June 9th, 2015

Google ATAP recently released the latest installment in the Spotlight Stories series, ‘HELP’, their first immersive, live action film made uniquely for mobile. 

HELP’ drops the audience into the centre of Los Angeles where an unexpected meteor shower has left a deep scar on the streets of Chinatown. When a young woman investigates, she finds an an alien creature. Growing in both viciousness and size, the alien chases after the woman and a policeman who's come to her aide, leading to an epic and destructive chase through the streets of Chinatown, down to the MTA subway, and out onto the L.A. River Basin until the woman discovers the secret to what the alien wants.

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The 360-degree film works like an interactive, mobile movie theatre, creating a window into the story and giving the audience the freedom to look anywhere within, set the pace and frame the shot. The Mill collaborated with director Justin Lin (Fast & FuriousStar Trek 3) on every aspect of the film, including creating the alien creature and its transition through five phases of growth.

When we first meet the alien, it appears friendly and child-like in design, but as the action progresses in the film, the creature transforms into an increasingly aggressive and threatening creature. Its evolution into a menacing character armored in spikes and muscles works to show that the creature is not inherently aggressive but becomes so in response to violence.

The Process

Starting with an original concept from director Justin Lin, the team explored what the smaller creature would look like and how best to get a smooth transition as it grew. They worked to develop its proportions, musculature and skin textures to really help sell the character at a colossal scale. Crocodile, elephant and rhino skin, as well as bearded dragons, were referenced to get the right balance.

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'HELP' Original Concept Art

Five Phases of Creature Transformation

Starting with the child-like creature in Phase 1, the creature transitions through a life span of physical changes, while maintaining "human-like" eyes across each phase to connect with the audience.

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In Phase 2, or the “pre-teen age”, we see the alien start to become more athletic in build with the beginnings of spikes appearing. 

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The transformation continues in this direction in Phase 3, becoming more agile and athletic as it moves towards “adulthood”.

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Phase 4 represents the creature at its peak, being built more like a lightweight boxer or gymnasts so that it appears to be the strongest and fastest version of the creature. 

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For Phase 5, the creature is built more like a heavy weight boxer, massive in size with lumbering power and marked by the action in the film with scarring and wearing on his skin.

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To show the character’s transition between phases and the affect of the actions around it, the team used a glow effect to communicate the concept of the character sucking energy to it. Throughout the film, the creature’s muscles and internal organs glow as it transforms, emanating light and sucking in dust and particles in a vortex around it.

Technical Challenges 

The creature grew from about half a foot to 200 feet tall, making balancing the artistic look with all the technical aspects a challenge. To transition smoothly through the character’s phase, it had to be made with the same mesh and be blendable between all the five phases.

Lead character artist Majid Esmaeili shares, “One of the more difficult parts of designing the character’s evolution was to make the spikes that appear in Phase 2 and grow to more than 4,000 spikes in Phase 5. Imagine all of them have to be the same mesh with a curve inside for the rigging purposes and all those should be blendable between phases. We had to do the same with the internal skeleton for the rigging purposes, creating a blendable skeleton from Phase 1 to Phase 5.” 

The Film

The final film creates a window into an action packed, blockbuster movie experience complete with epic explosions and alien creatures. ‘HELP' is available for free with the new Google Spotlight Stories app on Android via Google Play and set to become available on iOS in the coming weeks. 

Take a look at a preview film and our behind the scened film below: