This year’s festival was awesome for one reason alone: I got to go! Last year I didn’t because of surgery, and it really sucked because the line-up looked just as good as this year’s. I can only review the events I attended (duh), so I figured I’d talk a bit about each.
The festival started with two documentaries I’d been eager to see for the better part of a year. Walt & El Grupo made its Canadian Premiere, and Waking Sleeping Beauty made its Vancouver Premiere right after as part of a double feature of Disney studio history. I’ll leave it up to you to Google for more information about each film, but I’ll just say I thoroughly enjoyed each and look forward to getting copies on DVD or Bluray soon. I’m a sucker for animation history, and one of the highlights of this year’s festival was meeting Ted Thomas (Frank Thomas’ son). Ted looks a lot like his old man, and it was weird talking to him because I kind of felt like I was talking to Frank in a way. I enjoyed our brief chat about old films. Ted was very gracious and interested in meeting again sometime.
The Visual Style of How to Train Your Dragon
Kathy Altieri, Production Designer, Simon Otto, Head of Character Animation, and Craig Ring, Visual Effects Supervisor at Dreamworks Animation Studios, gave a fantastic and inspiring presentation on the Visual Style of How to Train Your Dragon. All three were passionate and engaging, but I gravitated towards Simon Otto’s talk (being an animator) and really enjoyed learning how he got to where he is today. He showed a lot of pencil tests from Balto that inspired him to pursue animation as a career. I must admit I hadn’t seen Balto, which I’ve since remedied, though I enjoyed the rough pencil tests more than the actual film. The audience was treated to a flurry of Nicolas Marlet’s work on the film, and the panel clearly communicated the studio’s status on Nico: “He’s a genius.” Not many people would argue with that. I still don’t have a copy of the Art of How to Train Your Dragon, but will make a point to get someone to buy it for me for Christmas. After the event, the panel signed posters outside. The crowd was massive, so I passed on that.
A Morning with Pixar
The next two events were the most anticipated, and were packed out for this very reason. Carlos Baena, who for a long time has been a major inspiration for me, started the day off with a presentation on how he tackled Spanish Buzz in Toy Story 3. He talked about one shot specifically, which you can see here (Starts at 2:34 and goes to about 2:50). This shot really stood out for me when I first watched the film so I was delighted to get an in depth look at the thought process behind it. Not only is it funny, but the animation itself is full of such incredible patterns and timing. It’s got entertainment written all over it. The video below shows Carlos working on his shot, and shooting reference footage in the dance studio.
I’ve seen a lot of animators’ working methods through blogs and downloads, but it was great to see Carlos’ method as I’ve been following his blog for close to ten years now. I also got to meet him and talk to him a bit about Animation Mentor and film making in general, which was great. His process isn’t much different from most animators. The only difference I noticed is that he shoots a lot of reference footage throughout the process of completing his shots. Most animators just shoot reference at the beginning. He also poses and roughly times out a lot of variations he has in his head to see what’s working and what is not. I’ve never seen another animator do that on purpose. Usually you try something and it doesn’t work so you learn from it and try something else. Carlos deliberately creates these quick poses tests and flips back and forth to see what’s working better. He’ll then combine aspects of each test to get the best result. That’s a time consuming, but assuring way of getting your best work out of you. Obviously you have to have achieved a certain level of confidence and efficiency at your craft before trying this method with a deadline looming.
The Making of Day & Night
Next on the schedule was a presentation by Teddy Newton about his innovative film, Day & Night. Teddy talked about the challenges of bringing such a unique idea to the screen and implementing it into a pipeline (at Pixar) that’s more structured for CG animation rather than a mix of CG and 2D that’s also essentially three movies in one. He screened the film twice, once before he started talking, and again after he had explained all his directorial decisions and his intentions story wise. This gave me a higher appreciation for the film, as there were a few things I didn’t pick up on, and probably wouldn’t have without his commentary . He also hinted that he’s working on another “crazy idea” for a short film at Pixar right now. Part of the swag I took home was a signed Day & Night poster which I’m sure I’ll frame some day.
Both Teddy and Carlos are highly skilled, thoughtful, and inspiring artists. I found them both to be extremely nice and encouraging. The morning with Pixar was the best part of Spark 2010, and I feel lucky to have been there. The afternoon with Disney was huge too, and it was up next.
An Afternoon with Disney
I skipped the noon panel to grab some lunch, and resumed at at two o’clock for an afternoon with Disney Animation Studios. Two presentations sparked my interests from a technical as well as a creative standpoint. Hide Yosumi, a Character TD, explained how Disney was able to design rigs to handle the seventy feet of hair on Rapunzel. Basically there’s two separate rigs, both with the same controls, which allow the animators to have the kind of control a 2D animator would want. It took Hide and his team roughly a year to rig it properly, which is insane if you ask me, but the results speak for themselves. The hair is literally got a life of it’s own, and isn’t just a seventy feet of automatic overlap. It’s amazing stuff to see how complex these CG rigs are getting, and a lot of the stuff shown in this presentation really blew me away. John Wong, Disney Animator, followed Hide with a presentation on the evolution of CG animation at the studio up to Rapunzel.
It’s common knowledge that hair, fire, and water are the hardest elements to re-create in the computer. Finding Nemo solved water as far as I’m concerned. The fire I saw in Up was some of the best I’ve seen in a CG film, and after seeing some of the exclusive Rapunzel footage in these Disney presentations, I would have to come to the conclusion that hair has also been solved. The artists at Disney did enough research to understand hair from a structural as well as visual perspective, and probably laid the foundation of what will become the principals of CG hair throughout the industry. John said there’s a ton of action scenes in the film, including underwater, which will be a treat to see in the final film.
Both presentations complimented each other in much the same way these artists do at the studio, and it was essential to see them as a tandem. I was really surprised at how many empty seats there were at both of these events. The Pixar and Dreamworks presentations were packed. Whether it’s people not being in tune with Rapunzel or with Disney as a studio right now, I don’t know, but it sure is sad. These artists work just as hard, and their product is impressive on so many levels. A lot of people missed out on some informative and inspiring stuff.
It’s really nice to have these kinds of events in Vancouver even if it is annually. I often get jealous of folks in L.A and N.Y because of the amount of options they have for festivals, exhibitions, and film-making events. Now that the bigger studios like Pixar and Sony are coming to Vancouver, and I’m sure many more will follow, we’re starting to get more events like this. Next year will be fantastic, as Siggraph 2011 will be here and it will be my first time attending. Keeping yourself up to date and informed on what your peers are doing in and around the industry is always interesting. I consider it pure entertainment because my interests are so diverse, and I can’t get enough of these. Obviously I’m a big enthusiast, and these things aren’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but if it is, then you’ll likely see me there.