SIGGRAPH Computer Animation Festival

Interview by Dee-Marie, Contributing Columnist

The SIGGRAPH Conference is always a Mecca for graphic artists...novice and professionals alike. Over the past 35 years, the SIGGRAPH Computer Animation Festival has always been the conference's highlight. Jill Smilon (this year's Computer Animation Festival Director) explains how the newly expanded 2008 festival has advanced into an international gala affair...

Dee Marie: What is your background with the SIGGRAPH Conference, and how did that experience lead to your appointment as this year's Computer Animation Festival Director?

Jill Smilon: Well…My first SIGGRAPH experience was as an attendee in 1981. By 1996, when I was finally in the industry I loved, I wanted to be even more involved. My friend Joe Lohmar introduced me to Jackie White (SIGGRAPH Conference Advisory Group chair), I joined her subcommittee, and I haven’t looked back since. For 1999, I chaired Outreach (which became one third of an amazing venue we called Electronic Schoolhouse), and found I loved pulling together big panels which I did for Special Sessions and Panels for several years.

During that time, I also served on some Computer Animation Festival committees in various roles. In 2005, I was asked to be part of this extraordinary team put together to move SIGGRAPH into the next dimension. Honestly, it was such an honor to join a group of incredibly experienced SIGGRAPHers, many of whom were previous conference chairs. Thus, exhaustion took the back seat, and I joined as the Entertainment Director (a title that kept changing). Some time last June, Jacquelyn Martino [the SIGGRAPH 2008 Conference Chair] encouraged me to take the Computer Animation Festival to that next level. After talking to many festival folks and SIGGRAPH veterans (including Emru Townsend, Samuel Black, Sande Scoredos, Carlye Archibeque and others), this 2008 Computer Animation Festival program and vision came to life.

 


Oktapodi © Eric Riewer—CAF 2008

 

DM: This year's Computer Animation Festival promises to be a full-blown animation celebration, how has the festival grown over the years and what sets this year's festival apart from previous years?

JS: In broad terms, historically, the festival has been a compilation of juried material, split into two venues and also integrated with curated content, where it isn’t necessarily distinguishable from the juried. Our goal was to take that foundation and expand it—evolve it if you will—into a true festival; A place where people could experience an entire slate of really cool stuff—whether that is a panel on animation or some really cool, weird screening that they you might not otherwise ever be exposed to.

It was also vital that we retain the integrity of previous years, and integrate the historical competition content of this very beloved institution into this new creation. So, in LA, we will have seven distinct competition screenings, five of which feature common content—basically those pieces receiving the highest jury scores; we have an additional six hours of content that has been curated from around the globe.

We’ll feature a reel of studio contributions, among which are a couple shorts and premiere trailers (one, from Rob Coleman’s latest project, The 4th Magi). Plus, we will feature a retrospective of the last 25 years of Polygon Pictures, a very cool reel from schools who reached into their vaults to show us the progression of their programs (talk about technically challenging!), an awesome compilation of real-time game clips; selections from the Japan Media Arts Festival; an entire hour of Flash animation (boy have we come a long way).

All of that will be projected on a 70-foot screen at the Nokia (another enormous challenge for both our incredible post crew at Imageworks, and the SIGGRAPH AV crew ). Meanwhile at the convention center, we start with two full days of Stereoscopic 3D talks and screenings curated by the inimitable Rob Engle; and we have four full days of panels, talks and classes from major studios, commercial houses, and independent artists.

Attendees will also get to experience a session by Disney and Pixar regarding their new shorts as well as a talk from the animators working with Rob Coleman on that feature I mentioned earlier. Even the hall will have animation: selections from SIGGRAPH history compiled by our Ex Student Volunteer (another program by Jacquelyn Martino). We will also feature storyboards and art.

Over in the Nokia, the brainchild of Sande Scoredos, was to feature hosted evenings by studios who are long-time SIGGRAPH contributors. In that way, Pixar, Imageworks and ILM, are hosting Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights at the Nokia. We’ll get some truly lovely surprises there…Oh and we’re going to hold an actual awards show. It’ll be hosted by some incredible industry animators and programmers and will be a blast – SIGGRAPH style.

DM: Wow, that is amazing. In keeping with the evolution of SIGGRAPH, it was a stroke of genius on your part to enlist Meats Meier to create an iconic image for this year's festival.

JS: Actually, I’m glad you think of it as a stroke of genius. I call it bugging my genius friend to help me look good. [laughter]

 


Animation Mother © Meats Meier—SIGGRAPH CAF 2008

 

DM: Meats has also been a longtime favorite of the Renderosity community, I can see why he was the first person who came to mind for this honor.

JS: Honestly, I’ve adored Meats for years (we got to work together for a while at Gnomon Workshop). He is one of the most talented, humble, lovely humans you’ll be lucky to meet. And I get to call him a friend. So when he agreed to do this for us, we started the process of evolving an idea into art. We started with the ideas of evolution, growth, trees, branches, animation, and the concept of a “mother.”

Then, well, his amazing work just speaks for itself! I’m blown away that I got to be responsible for his bringing this gorgeous piece into being…and this is just the beginning. At first I wanted to print her in 3D, but Meats’ work doesn’t really lend itself to rapid prototyping (yet). So we’re teaming up with Rabbitholes to make a hologram for the top awards. We get to present truly 3D art, in a 2D space…and she’ll be animated! Plus, it will be the face of the Computer Animation Festival for years to come.

DM: What a thrill that must be for both you and for Meats to have his artwork reproduced like that. I think we could spend the whole interview just on Meats, but we must get back to the actual festival. How many entries did you receive this year, and how do they compare to previous years, in both the number of entries, and the quality of animations?

JS: We actually received more than 650 entries this year. Because of the earlier deadline, the quantity may not be as high as some previous years, but we feel the quality will just blow people away.

DM: That is still a lot of entries. Which country provided the highest number of entries, and did you have any entries from countries that had never entered before?

JS: The United States outnumbers the rest of the world, but SIGGRAPH is truly global with submissions from: Israel, Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ecuador, Malaysia—just to name a few. Truly, it makes the world seem very small—and very talented—indeed.

 


Baerenbraut © Tina Ohnmacht—CAF 2008

 

DM: I agree with you wholeheartedly, the animations in past years were remarkable, and each year the talent grows. Out of curiosity, what specifically did the jury look for when casting their votes for this year's nominees?

JS: Our fabulous jury, yes…they did a spectacular job. I must say that I was delighted they had such a marvelous sense of humor and timing. They truly love animation—and they love to laugh. I think you might notice a lighter sensibility this year. Honestly, I do think the pieces submitted were more optimistic than in years past, but this content variation seems to work in cycles, really, It is nice to think that these lovely animators see the world the way they do, and our jury chose pieces that let us experience their imaginations.

 


Blizzard Entertainment's StarCraft II © Janet L. Garcia—CAF 2008

 

DM: After re-reading your article, The Pixel Priestess: Art Has Bumped into the Ceiling of Technology…I have to ask...did any of this year's entries (as you hoped they would in your article)...break through the ceiling of technology into the great unimagined universes of beyond?

JS: Oh my goodness, you read one of my old Pixel Priestess articles?

DM: Yes, it was featured in the Animation World Magazine, and I enjoyed it very much.

JS: Wow. I think I’ve learned, and learn repeatedly, that the greatest technological limitations are those within our own minds; our own imaginations. The technology might give us some particular freedom that ink and paint does not, but really, the best systems in the world can’t supplant the most fertile imagination.

Case in point. I love that the Pixar-hosted evening (Tuesday) features John Lasseter, arguably one of our finest filmmakers in any medium but lauded for his work in computer graphics. He is interviewing Frederic Back, a two-time Academy Award wining animator and someone that Lasseter admires greatly. Back’s work is exclusively analog; colors paired with sweet, beautiful ideas. I think you’ll see some pieces this year that transcend the software. Where some might not appear technically advanced, they’re animated with grace and style, take us to an entirely different place, and tell really, really inspiring stories.

 


Les Pieds tanqués © Annabel Sebag—CAF 2008

 

DM: The more you reveal about the festival, the more I want to buy a ticket to this year's SIGGRAPH conference. Compared to previous years, were the majority of entrants new talent, or did you see more animators from previous years submitting their work?

JS: Larger entities seem to remain consistent—studios, schools, repeat companies—but the people within them change. So, without being scientific at all, I’d say yes, a good portion of the entrants are new.

 


IBM Web Campaign - What Makes You Special? © Betsy de Fries—CAF 2008

 

DM: Thanks for reminding us not to equate familiar company names with the same team of artists. When previewing this year's animations, did you see any specific trends? Were there more animations leaning towards; science fiction adventure, cartoon-style comedy, abstract, or multimedia based?

JS: As usual, the submissions were clear across the board; you’ll see painterly pieces, photo-real pieces, science, cartoons, funny pieces, and those that aren’t. I think if anything, this year seemed to be infused with a sense of humor, which I just can’t help but love.

 


Confine[s] © Makoto yabuki—CAF 2008

 

DM: Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to give our readers the inside scoop to this year's Computer Animation Festival. One last question, what advice can you give our readers who have hopes of being among the privileged animators showcased in next year's festival?

JS: Remember that your greatest assets are your mind, your imagination, your observations and your experiences. Look at the pieces this year, and you’ll see what I mean. From the fanciful to the meaningful—from the corporate to the independent—from the student to the professional—inspiration is everywhere! In the end, it is this limitless potential and creative synergies that makes this conference unique.

 


My Little Angel © Scott A. Gaff—CAF 2008

 

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Get to know industry leaders and professionals
as they sit down and talk candidly with
Contributing Columnist, Dee-Marie.

July 7, 2008

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