Sountrack for the day: “The Bright Mississippi” by Allen Touissant
Day one at SIGGRAPH 2009 in New Orleans did not start well for me. After an incredible meal at “Johnny's” not far away from the hotel (crabmeat au gratin), I had an allergic reaction to the shellfish and was up all night with a swollen throat and killer headache. Very hard to get going this morning, but with the help of Allen Touissant's music (that New Orleans new jazz will definitely get you out of your blues for the day), I got myself together. And after going over notes/schedule for the day at the Media Room (doesn't seem to be as many reporters hanging out this year), I hustled over to La Nouvelle Orleans Ballroom for Randy Thom's keynote address on the sound/image collaborative process.
The Ballroom is huge with probably 1500 seats and about half of them occupied. I was pleasantly surprised that the conference chair, Ronen Barzel, started the event off with an overview of the conference and quick outline of events and where to get help. I don't remember this happening last year, but it certainly was a nice touch. He's obviously a down-to-earth guy with a great personality. There were two stages on either side of a huge screen, with two more smaller screens above each stage. Certainly easy to see and hear. And thank God the A/C isn't over-cranking so that it's freezing. It's a good space for this type of event.
Randy Thom eventually made it on the stage a bit late, but very welcome. He's had a remarkable career in sound and is currently the Director of Sound Design at Skywalker Sound. He focused on two films and used clips from each to demonstrate his ideas about how sound can have a huge impact on a film if it is brought in earlier in the process. Clips from “Apocalypse Now” and “Wall-E” made a huge impression in the Ballroom because of the excellent sound system and stage managing.
He spoke of the film experience of working on “Apocalypse” (he spent a week creating the sounds of flies buzzing at the beginning of the film) as being his film school because everything happened on that film. He made the case that production of Animated films might be more receptive to using sound sooner. “Wall- E”used sound design to compliment the animation process right from the beginning of the process. Something that bore fruit in developing a collaborative relationship between the sound designer and director. Mr. Thom stayed after and answered questions in one corner of the Ballroom for about a half hour. People just couldn't get enough.
Headed over to have lunch with my friend, Bill Lessard and his wife, Judith. They rented a car and took me out to an excellent greek restaurant in the uptown area of New Orleans. Bill does the PR for Reallusion. I met him last year at the Los Angeles SIGGRAPH. This year, he and John Martin plan to give a sneak peak of iClone 4 and other Reallusion products. Bill and Judith are great conversationalists and by the end of the meal, I was feeling much better both physically and mentally. The ride back to the Warehouse district was a lot of fun and I got to see some wonderful houses and the mighty fine Charles St. Streetcar. Judith had lived in New Orleans years ago and knew the history of the city backwards and forwards. When they dropped me at my hotel, I was happy but ready for a nap.
Refreshed, I headed over to catch the last of the Visual Music Talks and, boy, I could kick myself for not catching some of the earlier talks. Bonnie Mitchell & Elaine Lillios gave a talk on “Experimental Animation and Sound” where they explained some of their collaborative methods and showed clips from some of their fascinating films. What struck me was how creative these films were. One installation they created actually created an active interaction with sound and visuals for a single observer. They were very interested in creating an immersive experience for the viewer/listener. I only wished their talk could have gone on for another hour.
Then on to the Animation Festival awards, where four awards were given out in rather perfunctory fashion (I guess I'm used to the nine yards that Hollywood usually gives out on these kinds of things). Best of Show went to “French Roast”; Jury Award to “Dix”; Student Prize to “Project Alpha” and the WTF Prize (Well Told Fable) went to the “Unbelievable Four”. Immediately after the awards there was a too-short demonstration of real-time render films/demos which were absolutely wonderful. A short session from a game called “Flower,” built for the PS3 had everyone's eyes bugging it was so beautiful. The other demos were equally interesting, with one from EA's “Fight Night 4,” pitting Will Wright against Mike Tyson in a live boxing match. Of course, you know who won, don't you? Delightful and hard to believe it's all done live in real-time using the GPU.
Lastly, the Jury Reel played out in a very dark and quiet theater. I could only stay for one reel but, as usual the quality of the animation was spectacular. I hate to disagree with the jury, but after seeing “Anima”, an extraordinary experimental animation from France, I was left wondering how anything could be better. Fortunately, all of the other films were superb with “Alma” by Rodrigo Blaas, “French Roast” by Fabrice O. Joubert, “friends?” by Sveinbjorn J. Tryggvason and “Who's Gonna Save My Sole” by Chris Milk (a big crowd pleaser).
What's so impressive about almost all of these films aside from their obvious technical sophistication is the creativity behind each one. That's why the SIGGRAPH Animation Festival is really one of the most remarkable parts of the conference. Each film is like a perfect dream; some are nightmares and others are paradise. Still more are absurd or hilariously strange. Each filmmaker achieves complete immersion in the story they are telling or the world they are creating. And it is incredibly inspiring to see this kind of work and to understand something about how it was made. To have all of these films in one place and to be able to meet/discuss the films with some of the directors is an invaluable experience that can only make my own work better.
And that's why SIGGRAPH is such an important event for Computer Graphics: it's about coming away from it inspired and excited. And there are four more days of this? Wonderful.
Time to go as I've got a long day tomorrow that starts very early. See ya!
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!
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.
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