast and Aladdin as well as the award-winning short Paperman, was one of the first to sign up with Spotlight Stories. Duet, Keane’s short that launched with the app last year, is the result of his belief that there’s something to this thing. (It’s also worth watching.)
And more are signing on, including Aardman Animations, the studio behind Chicken Run and Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit; Patrick Osborne, the director of Disney’s short film Feast; and a few others that you’ll probably recognize.
Aardman will produce Special Delivery, a story about a janitor who chases an intruder around on Christmas Eve. “Viewers will have the option of following the janitor, the intruder, or peep into the homes of building dwellers.” From Osborne, we’ll have Pearl, which will “take place entirely in a car, and will use a musical format to explore the theme of ‘gifts we inherit from our parents, both tangible and intangible.'”
Certainly it’s far too early (and far too insane) to call this the future of entertainment, but there is value here. It is a unique experience that provides a different kind of interaction from video games and a different kind of storytelling from movies. If you can, definitely give Spotlight Stories a shot. It might convince you of something else entirely, like maybe breaking the rules isn’t such a good thing.