Twentieth Century Fox’s games and virtual reality division FoxNext used the global stage of the Consumer Electronics Show to offer a sneak preview of Isle of Dogs Behind The Scenes (in Virtual Reality), an experience to screen in full at the New Frontier at Sundance.
The VR experience takes audiences inside the miniature world of Wes Anderson’s upcoming stop-motion animated film. The director conceived of a scenario in which viewers come face-to-face with members of the cast who are interviewed, in canine character, on set.
“We kind of liked the idea of the actors looking like the characters they’re playing, almost as if they’re in between takes, talking about their roles,” said Ryan Horrigan, chief content officer of Felix & Paul Studios. “We thought that was really fun — I don’t know that ‘meta’ is the right word — but innovative.”
The seemingly breezy, casual conversation with actors Bryan Cranston, as Chief, Scarlett Johannsson as Nutmeg, and Jeff Goldblum as Duke, took three months animating across five different sets to complete.
The technical hurdles were considerable. Isle of Dogs was shot as almost a stage performance — on a two-dimensional, rectangular stage. But virtual reality demands an immersive, 360 degree experience. Felix & Paul didn’t want to deviate form the film production, so it created a “back stage” scenario to play out behind the scenes.
As the stop-motion animation plays out in real time for the viewer, the human animators are depicted in hyper speed behind the camera, manipulating the puppets. Anderson can even be seen acting out character movements in pantomime.
“We thought that was really unique and interesting to put you more in the context of these characters, these puppets, and the humans behind you are the foreigners, or the aliens, who are giants, kind of doing their work,” said Horrigan. “For Wes, I think it was a subtle nod to all of the animators and people who were working on the film, to acknowledge them and their craft.”
The VR experience will be released initially on the Google Daydream VR headset and on Google’s Pixel phones, and later available through the Google Spotlight Stories app for Android and Apple devices and other VR platforms. Google funded the project, as it has for other film shorts that showcase storytelling in virtual reality.
“At the end of the day an audience is going to look at this and go, ‘This is a great story, it has great characters, and I loved it.’ And that’s what you want,” said Karen Dufilho, executive producer at Google Spotlight Stories. “We are always going to say ‘yes’ to a project that’s going to push the technology.”
Google has released a dozen short films, including the VR short The Pearl, which last year received a Creative Arts Emmy and an Oscar nomination.