Google’s Spotlight Stories division gave us VR gems like Pearl and Age of Sail. Sadly, though, it appears the search engine giant is shutting the team down this week.
Word comes by way of Variety. The site got hold of an apparent email from Spotlight Stories executive producer Karen Dufilho. Sent on Wednesday evening, the email states that Spotlight Stories is “shutting its doors after over six years of making stories and putting them on phones, on screens, in VR, and anywhere else we could get away with it.”
We’ve reached out to Google to confirm the report. According to a Variety source members of the team are being given the chance to look for new positions within Google.
Spotlight Stories wasn’t always a VR-centric filmmaker. It started life within Motorola back when it was under Google’s ownership. But over the past three years the group produced around 13 360 degree animations. You watched them inside mobile-based headsets like Google Cardboard using a dedicated app or YouTube. Some of them even got native standalone releases on platforms like SteamVR.
Those 13 films cover a vast body of work from a Simpsons VR experience to a behind-the-scenes look at Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs. Spotlight Stories’ best content was original, though. In 2017 the team worked with The Book of Life director Jorge Gutierrez on the excellent Son of Jaguar, for example. It’s most recent experience, Age of Sail, brought stunning visuals and heartfelt characters into VR like never before. All of these films were free to watch. Last year Google released a book celebrating the studio’s work.
But Patrick Osborne’s Pearl was undoubtedly the studio’s crowning achievement. This short film followed a father and daughter as they traveled the country in their hatchback car. A warming soundtrack and effective montage of life’s highs and lows made for sweet, memorable viewing. Pearl later won an Emmy. It also scored VR’s first Oscar nomination.
The news comes at an uncertain time for Google’s VR efforts. The company’s Daydream mobile VR ecosystem appears to have faded into obscurity in recent years. Google is developing experimental six degrees of freedom (6DOF) VR controllers for its Lenovo Mirage Solo headset, but we’re yet to see what will come of them.