Help, the new short film from Justin Lin (4 Fast and Furious films and the upcoming Star Trek 3) and Google Advanced Technologies and Projects’ (ATAP’s) “Spotlight Stories” is groundbreaking in a lot of ways. Film nerd blog The Dissolve declared that , and that may be only a mild exaggeration–the immersive short was filmed on a 360-degree camera rig, and viewers are able to control the viewpoint of Help as they watch on their phones. Some filmmakers have decried the death of cinema as things move from film projected onto giant screens to digital streams viewed on portable devices–but until now, few had touched on the creative possibilities that those screens in our jeans might unlock.
In this making-of video from the visual effects team behind the film, The Mill, the technical and creative processes involved get explored more fully. The Mill Visual FX supervisor Gawain Liddiard explains how the camera rig was constructed–using fisheye lenses on four cameras calibrated with specially created software to remove the distortions, and setting the film in front of CGI backgrounds to more seamlessly stitch together the footage from each camera.
“We went in the direction of creating primarily CG environments, which meant that the stitches between the different points of view between the different cameras could be blended more seamlessly,” Liddiard says. “As we moved into a more full CG approach to the environments, we had a huge amount of control, we could manipulate the environment, and we had more freedom for the director.”
Liddiard explains that the scale of the FX and the number of effects would have made the film a huge challenge even if it had been a traditional format, without a 360 perspective. But with the technology that they created for Help, they’re in a position to do more FX work like this–and that’s a significant thing as the boundaries of filmmaking are pushed. We’ve seen environments like this crafted in video games before, but we’ve never seen anything like it involving live actors or a more direct narrative, and while declarations that it’s already “changed filmmaking” might be a bit premature, it’s very likely that this isn’t the last 360 film we’ll be seeing.
Google unveiled the film at its I/O event, and announced that Spotlight Stories, previously released on Moto X, will be available on iOS and YouTube, in addition to the Android platform.