Google’s ATAP group leverages DigitalFish’s graphics and tools expertise to bring Spotlight Stories to life

Windy Day mouse with hat

Spotlight Stories began as an R&D project within Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) skunkworks group.  Using 3D and 2D animation, 360° spherical cinema-quality video, full-sphere surround sound, and sensor-fusion techniques, with the Spotlight Stories app the screen becomes a window into a story that unfolds all around you. Like Virtual Reality without the headset, this new medium required a new level of high-fidelity 3D tools and techniques for artists.

DigitalFish is collaborating in key areas:

Porting Pixar’s OpenSubdiv technology to smartphones, replacing faceted polygon-based characters with smooth, precisely sculpted subdivision surfaces. The result is a fast, GPU-based geometry processing and display pipeline free of any faceted appearance.

Designing and co-developing the Story Development Kit (SDK), a non-linear pipeline that Google will soon offer to independent studios. Incorporating extensions to software like Maya and wholly new standalone tools, the SDK simplifies the creation of an asynchronous story through an easy-to-use interface. The tools and integration are designed to function in any modern studio environment and are already in use on upcoming Spotlight Stories.

“After working with DigitalFish to understand the benefits of subdivision surfaces and OpenSubdiv, we realized this was going to be a breakthrough innovation with a deep impact on our display engine's performance and quality. Working with DigitalFish's experienced team allowed us to rapidly integrate this new technology without derailing our tight production schedule.”
—Regina Dugan, SVP of ATAP

The Stories

... and their A-list Directors

Spotlight Stories has captured the imagination of top talent of various backgrounds and expertise:

  • Windy Day, directed by Jan Pinkava, Oscar-winning director and creator of Pixar films Geri’s Game and Ratatouille.
  • Buggy Night, Lead Animator (and DigitalFish co-founder) Mark Oftedal, animator on Toy Story 2, A Bug’s Life and Toy Story.
  • Duet, written, drawn and directed by Glen Keane, legendary Disney animator on The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast and Pocahontas.
  • HELP, directed by Justin Lin, of Fast & Furious films, True Detective, and the upcoming Star Trek 3.
  • Special Delivery, directed by Tim Ruffle with UK studio Aardman Animations, creators of Wallace and Gromit, and Chicken Run.

Looking Forward

Bringing Spotlight Stories to more studios

  As Google opens up Spotlight Stories to additional studios, DigitalFish remains a key technology collaborator and source of expertise.

DigitalFish continues to pioneer the concept of immersive storytelling and non-linear DCC pipelines core to the SDK and vital to the future of digital-media creation.

We look forward to future challenges in VR storytelling, such as creating a more artist-friendly way to support 3D storyboarding and building an integrated development environment where an artist can create and animate a character quickly without needing to move repeatedly between multiple tools.

OpenSubdiv for Mobile Devices

With Windy Day, the inaugural Spotlight Story, DigitalFish was the first to implement OpenSubdiv on a mobile device, extending OpenCL and OpenGL ES support within OpenSubdiv.

OpenSubdiv is becoming the standard surface representation across many platforms, having crossed the chasm from film animation to real-time, and is receiving wide and expanding support in Digital Content Creation tools and GPUs.

See the demo and read more about Pixar's OpenSubdiv.

What People are Saying

Academy Award winning Animation Director for Windy Day Jan Pinkava says, As director of the first Pixar project to employ subdivision surfaces, I was delighted to be working with Dan Herman and DigitalFish. They were key to the goals of this first-of-its-kind project and really delivered.

Jason Lin (director of four Fast & Furious films), after directing HELP” the first live-action Spotlight Story: I want to push the boundaries even more...I think this can become its own medium,” Lin said. Episodic storytelling could be amazing in this format. 


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