SIGGRAPH 2009 New Orleans – Day Four

Schedule:

  • 9:15 AM Bob Whitehall, “Visual Storytelling in Three Dimensions”
  • 10:30 AM Bob Nicoll/Danny Bilson, “Building Story in Games: No Cut Scenes Required”
  • 1:00 PM AutoDesk booth: Florian Witzel
  • 1:30 PM Film Interview w/John Martin, Reallusion
  • 3:45 PM Production Session, “Coraline: The Changing Face of Animation”
  • 6:40 PM Animation Festival

Sountrack for the day: PJ Harvey “Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea

PJ Harvey and I strolled into a packed talk by Bob Whitehall, Pixar's Stereoscopic Supervisor, on how 3D fits into the storytelling process at Pixar. Punctuated with wonderful 3D clips from both "UP" and the upcoming "Toy Story 3D," Mr. Whitehall's basic point was that you've got to carefully consider how 3D will help you tell your film story. “3D is not the enemy; 3D is not the answer” he flashed on the screen during his power point presentation. Fascinating to hear that “UP's” basic design focus was on squares and circles in everything from character design to using 3D in a scene. His amusing comments and clips really showed how 3D can be used to emphasize character emotion and help further story.

At one point Bob speculated that “we'll know we've succeeded when people stop talking about 3D movies and just talk about GOOD movies”, meaning that you have to have a reason to use 3D. It can't just be for show or effect if you plan on telling a story that will move people. Biggest laugh of the session came when he flashed the poster of an awful 70's film “The Stewardesses” and pointed out that it was the first blockbuster 3D film and made a huge amount of money. Interestingly, in the next two years 3D technology will be used more in documentary (IMAX) and in rock concerts. He said that the 3D U2 concert pushed the technology forwards in ways that no one could have imagined.

Hustled over to the big “La Nouvelle New Orleans” ballroom for the “No Cut Scenes Required” session on writing for games, which was terrific. Bob Nicoll, from Electronic Arts, built the foundation for “Game Story” (a term I hadn't heard before, but makes perfect sense) by talking about the old Aristotelian 3-Act structure and then pointing out that contemporary game story (and most film story) drastically shortens the first and third acts and focuses on Act Two where all of conflicts and climax comes into play. He pointed out that story is also about emotion. Pacing, level design, color, all of the basic elements of design can come into play to create emotion in the player.

His talk led perfectly into the very charismatic speaker, Danny Bilson, who had everyone sitting up in their chairs. After a brief (but very cool) clip from “Homefront”, a new game he's working on, Danny launched into a gold mine of information. “Don't make content that the player won't experience” and the beauty of Game Story is that the game gives you the basics, but the player creates the story they follow in the game. “You in the movie” was a phrase I remember him saying. It was also amazing to hear him say that “gameplay” was more important than story. Of course, when you think about it it makes perfect sense. He got into games after a very successful career in film and television, mostly because he just loved playing games. Hearing him talk about how Everquest affected him in 1999 (he couldn't stop talking about the game story) and you are glad that he's working in the game industry. It needs people like Danny Bilson to remind us that games are immersive and fun.

After a brief stop in the Media room and a quick coffee, I caught Florian Witzel, the young digital artist I interviewed on Tuesday, present at the Autodesk booth. Although discussing technique of his work takes a lot more than 30 minutes, he did a good job of showing how the waves were created in Psyops' “Milk” commercial. I was most interested in how he came up with some of the gorgeous title sequences for the Animation Festival. Frankly, some of it went over my head, but I enjoyed it nevertheless. And Florian felt it went well. Do yourself a favor and go to his website and watch the SIGGRAPH titles he's set up for you to stream there.

Next up was an interview with John Martin on what Reallusion is up to. We filmed him talking about the new iClone 4, which is coming in September, and the recently released CrazyTalk 6 (I'll be reviewing this soon here at Renderosity). John's comments about Reallusion wanting to put the power of 3D into the hands of the regular Joe struck a chord, since I'm very much interested in creating my own animated films, but don't quite have the skills yet for a high end program. He also mentioned a new product called “Widget Cast” which, as I understand it, allows you to create Flash style presentations as widgets for your site. Release of this product is “very soon”, says John. My thanks to him for the interview.

I had some time before my next session in the late afternoon, so I just wandered around the Exhibit Floor. This is the last day, so folks really want you to come to their booth. I ended up at the John Wiley/Sybex technical book publishing booth. I've been wanting to do more book reviews for Renderosity and after I spoke with Jay Lesandrini, I was set up with three great Blender titles by Tony Mullen. The most interesting of which is "Bounce, Tumble and Splash: Simulating the Physical World with Blender 3D." He didn't have any copies of the recent "Blender for Dummies," but I'll probably pick that up on my own. My thanks to Jay for taking the time to talk to me and for providing the review copies.

I was politely corralled in one of the aisles by Shapeways CEO, Peter Weijmarshausen, and taken to their booth a few feet away. Shapeways is a 3D printing company which has had good success since I was at their booth in Los Angeles last year. Peter proudly displayed the new metal jewelry that the company had just added to their printing capabilities. Basically, you create a 3D design, submit it to Shapeways, and for a fee they'll send you the finished real object. I was very impressed with the designs and the quality of the work. Plus, the prices were very reasonable. Peter shared a big, upcoming piece of news for the company, but I promised not to talk until next week. It's gonna be worth the wait, so much so that I think I might get involved myself. Shapeways was a nice surprise. I'm glad they pulled me over to take a look.

Little did I realize, but 3D printing was going to become a big theme in the next event, “Coraline: the Changing Face of Animation,” because, as Brian Van't Hall, effects supervisor on “Coraline” points out, they used 3D printing to create a huge amount of the facial animation in a process called “processed animation.” After designing the animation/shapes in Maya, they'd export an .sdl file directly to their 3D printer, and after cleanup/sanding/etc., they created facial sets for each character which in turn go into a huge facial library available to the stop-motion animator on set. There was a collective dropping of jaws when he mentioned that there were over 12,000 separate faces used in the production. Using great production footage from the set, the presentation was one of the best I've seen this week at SIGGRAPH. Watching the animators work in stop-motion is eerie. My only complaint is that the 3D printing company, Objet, spent too much time promoting their product instead of fitting it into the Coraline topic. At one point there were pictures of the various models of printers on the screen and the patter by the speaker sounded a lot like a sales pitch.

After a quick lunch of Red Beans and Rice at the Riverwalk overlooking the Mississippi River, I rushed back to my hotel for a shower and change of clothes. Then I headed over to the Animation Festival and caught two more hours of amazing animated films. Standouts include “The Spine” by Chris Landreth (could kick myself for missing his production session) and “Vilnius-Guggenheim,” a film commissioned by architect Daniel Libeskind. Both films are hard to describe; you simply have to see them to know why they are so brilliant; unusual stories and perfect technical presentation. And a little offbeat, too. Interesting to see that even in an audience of mostly experienced CG people, it was Pixar's “Partly Cloudy” that drew the longest applause, even though it's a type of film we've seen Pixar do over and over again. I think their focus on sympathetic characters is one of the keys to their appeal. And, honestly, I was applauding just like everyone else.

Ended the day at Mother's restaurant with their special Po-Boy sandwich and bread pudding. Slow walk back to the hotel and getting ready for the last day of SIGGRAPH tomorrow. I've been having a wonderful time.

Ricky will be reporting on daily events at SIGGRAPH 2009. Be sure to check the Renderosity Front Page News each day this week for updates!


Links:
Ricky Grove [gToon], Staff Columnist with the Renderosity Front Page News. Ricky Grove is a bookstore clerk at the best bookstore in Los Angeles, the Iliad Bookshop. He's also an actor and machinima filmmaker. He lives with author, Lisa Morton, and three very individual cats. Ricky is into Hong Kong films, FPS shooters, experimental anything and reading, reading, reading. You can catch his blog here.
August 6, 2009

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