Patrick Osborne is no stranger to the Academy Awards: The animator-cum-helmer made his directorial debut with animated short Feast, a charming tale told from the point of view of an adorable dog, which earned him a Best Short Oscar in 2015. This year Osborne, who has worked as an animator on a host of Oscar-nominated titles such a Wreck-It Ralph and Tangled, is back in the director’s chair and the awards race for the second time with his Best Short-nominated title Pearl.
And while Pearl follows a similar emotional trajectory as Feast, this time focusing on the relationship between a musician single father living life on the road with his young daughter, what’s different is that this time Osborne’s pic marks the first time a virtual reality title has ever been nominated for an Oscar. Originally made for Google Spotlight Stories in 360-degree video and VR, the six-minute film takes viewers on a journey through a father-daughter relationship moving in full circle all whilst set against the backdrop of a rickety sedan.
“We had to think of something that would work in 360 and in order to use traditional film techniques, we needed to set the story in a place that would ground the audience and not let them get lost in a cut,” Osborne tells Deadline. “We set it in a car and started from there.”
Soon the idea of a road trip-generational musical, likened, says Osborne, to Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree,” was born. “I’m a big fan of folk music and we combined that with the idea of objects and things that you pass on that are reflective of personality and a symbol of love and that was kind of the slow inspiration to this. We thought it would be good to explore this across a generation so started writing and thinking and our production designer sat in the room and teed it out.”
Like Feast, Pearl is a series of vignettes permeated with a deep familial love, and also is absent of spoken dialogue only this latest effort is anchored by an original song called “No Wrong Way Home,” which is written by Alexis Harte and JJ Wiesler and performed by Kelley Stoltz and Nicki Bluhm. He enlisted music supervisor Scot Blackwell Stafford (Presto, Duet) who put a call to demos, which Osborne was able to listen and choose and see what played well against the image.
“I prefer silent films essentially because I feel they communicate more globally,” says Osborne. “I think the real power of filmmaking and animation lies in visual communications.”
Working with Google was a completely new experience for Osborne, who’s been based entirely inside Disney for the last seven years and before that at Sony Animation. “They are not a studio,” he says. “They are essentially software engineers. They let you be totally creatively free and they’re pretty experimental. It’s great that they are spending money on showing people how to work in these mediums.”
Pearl took just under a year to complete. Based out of Google’s headquarters in Silicon Valley, it was produced with Evil Eye Pictures. What’s fascinating is that artists from all over the globe leant their expertise to the project. Animation artists from France to Scotland to New York all put their heads together on Google hangouts, spending around six months animating and putting together the artwork.
“Editing it all in 360 is a little weird,” Osborne. “You have to match cut everything.” To create the linear version, which was used for its theatrical release, Osborne recorded camera from his mobile phone while sitting in the game engine and then went back and forth between each version.
Would Osborne shoot again in VR? “I enjoyed the challenge – It can be frustrating but the nice thing about it is I won’t have to do it again that way because tools are evolving so much,” he says. “Now, I would storyboard the whole thing in 360 because those tools exist.”
Osborne recently wrapped production on his ABC series Imaginary Mary, which he created with Adam Goldberg and David Guarisco with Shawn Levy directing. He’s also attached to direct Nimona at Fox, produced by Roy Lee and written by Marc Haimes as well as Battling Boy at Paramount, written by Jason Mantzoukas and produced by Plan B.
He’s repped by WME and managed by Anonymous Content.