Go on an Epic Adventure in ‘Lifetime Achievement,’ a New Animated Film Created in VR with Quill

Oculus Blog
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December 4, 2020
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A VR illustration and animation tool, Quill lets artists work directly in VR on a nearly infinite canvas, with rich colors and intuitive tools. It’s expressive, precise, and evocative of your unique style, whether that’s watercolor, line work, oil painting, or something else entirely. Through the years, we’ve seen breathtaking works of art like Dear Angelica come from Quill, with a vibrant community that constantly amazes us with their talent, creativity, and imagination. Today, we’re excited to introduce Lifetime Achievement, a Tex Avery- and Chuck Jones-inspired animated film created in VR with Quill—and now available on the Oculus Quest Platform and through Quill Theater on the Rift Platform.

Running roughly 15 minutes long, Lifetime Achievement takes you on a whimsical and theatrical journey with Albert, a world-class French designer (voiced by Darren Jacobs, Death Stranding), to create his greatest masterpiece for his mother (voiced by Marieve Harington, How I Met Your Mother). On Albert’s journey to find the finest materials and leverage the most avant-garde techniques in jewel design, you’ll encounter an African albino crocodile, dive into an Indonesian cave for rare crystals, develop new lifeforms in a lab, and capture light rays from a spatial solar eclipse.

We sat down with Parade Animation Founder and Creative Director Yonatan Tal to learn more.

Tell us about your background as an artist.

Yonatan Tal: As long as I can remember, I was drawn to the relationship between art and innovation. I specifically remember that, in elementary school, a friend of mine had the art book for Toy Story. I would come over to her place just to read through it. There was one page featuring a screenshot of the ancient CG software they used to animate the film. I was obsessed with that page.

Fast forward to CalArts—I mostly worked with traditional animation, and I’m grateful for that, first, because I think it’s an incredible skill to have as an animator and second, because it let me focus on story. A month after graduation, I was hired at Disney Television Animation. I worked in their development department, which was a very unique and fortunate position. I got to work closely with show creators and develop pitches and pilots for new animated shows. On top of that, I storyboarded shows they had in production at the time, such as Monsters at Work (Disney+) and Amphibia.

I left Disney in summer 2019 and immediately started to get involved in VR animation. My intuition told me that it was the right space for me to enter at that point. Like many others, I recognize the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to develop a new medium of art from scratch.

I founded Parade in order to create high-quality experiences that push VR storytelling forward.

We don’t rehash overtold fairy tales. We bring our audiences fresh, original stories that are as relevant as the medium we work in. I can’t be more excited for what’s coming next for the studio.

How would you describe Lifetime Achievement to someone new to VR and Quill animations?

YT: In a COVID-free world, I would just come over and put a headset on their head because words don’t really do justice to the experience.

To put it simply, I would say that it’s like a film + a theme park ride + a tear jerker + so much more.

The story is about Albert, a world-class French designer and boutique owner. The audience is pulled into Albert's memories, back to the time when he went on an epic journey to create his greatest masterpiece: a gift for his mother’s 70th birthday.

The film is whimsical and over the top, but it has a lot of heart and a message that I strongly believe in. We’re doing an ongoing survey amongst the people who watch Lifetime Achievement, and so far the results show that it made most of them cry.

How does the creative process change when creating immersive art versus traditional art?

YT: No cuts. No Close ups. One camera.

I’m kidding. There are plenty of “cinematic” languages in immersive storytelling.

For Lifetime Achievement, I chose to tell the whole story in real-life scale and without cutting or shifting the point of view. I wanted the story to be told as one coherent thread. With that said, there are a ton of environment changes throughout the film. It’s almost like cutting, but in its own unique story-driven way (not going to spoil what it is).

A big thing in immersive storytelling is guiding the audience. I tried to not be forceful about it, because I believe that the audience has the right to use their agency to look where they want to. The key for keeping the audience focused on the story was making sure that Albert never goes out of their sight. He’s almost always the most interesting thing to look at. As long as the audience follows Albert, they follow the story. I also made sure that every time a new environment is introduced, there is a brief moment to look around before the action begins.

What first inspired you to use Quill? Can you tell us about your first experiences?

YT: When I saw what’s possible to make in Quill, it was a no brainer. I had a couple friends that had already experienced using it, and they sent me a bunch of tutorials to start (thanks, Charley and Nak!). It certainly takes time to get used to creating in VR. Not only is it a new software interface to become familiar with, it’s a whole new concept that you need to train your brain to comprehend. When I first started, it took me a couple of hours to create a decent bouncing ball.

However, once I wrapped my head around the technical side, Quill became the most liberating software I’ve ever used.

It lets you model and animate in CG without being concerned about the technical side of modeling, texturing, or rigging. My traditional animation skills translated to Quill animation almost effortlessly, as the principals of animation are all the same at the end of the day.

When we started production on Lifetime Achievement, we brought in all five animators at once, and I was ready to experience some technical struggles and pipeline difficulties. Surprisingly, exchanging scenes with the animators, giving notes, and making changes was extremely smooth and streamlined. Quill really lets you focus on creating.

What was the original inspiration behind Lifetime Achievement? How has the project changed over time?

YT: Lifetime Achievement was a fusion of two worlds. One world had to do with my obsession with my craft, my ambition to perform at the highest level, and the way I can be tunnel-visioned when I’m in the middle of a big project. Albert is in a sense an ideal future version of my professional self. He has reached every peak professionally, he has infinite resources, but he is still passionate and uncompromising when he creates.

The second world revolved around a question that was hiding inside me and demanded to be answered: “What do I sacrifice while I live far away from the people who are closest to my heart?”

I moved to the US to pursue my dream career, knowing that my friends and family would only exist in video calls for me for the majority of the year. Over time, I could certainly feel the toll that being away took on me, and every once in a while I tried to measure what is gained and what is sacrificed in this state. That internal struggle in the origin of Lifetime Achievement’s big theme: presence, and specifically being present in your loved ones’ lives.

The funny thing is that I couldn’t answer that question on a deep level when I first started developing the idea. It’s always after the fact that I recognize the subtext of my own worlds for what they really are. It might sound like a cliche, but I really believe that my films teach me lessons about myself. They point out issues that I don’t want to talk about directly and make me face them. Over time, the story’s message became clearer and sharper until it fully revealed itself.

In a magical/cosmic way, this message became more relevant than ever this year, where physical presence with other people isn’t taken for granted anymore.

What can you tell us about the film’s music?

YT: The music for the film was created by the extraordinary Daniel Markovich.

Daniel and I have worked on several projects before, but this one was definitely our biggest undertaking. I asked him to talk us through his thought process.

Daniel Markovich: Albert’s theatrical and eccentric character inspired the score. His expensive taste, unique aesthetics, and the uncompromising artistic approach to his work along with his passion for gadgets and high-tech tools guided me to this combination of classical and modern sound. Albert’s theme is pompous, sophisticated, and usually very busy in texture and orchestration.

The main theme conveys both the incredible journey around the globe as well as the intimate and warm relationship between Albert and his mother. While it feels as though the music is tracking his obsession with creating the perfect piece of art, his lifetime achievement, Mom’s theme is more nuclear, simple, and very much based on parental emotions.

On a personal note, I found myself spending hours composing this incredible film, and all I could think about was how I can’t wait to play it for my mom.

Lifetime Achievement is available on the Oculus Quest Platform and through Quill Theater on the Rift Platform.

Check out Quill Corner for even more immersive artwork created in VR with Quill. And discover more Quill Animated Stories and moments on Oculus TV on the Quest Platform.