Google and The Mill Take Mobile Filmmaking to the Next Level With 360-Degree ‘HELP’

Justin Lin directs latest Spotlight Story

Visual effects studio The Mill and Hollywood director Justin Lin (The Fast and the Furious 3-6) have collaborated on the latest film in Google's Spotlight Stories—a series of immersive movies made uniquely for mobile. This one is groundbreaking because it combines live action and computer graphics in a 360-environment—and it required a completely new kind of camera rig that The Mill invented to give Lin the 360-degree live-action shots he needed.

The film, titled HELP, features aliens in a cityscape. But the narrative unfolds differently for every user, as you watch it on your mobile device—and move the device around to see different parts of the scene around you. (In this way, it approximates virtual reality.) The film is available for free with the new Google Spotlight Stories app via Google Play (and will be soon be on iOS via the App Store).

You can see a linear version of part of the film here:

As you can see in the behind-the-scenes video below, The Mill developed a proprietary software solution called Mill Stitch that takes images from multiple cameras and "stitches" the output into a continuous 360-degree view. This helped the director and cinematographer see the entire world they were filming as it happened. The Mill then combined the live action with the vast CG environments in postproduction.

Google's Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) unit is behind the Spotlight Stories program. (Yes, the group's tagline really is "We like epic shit.") "Collaborating with Google's ATAP team of experts and with such an acclaimed live-action director as Justin Lin allowed The Mill to flex its creative and technical muscles to solve new and complex challenges," says The Mill CEO Robin Shenfield.

"It's been, to say the least, a colossal learning experience and given us very valuable insight into the technical and creative challenges involved with new immersive and VR filmmaking. It's a perfect fit for us to be at the epicenter of a new format and pioneering a new way of telling stories."