Folks are arriving in town at this very moment and Facebook and Twitter are all a buzz with people marveling at how beautiful my home town is. I’ll be at Siggraph for all fives days, hope to see you there!
Going to Siggraph this year?
How ’bout now? I’ll be there!
Tuesday – June 21, 7:30 PM, Jim Gettinger, Lighting Supervisor, will discuss lighting and lighting design as it pertains to the overall aesthetic of Blue Sky Studios’ latest animated hit, RIO. This talk will explore the developmental work pursued by Jim and his team taking the listener through many stages of the production process at Blue Sky. Lighting and lighting techniques will be presented from concept art, through pre-visualization, master lighting, and compositing. Jim will also highlight the artistic and technical challenges encountered developing a stylized vision of the world renowned city Rio de Janeiro and believable original characters using Blue Sky’s proprietary photo-realistic ray-tracing software, CGI StudioTM.
Get your tickets here.
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.
Siggraph just announced a lot of the schedule for Spark 2010, and it’s looking just as impressive as last year. I’ll be attending several of the events on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. For more info and to buy tickets, go to Siggraph.ca. Here’s this years line-up so far.
DAY 1 WEDNESDAY – SEPTEMBER 08, 2010
6:00 pm Industry Mixer
7:00 pm FILM ”Walt & El Grupo (2008)” Introduction by Ted Thomas
9:30 pm FILM ”Waking Sleeping Beauty (2009)” Introduction by Keith Blackmore (My first animation history teacher)
DAY 2 THURSDAY – SEPTEMBER 09, 2010
6:00 pm Chapter AGM
6:30 pm Industry Mixer
7:30 pm FILM ”UK Animation: The Cutting Edge (2010)” Introduction by David Fine
9:30 pm FILM ”Chicken Run (2000)” Introduction by Teresa Drilling
DAY 3 FRIDAY – SEPTEMBER 10, 2010
6:00 pm Doors Open
6:30 pm “The Visual Style of How To Train Your Dragon” with Kathy Altieri, Simon Otto & Craig Ring
9:45 pm FILM ”How to Train Your Dragon (2010)”
DAY 4 SATURDAY – SEPTEMBER 11, 2010
8:30 am Doors Open
9:00 am “The Making of Toy Story 3″
10:45 am “The Making of Day & Night” with Teddy Newton
12:30 pm “Animation in Vancouver”
2:15 pm “The Making of Tangled”
4:00 pm “The Making of Fantastic Mr. Fox”
5:45 pm “Speaker from Blue Sky Studios”
Day 5 – TBA
I’m late! I’m so terribly late! Better late than never. I’m finally getting around to giving my thoughts on the last Siggraph event I attended, appropriately titled, Alice in Wonderland: Creating Underland. There were two presentations that covered a behind the scenes look at first the animation then the visual effects of Burton’s take on the classic tale. I didn’t really care for the film’s plot shortcomings, but the eye candy was impressive. Funny enough the film just recently became one of the highest grossing films of all time by passing the one billion dollar (world wide sales) mark, so what the heck do I know? Both presentations were very interesting, and I’ll highlight what I can remember from each.
The animation presentation started off with various concept sketches for each of the characters in the film. At first they went way off the map, and finally honed the characters down to what Burton had in mind. Based on some of the earlier designs, the characters could have been a lot darker, and I hope to see the same concept sketches published some day (if they aren’t already).
The animators teleconferenced with Tim Burton via satellite, and the audience was shown a glimpse of what it’s like to receive direction from Burton (it looks like they had a lot of fun making this film). From some of the most vague instructions and doodles, the team was able to figure out what Burton was after and produce some really detailed and subtle animation. One shot in particular, where the white rabbit first introduces Alice to the Red Queen (in the garden) was shown from first to last pass. Burton’s keen eye for animation brought the shot from wild and zany down to extremely subtle, but it’s exactly what the scene called for.
Moving onto the visual effects side of things, this film certainly took green screening to a new level, providing some massive sculpted green set pieces for the actors to work with. When shown a side by side of the original footage with the final shot, you really have to tip your hat to the effects artists on this one. From the giant green faces that Alice skipped across to a full scale dog head for her to climb up (when she was tiny), while the actors did have to imagine almost everything around them, they at least had some incredible physical references to help them in this endeavor.
Next the audience was treated to how some of the more specific effects were created, namely enlarging The Mad Hatter’s eyes and The Red Queen’s head. Johnny Depp’s eyes were enlarged by 50% for every single shot. There were some shots where the size varied based on the emotional state of the character, so the team created a plugin that created the effect in a couple of steps on the fly. A similar plugin was created for the Red Queen’s head, but the difference here was that the film was shot simultaneously in two different formats. I forget the name of the second, but it was roughly four times the resolution of BluRay (so roughly 4000p). The effects artists used the head from the higher resolution files and imported them into the regular HD shots. This gave the Red Queen a massive head without compromising image quality. The plugin took care of other issues like the seems in the neck. Watching the artist make these adjustments in real time in front of us was a real treat. By solving the problems through software, they were able to make incredible effects quickly that would have otherwise been a nightmare.
The evening was capped off with a screening of the film and some door prizes. It was getting late so I didn’t stay for the film, but the presentations were top notch. Look out for the DVD/BluRay Bonus Features, as I’m sure a lot of this and more will be covered there, and you won’t want to miss that.
Siggraph.ca has announced they will be hosting an event on May 25th about the making of the new Alice film. The Animation Director and Visual Effects Supervisor will be there to make the presentation. Tickets are $15 for members and $20 for everyone else. I’ll be attending, hope to see you there!
In this session, Sony Pictures Imageworks’ David Schaub, the lead animation director for Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland will give you an inside look behind the talent and tools that were used to create this breath-taking film. Mr. Schaub will focus primarily on the standard creative elements of the show, but he will also provide insight into the surprising challenges and innovative technical solutions that were used to breathe digital life into over 30 inhabitants of Underland including the Mad Hatter, the Red Queen and the Cheshire Cat. This session is intended for animation professionals, students, and anyone interested in the animation, visual effects and the post-production process.
For more information, and to purchase tickets, go here.
I missed the Spark Animation festival two years in a row (last year because of surgery), but I’ll be attending at least one event at this month’s Spark FX festival in downtown Vancouver. That event is on the Wednesday and the Saturday of the festival, so I guess they’re expecting a big turnout for “Creating the World of Pandora for Avatar” with Daniel Lemmon.
There’s plenty of other events to tickle your pickles, so stop by and check out the schedule.
Eric Darnell was in town for last night’s Siggraph event in Vancouver. It was a nice Q&A setup that I haven’t seen out of Siggraph yet, which was nice for a change. Eric brought a lot of his early work from CalArts and PDI. I remember being entertained by his short, Gas Planet, when I was a kid. YTV would air it frequently; this was all before Toy Story and computer animation was anything more than primitive shapes performing awkward movements. Watch Gas Planet below:
Eric also showed us his experimental animation work he did for a music video while he was at CalArts, and some tests for a Penguin/Beatles feature Dreamworks had in the works (which was axed). They never forgot about doing penguins in CG, and that’s where the penguins from Magagascar originated from.
The highlight of the evening was his stories about the trials and tribulations of directing, the pyschology behind being the boss, and taking on that roll. I found it surprising that he was given his directorial debut on Antz by default, becuase nobody else really had any computer animation experience at the time. What a position to be thrown into. Obviously he landed running and hasn’t stopped, but it blows my mind that Katzenberg took that chance on the strength of Gas Planet alone.