Two years ago, Patrick Osborne won the Academy Award for best animated short with “Feast,” the wordless tale of a Boston Terrier whose adoration for food is only outweighed by his love for his owner. This year, Osborne finds himself back in the race with “Pearl,” a short film about a father and daughter and the memories they share from inside their car.
“Pearl” was made for Google Spotlight Stories in 360-degree video and virtual reality, making it the first Oscar nominated film done in VR. Variety caught up with Osborne from Connecticut, where he was snowed in while working on his new film, “Nimona.”
I heard the morning after you won your Oscar for “Feast,” you and a group of winners took your Oscars to breakfast.
Yes, Disney was hosting a congratulatory toast in the morning at like 9am. We hadn’t really gone home, so we figured we’d stay out — there was five of us, it was the “Feast” and “Big Hero 6” teams. So we stopped by the Coffee Commissary in Burbank for breakfast, and you’re not going to leave your Oscar in the car. So we went in with our awards in our disheveled tuxes and gowns.
You didn’t have a dog but you made “Feast.” With “Pearl,” I’m curious to know: do you have a daughter?
I don’t but I might in two months, we’re having our first child and don’t know what it will be yet!
Where did the idea for “Pearl” come from?
I started about two years ago, right after the Oscars. Google Spotlight Stories was doing these 360-degree films and “Duet” was out and Justin Lin did one called “Help” and they asked if I had any interest. I like cutting through time and using edits to show time passing — which seemed like a difficult thing to do in 360 without disorienting people. So I thought sitting in a car would ground people. I liked the idea that you know where a steering wheel is when you start and it’s always in the same direction, you won’t get lost. So that’s where it started.
What were the challenges of shooting in 360, then also releasing a “regular” version?
Well, we made the whole thing in virtual reality so you could sit in the car, stick your head out the window. Then I went in with a virtual camera and shot the theatrical movie. I recorded video of the theme playing back from inside VR. We went to Passion Pictures in London with about 30 minutes of footage and edited that into the film. So we animated it first, then shot it, then edited it.
Something “Pearl” shares in common with “Feast” is a lack of dialogue.
It’s a visual medium, that’s how we want to communicate. I just like things that work universally. You’re trying to touch people with your artwork, something that works all over the year. When it’s a silent film, it transcends language.
Where did the song come from? And which came first, the idea for the film, or the song?
The idea came first and then Google matched me up with Pollen Music Group. Scot Stafford the music supervisor there had done “Duet.” They know a lot of musicians so I sent him some drawings and a paragraph description of what the film would be. We got 10 demos back, some from people I was a fan of. We did a blind taste test where I didn’t know who wrote what. We just played it against some of the artwork, and Alexis Harte’s “No Wrong Way Home” worked best. I took his song and asked if another person who submitted a song could sing it, Nicki Bluhm, whose voice I felt was right for it.
You’re about to direct your first feature-length film. Can you talk about it?
I’m working with Blue Sky Animation and Fox on “Nimona,” based on the graphic novel about a shapeshifter that takes place in the future. So there’s knights and laser guns and swords — it’s a great teen comic done by this girl Noelle Stevenson. She’s 24 now, but did it as her college project.
This sounds darker than what you’ve done before. Will it be kid-friendly?
It’s kid-friendly, for sure. The comic book is kind of violent so we have to tone it down but it’s very smart and we’re sticking to the self-aware tone of the comic. What Noelle did with the writing, we definitely want to preserve; it’s so good.