I definitely heard about Pearl when it came out and I think I remember watching the fixed 360 degree version embedded above at the time, but I'm pretty sure this is first time I've watched it in a headset.
Initial reactions: watching this on a Quest Pro, it has held up quite well from a technical perspective considering how old it is. I think it's still a great demonstration of some stuff that works quite well in VR when lifted from traditional filmmaking.
Here's a rundown of some stuff that really worked for me.
- The animation style. Timing the animations to run sub-24/30/60 FPS can work just as well in VR as it did in The Lego Movie and Into the Spiderverse. Credit to this team for doing that in 2016. The shader work to replicate handdrawn wobbly lines that change frame by frame is also a great touch.
- The cuts! One of my favorite games of all time is Brendon Chung's Thirty Flights of Loving because it embraces the hard cut. For some reason, especially in the games world, the appeal of the great "oner" has largely overshadowed the skill it takes to string together great cuts. I don't think anybody has ever really felt less immersed while watching a movie because of a great or at least competent cut, but chasing after the no-cuts approach (and let's not get into loading screens) can lead to more artifice and cruft to connect the bits that matter.
- Diegetic music + spatial audio! Great when the song would transition from the studio take to the in-scene performances and back again.
I do find the story here to be a bit hokey, though. Constraining the action to a car is a smart move, but using that as a jumping-off point for standard a rags-to-riches plus coming-of-age story can only do so much to elevate stuff that's been done to death. Might I go as far as saying that Google choosing to throw money behind a production with as bland and inoffensive a story about poverty as can be is kind of gross? Yes, yes I will! What is a blog good for if I can't be a grouch about stuff?
That said, I would definitely show this to anyone who doesn't think that VR could be used to tell a story well. The craft here is undeniable, I just wish what it had to say was more interesting. Like, a lot more interesting.