“Mila represents all those children across the ages and around the planet who are in danger,” Angelini said. Noting that the low-budget project represents a method for creating an animated film that would have been impossible 10 years ago, she brought a message for bigger studios.
“We’re here to share the idea that this is possible,” she said. “There are amazing artists around the world who don’t have the chance to work at this high quality, and they are dying to work with you on your production. If we can do it with no budget, you can do it on a bigger budget for sure. It’s a future for our industry.”
In addition to Angelini, several other speakers from what might loosely be called independent animation studios gave talks, including Mark Osborne, director of the highly lauded The Little Prince, who also worked with artists all over the world
Kris Pearn, director of Bron Animation’s wacky
The Willoughby’s, who had the funniest line of the conference. In speaking about his previous experience working on a $100 million animated feature, he said, “It was like eating gelato while having a colonoscopy.”
Steve Muench represented the painted animated feature Loving Vincent, created by artists in Poland and Greece
; Mark Mulley, technical director for Cartoon Salon in Ireland, brought
The Breadwinner, which is already receiving Oscar buzz. Dave Rosenbaum, chief creative officer, and Warren Franklin, executive producer at Cinesite Studios, shared their vision for the Cinesite of the future, where three animated features are under production in their three studios.
“We’re picking projects the big studios might not touch, not the ones they could do better,” Franklin says. “Risky content is our friend.”
The second two keynote presenters that first day focused on virtual reality, which emerged as a strong theme throughout the four-day show.
Keynote speaker Eric Darnell, the co-founder and chief creative director for Baobab Studios, explored immersive storytelling in virtual reality, and Vicki Dobbs Beck, the executive in charge of ILMxLAB, brought that studio’s lessons learned to the Italian audience. Darnell, who is well known to CGW readers as the writer/director of DreamWorks’ three
Madagascar animated features,
The Penguins of Madagascar, and for those who can turn on a way back machine, PDI’s short animated film “Gas Planet.” Darnell presented Baobab’s two animated VR shorts – “Invasion,” which recently won an Emmy, and “Asteroids.”
“What we’re focused on at Baobab is motivating compassionate actions driven by empathy,” Darnell says. “It’s less like telling branching stories and more like having branching emotions. With VR storytelling, we can turn audience empathy into action.”
Vicki Dobbs Beck’s lessons learned while creating immersive experiences at ILMxLAB included these five: pacing matters, minimize dialog, sound is an ultimate weapon, pay attention to accessibility, and add 4D effects (a fan blowing) to heighten reality.
“Rather than storytelling, you’re story living,” she said, and shared ILMxLAB’s timeline: 2017-8, learn and survive; 2019-20, grow and strive as the market hits a pivot point; and beyond 2020, thrive.
“2020 is when I estimate the market opens up,” she said.
In addition to Eric Darnell and Vicki Dobbs Beck, Maureen Fan, Baobab’s CEO and co-founder, and Larry Cutler, chief technical officer, demonstrated how to create emotions in VR through theater lighting effects and soft edges. Google product manager Elisabeth Morant showed Tilt Brush, one of the few tools available for artists creating images in virtual space. Claudio Pedica, senior interaction designer at Solfar Studios in Iceland, made climbing and studying Mt. Everest real in virtual reality. Eloi Champagne, technical director for the National Film Board of Canada’s animation department, talked about several ongoing VR projects at NFB, including a stereoscopic stop-motion VR experience, and showed images of the vertical dome artists are using to review VR productions. Bernard Yee, executive producer and program manager, considered plausible presence in VR.
One VR talk, though, was the highlight of the conference: The presentation by Dr. Donald Greenberg, professor of computer graphics at Cornell University, who received the most enthusiastic and long-lasting ovation of any speaker at the conference. Dr. Greenberg challenged and inspired those in the audience interested in computer graphics to study the neuroscience of the human eye.
“Eye tracking is essential to get the resolution we’ll need for virtual reality,” he said. “We need to do biomimicry of the human eye.”
The third theme that emerged during the conference centered on creating digital humans. Paul Debevec, now a senior staff engineer at Google as well as a research professor at UC ICT, showed some ways in which researchers at Google are looking at “headset removal,” that is, rendering the viewer’s face onto the headset to make it look as if the headset is transparent. As for digital humans, Debevec presented the latest illumination research – matching illumination spectra with RGB LEDs – and on capturing more detailed skin texture – measurement-based synthesis of facial microgeometry. Debevec left the conference early to fly back to California in time to receive the prestigious SMPTE 2017 Progress Medal.
The impact of the Lightstage system developed by Debevec and his students at ICT was evident in many other talks in which digital humans played a role. John Nelson, VFX supervisor on Blade Runner 2049, showed the beautiful effects in that film, including one surprising and remarkable digital human. Animation supervisor Hal Hickel included ILM’s work on digital humans during his
Rogue One talk. Martin Hill, VFX supervisor at Weta Digital for
Valerian, and Scott Stokdyk, overall supervisor on that film, showcased the digital Pearls in their presentations. And, Martyn Culpitt, visual effects supervisor at Image Engine, showed the making of digital Logan and X-24 for the film
. These supervisors presented more than just the VFX work on digital humans, but two things became clear as they detailed the process for creating digital humans: They use very similar techniques, and we’re seeing a lot more of these characters without, sometimes, realizing we’re seeing CG characters at the time.
“I’m humbled that so many people don’t know there are these visual effects in the film,” Culpitt says of Logan.
These supervisors and other VIEW presenters are likely to be in the running for Oscar nominations for visual effects this year. Christopher Townsend, overall VFX supervisor, and Trixter’s Simone Kraus, animation supervisor, showcased the insanely complex and beautiful environments and digital raccoon in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Jessica Norman, a VFX supervisor at the Moving Picture Company, detailed MPC’s work on
Wonder Woman. And, Joe Letteri of Weta Digital talked about creating digital apes and growing forests for
War for the Planet of the Apes in a wide-ranging conversation on stage with me. It was great fun.
As was the entire conference. There were many more talks, of course. Keynote speaker Rob Pardo, former game designer for the World of Warcraft games and former Blizzard exec, offered lessons learned from that experience into a new company, Bonfire. Pardo was among several presentations by game designers. Kim White from Pixar and Alessandro Jacomini from Disney Animation, both directors of photography, taught us about lighting. Randy Lake, Sony’s president of studio operations, and Imageworks, celebrated that studio’s 25 years.
I can’t mention everyone, of course. But I must include the remarkable David Putrino, director of rehabilitation innovation at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai, who reminded all of us that technology can do more than entertain – it can be used to change people’s lives – to make it possible for a Parkinson’s sufferer to play the piano again, a deaf person to “hear” music, a paralyzed artist to draw with his eyes, and a young war victim to be able to feed himself again.
It was a remarkable four days. Conference director Maria Elena Gutierrez said, as she always does at the end of a VIEW conference, “This was our best conference ever.”
I’m already looking forward to next year.
Barbara Robertson is an award-winning writer and contributing editor for CGW.