Keynote speaker Jane McGonigal

2012 Siggraph began with a nod to the heart not the hard drive, when keynote speaker, Jane McGonigal PhD, advanced the notion that video games can make us better people not just better players.  After suffering through a concussion, which wouldn’t heal, McGonigal devised a game that would help her mend mentally and physically.  The renowned game designer premiered the Super Better video application this spring to aid in resilience against health ailments like social anxiety, weight issues and chronic pain.  Jane thinks that we could leverage the potential of millions of gamers working in concert on games like World of Warcraft (9.1 million) to solve real world problems.  Far from a pie in the sky notion, this technology is being used at USC’s Institute of Creative Technologies where they treat PTSD and prepare soldiers for combat with immersive virtual reality and video games.

Cinematographer Deakins on left during interview


Roger Deakins, cinematographer extraordinaire (Shawshank Redemption, No Country for Old Men, Fargo etc.), talked about the art of storytelling with both a camera and a computer.  Many attendees familiar with his live action features were surprised with the extent he helped define the look of animated features of Rango, How To Train Your Dragon and Wall-E where he served as cinematographer and visual consultant.  In Wall-E Deakins used the fog of the polluted atmosphere to slowly reveal to the audience that the mountains and buildings that they see through the “mist” are really piles of rubble.


Deakins talked about how he lit How To Train Your Dragon.  Traditionally in animation you see everything; shadows are used as accents or they are cast by a character or other assets like a tree.  Roger Deakins lit the movie’s hero only by a candle or a fire. 

Deakins candle lit hero Snotlout

Deakins using artificial firelight

 This project displayed his unique use of both shadows and soft light as if we were viewing live action.  To do this in a CG film is much more complicated, as each asset modeled like Snotlout,his clothing, a rock or a piece of  wood all have a texture with unique independent variables that absorb and reflect light.  Realistic soft diffuse light is the hardest to emulate and the most time consuming to produce, using tens of thousands of rays. 

 The 63 year old is innovating once again in his newest project Skyfall.

Deakins posing with Alexa camera while working on Skyfall with director Mendes and star co-star Dench

  Skyfall was shot with the hottest new digital camera the Arri Alexa dubbed the Red Cam killer. The new James Bond thriller, directed by Sam Mendes and starring James Craig is due for release in November 2012.  Deakins said that because of the performance in low light situations he can shoot a little more with practical sources (natural sources of light firelight, sunlight, room light) and use less artificial light to augment them. 

 The Pixar panel on the development of Brave, “Pencils to Pixels” focused on the pipeline between from 2D art to 3D from the artist concept to the final film characters like Merida.

Original concept for Brave heroine Merida

  Among the subjects they covered were the lengths they went to create a look for the heroine’s hair amid the look of the Scottish countryside.

Test image for Merida's hair

Over ten thousand reference photos were taken, so every piece of Scottish heather could be portrayed accurately.  It took months of trial and error to get Merida’s hair to behave, as it is the most striking and telling part of her character.

Merida's final rendered hair

 Here we see a video of all the artists work in the final movie. 


The new version of Devil May Cry, courtesy of the folks from WETA, who brought you Fellowship of The Rings and most of the effects people who worked on Avatar, is the most innovative and strikingly visual game I have seen.  Ninja Theory who is reworking the game made a presentation at Siggraph that impressed the most hardcore of fans, many of who were angry that their beloved game was undergoing a facelift.  They were death threats leveled at Ninja Theory who re-developed the character Dante into more of a street punk protagonist.  Dante's transformation benifited from using Giant motion capture facility.  The state of the art facility was also used for Avatar and Fellowship of The Rings. What set Devil May Care apart are the truly “human” expressions and movements that are so advanced it makes the characters in games like Madden and Call of Duty look like robots as you can see in this video. 


Another great example of a game employing this state of the art motion capture is Kara created by Sony Entertainment.  What we focus on again besides the special effects is the humanizing of the main character.

The big lesson here is that game technology and movies are now able to share the same technology. With new hi-def screen technologies and players that will soon out distance blue- ray what is possible in the near future is beyond imagining.


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