The Keynotes of Siggraph 2013
Along with providing a glimpse into the future of technology, Siggraph 2013, provided a roadmap for all those aspiring to enter the field of animation by gathering the giants of the animation industry for its annual keynote session. Randy Haberkamp of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences started the keynote session by featuring the student work of industry heavyweights, Ron Clements (THE LITTLE MERMAID, ALADDIN), Pete Docter (TOY STORY, WALL-E) , Eric Goldberg (POCAHONTAS,THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG) Kevin Lima (BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, TARZAN) , Mike Mitchell (SHREK FOREVER AFTER , CHIPWRECKED), Chris Sanders (HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, THE CROODS) , Henry Selick (NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS, JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH), David Silverman (THE SIMPSONS) and Kirk Wise (THE LION KING, CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS).
He then asked them to travel back to the pivotal moments where they described their, often-difficult birth as animators; where some revealed their glaring technical weaknesses as they sought to finish their first feature in high school or art school.
For Kirk Wise it was a chance to deepen his understanding of animation using all the principles he learned when he hand drew characters at school. These principles that Eric Goldberg pointed out are too often lacking in todays students who don’t hand draw their animation on paper, “their work is just not as strong”. Ron Clements describes being a loner who was able to do all the voices and animation himself a notion that was quickly dispelled when he realized making an animated feature is the most collaborative of all mediums where every task or chair is populated by an accomplished craftsman, “who do things a lot better than you can.”
For Chris Sanders it was finishing while maneuvering around his shortcomings. I couldn’t then and never could animate a character walking, “so all the cuts in my movie are to avoid showing the characters feet. The little cat jumps in really quickly because I couldn’t make him walk!” Something that David Silverman echoed when the force behind the Simpsons fessed up he couldn’t make his characters walk either. Mike Mitchell, who is currently working on Trolls for Dreamworks (2016) said, “I couldn’t turn the characters head so she faces you through the entire story.”
Working around these shortcomings is a skill never to be forgotten because when millions of dollars are at stake deadlines can’t be ignored. “In one of the big ending numbers of Beauty and the Beast you have a whole village of people tromping up the mountain to kill the beast,” Wise said. “We cut to hands holding swords and shadows on the wall anything to avoid having to animate all those characters marching across the background.”
Henry Selick pointed out, that although the animation industry, which at one time was being pushed out of theaters is now having a renaissance; it comes at the price of a loss of smaller more original works. “I think it's an incredible time for animation and also one of the worst times, the budgets are so high that I don't think people can afford to take any risks,” Selick said. “So to make a great film within these parameters, being very commercial, having to make a blockbuster every time it puts the unhealthy pressure on the creators. I'm hopeful they’ll be a breakthrough or one of the big studios we'll have a big flop and force them to try something new. Not everything has to be made on the big screen. Look at House of Cards on Netflix. Amazon's doing an animated series for kids; then there's all these other avenues like Youtube.” Mike Mitchell said in closing to aspiring animators, “When you make your first short film do what you do best, don’t do something that you think will get you into Disney or Pixar. This is your chance to really express yourself , your point of view, which I think was what all our student films were doing at the time.”
As someone who works at a school that teaches beginning to advanced 2D and 3D animation I cannot help but echo the sentiments of the panelists. Certainly everyone wants to work. But that doesn’t have to mean the larger houses like Disney and Pixar. In the smaller houses where you can intern and then work, you get to do a wider variety of tasks. You can find yourself and your style and find what in this field holds the magic for you. Because this is the most arduous entertainment field I know of and if you are not doing what you love or you forgot what drew you to the art of animation, it will be a very empty and deadening experience.
Emerging Technologies Masquerading as Miracles
Technology in the service of mankind is always relevant and always vital. Having had a background in rehab especially with stroke victims, the most remarkable research on display at the emerging technologies exhibit was the Cea Tech booth.
The Interactive Robotics Laboratory of CEA includes 45 researchers and PhDs focused on the field of service robotics, remote handling and collaborative robotics dedicated to a very wide scope of application in the fields of energy (nuclear, oil and gas), industry and health. Most interesting to me is their advances in health. Which focuses on robotic devices controlled by not only people which have one side or arm affected by a stroke or accident, but now they have a device under study, that works wth an implant in the brain, that will work with quadriplegics who have lost the ability to move all four limbs. This is enabled by technology that marries the use of a neural implant to advances in robotics. What is noteworthy here in this device, is that the user can go from wheelchair to use and back again. The implant has been tested with animals and the communication between the device and implant (signal aquisition) has worked. They have the human implant and are awaiting for the validation to use the device with humans.
Their research has industrial and military research applications for your average soldier or worker. Instead of being replaced by a machine, users of this device have all the mechanical advantages and more judgment than any machine. With the device called Hercule, the wearer can trudge through a battlefield or factory, and carry weights, possibly more than they could lift, for long distances. It could allow a soldier to carry a wounded comrade or a wounded soldier could exit a battlefield even in a compromised physical condition. More importantly in the short term it can be invaluable to rescuers after an eartquake or an explosions where someone wearing Hercule could get into smaller spaces faster than waiting for a crane or a winch to be employed. They also have a "slave arm" that was developed for technology for nuclear application of force feedback remote handling for maintenance of nuclear facilities or post-accident intervention. This arm, robotics researcher Yann Perrot points out, could possibly drive a distant slave robot with two arms that might be used to disarm bombs.
The Bathtub as a Computer
Computer screens have changed from 50lb monstrosities to flexible plastic you can wrap around your wrist and now to the water in which you bathe as the video below demonstrates. Believe me this works I got my hands wet trying it.
No review of Siggraph would be complete without the Computer Animation Festival winners. Always a highlight this year the overall winner A la française (in the French style) got stiff competiton from Rollin' Safari the winner of the student prize and my favorite student film of the past few years. The acting, though done for the most part by overstuffed, rotund creatures in both films is outstanding. In an instant we see what these animals are thinking and are taken, without dialog, along for a ride on their personal journey.
Rollin' Safari not only answers Heny Selick's call for "smaller more original works," but it also fills the requirements set down by other members of the animation panel,i.e., "to convey a simple idea clearly ...while using every single moment to entertain your audience."
Rollin Safari-What if Animals Were Round
The great success of Rollin' Safari comes from marrying the reality of the situation, that drives our emotions and expectations, the deadly Cheetah Chase for instance, to the animation of big fat round animals. In the Cheetah Chase we are so conditioned by watching simialr videos with deadly consequences; we tense up. The animals expressions are as dire as reality, and so the relief when they tumble, is comic and emotionally potent.