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Q&A with Google Spotlight Stories director Jorge Gutiérrez (“Son of Jaguar”)

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Director Jorge Gutiérrez‘s enthusiasm for Mexican culture gave us the authentic and entertaining feature film The Book of Life (2014) as well as TV projects including El Macho and the Annie/Emmy award-winning Nickelodeon TV series El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera. This year he has delved into the ever-expanding world of 360 storytelling, joining forces with Google Spotlight Stories and Reel FX (reuniting members of the team behind The Book of Life including Art Director Paul Sullivan and Character Designer Sandra Equihua) to create the immersive short film Son of Jaguar, a tale of a once-mighty masked wrestler facing “his legacy, his family, and what it means to be a part of something bigger than himself”.
Initially released last month on Pixel2 and Steam, the VR film has this week expanded its platforms to include Viveport, IOS, Android and YouTube 360.
Skwigly met with Jorge during Google’s special preview presentation of Son of Jaguar earlier this year at the 2017 Annecy International Festival of Animated Film.

How did you get involved with Google Spotlight Stories?

I met Karen Dufilho, she had originally said I should do one of these and I wasn’t sure, I was kind of on the fence. I really liked Glen Keane’s Duet, but I felt This is Glen Keane, what could us mere mortal humans do compared to that? And then I saw Patrick Osborne’s Pearl and I cried like a baby so I said “I’ll do one, I’d be a coward if I didn’t try to give it a shot”. And I love making people laugh and cry, it’s one of my favourite things, and this seemed to be a good way to do that.

What can you tell us about the narrative of the film?

In the short you’re a ghost on the Day of the Dead and you’re coming to visit your family and you find out your son is basically a loser! He lost his leg in the wrestling ring, he’s falling apart, his whole family depends on him, and then you watch him fight and he’s terrible because he doesn’t believe in himself. So just as he’s about to die, you as the viewer and the ghost will appear to him.
The theme of the short was me feeling like having a kid, having a family took me out of the ring and didn’t allow me to take risks anymore, because people depended on me. What it turns out was they actually became my strength.

Son of Jaguar concept art by Paul Sullivan (Image courtesy of Google Spotlight Stories)

So in terms of going from feature film to VR what was the most difficult area to get your head around?

Well, the biggest thing is filmmakers and storytellers we’re so used to cutting and framing, those are our sharpest swords. So I had to go into battle without those and I felt like they’d chopped off my arms! So it was very difficult to give away those things that are what we use to communicate, so it was embracing this new film language and what I sort of came to terms with was we’re making virtual ‘plays’. You go to a play, actors come out, they start acting, the theatre lights guide you. The audience can look wherever they want but as time passes the performance doesn’t stop – you go to the bathroom it keeps going, right? So that’s how I approached it.

Were you given any guidelines to work within?

Y’know, it was like landing at Normandy at the beginning of Saving Private Ryan – they said “Good luck!” and I just ran in. It was pretty chaotic, but they’re used to this. They gave me all the support in the world. Unfortunately with these things they’re so new that we’re still figuring out the software, we’re not even in beta, we’re in alpha, so it’s pretty crazy!

Jorge Gutiérrez and team (Image courtesy of Google Spotlight Stories)

As a filmmaker and artist yourself, where do you think VR is heading – both as part of animation and its own art form?

Well I think what’s happening is very unique in that cinema is over 100 years old, and VR is at the early stages, and I think the real VR audience is being born right now. So I think people will look back at this stuff as the early, early stages of it. But I think what’s happening now is there are movies, there are television shows, there are video games, and now VR is its own medium. It’s going to be very interesting to see 1. What type of stories people like me want to tell for the medium, and secondly – and this is the big one – what does the audience want? What are they really into? Because we don’t know yet.

What are your hopes for how the audience receives Son of Jaguar?

I’m hope that you laugh, that you cry – and that when you take the goggles off you grow a moustache!

Son of Jaguar is available now on ViveportIOSAndroid, YouTube 360, Pixel 2 and Steam

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