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Annecy Goes High Tech With New Technology Conferences

Annick Teninge interviews Georges Lacroix about the New Technology Conferences taking place in Annecy late this month and into June. This second time event holds lofty goals... Available in French and English.

George Lacroix. Photo courtesy of George Lacroix.

Striving to stay on the cutting edge of animation technology, the Annecy Festival is staging, for the second time, conferences on new technology. Helmed by Georges Lacroix of Fantôme fame, the conferences are going to unit the latest technological advances with the talents who use them, in order to inform and inspire the Annecy audience. Spanning three days, Georges is not only going to discuss the schedule but the underlying reasons for and importance of these meetings. Annick Teninge: For the second time, the Annecy Festival is going to present its `Conference on New Technologies.' Is this event the realization of a common dream of Georges Lacroix, the creator of images, and Jean-Luc Xiberras, the creator of events? Georges Lacroix: We miss Jean-Luc Xiberras. You know the respect and friendship I had for him. Jean-Luc wasn't just a creator of events, he was also passionate about animation, and a true artistic director. He's the one who really wanted to have these new technology events, and the 1998 conference was a true success. The public reacted splendidly, and we saw where these new technologies could participate in the creation of new magic in animated programs. At the end of that event, Jean-Luc said to me, his eyes sparkling with sly mischief, `You see, Animation was the ancestor of Cinema...but maybe it's also Cinema's future.' This year the President of the festival, Dominique Puthod, and his Managing Director Tiziana Loschi, decided to continuethese conferences. The whole Annecy staff, plus Veronique Damien, are working to make this year's conference a success. AT: What is your principal goal in organizing these conferences? Is it a means of positioning Annecy as the annual meeting-place for animation in order to serve the industry?

Toy Story. Courtesy of and © Disney Enterprises, Inc.

GL: If you are talking about the `Industries of the Imagination,' as the former Minister of Culture Jack Lang used to call them, then yes. For me, creativity and industry are associated, and that's the main purpose of these conferences, to show the state of the art work done to date in a universe that is changing at a dizzying rate. This is true of all areas of animation. These conferences should inform, astonish, make one dream, promote the meeting of creative people, and, why not, inspire people to get started in this field. They are open to everyone: craftsmen or businessmen, students, independent artists, directors, producers, technicians -- to everyone interested in the future of animation. It is a promising future, and these conferences strive to provide a window on this growing world... `New Technology' doesn't necessarily rhyme with `Industry,' even if many spectacular productions like Toy Story, A Bug's Life or Antz used large scale and expensive means. Today the computers and software available to artists have never been so powerful. The prices are constantly getting lower, and that's not about to change. Films by students, or even young directors, show that it is now possible to create a `one man movie.' From now on, an independent artist can realize his film in his room at home, creating the images, sounds, special effects, editing, and then broadcast it on the Internet. AT: Would you tell us about the upcoming program? What is your favorite event? GL: You'd have to say `my favorite events.' This year we again have the chance to welcome artists, famous directors and talents who will unveil their works for us. They will share with us their passion and vision, and will tell us about their creative approach in using these new technologies. Annecy `99, I truly believe, will be a great gathering, and we have done everything possible to make the new technology conference a high-point.

Pixar's A Bug's Life. Courtesy of and © Disney Enterprises, Inc./Pixar Animation Studios.

We begin Wednesday, June 2, with `An International Selection of Student Films.' 23 short films from every corner of the globe will appear together in an 80-minute screening prepared in collaboration with Ina-Imagina. It is a mine of future talent, and the diversity of styles is a real feast. Jean-Michel Blottiere and Lydia Boutot from Ina-Imagina will present the program. Marianne Fontenier of Sup Info Com will be the moderator.

Bunny by Chris Wedge. Courtesy of and © Chris Wedge.

This screening will be followed by a presentation of selected films accompanied by their directors, and of course, we will leave time for questions and answers. We will continue in the afternoon with a special panel on the theme, `From Short Films to Features.' This program was based on a suggestion from Shelley Page of DreamWorks, with the idea of showing the public the latest, most prestigious shorts. We will also have the opportunity of welcoming:

  • Eric Darnell from PDI, director of Gas Planet and Sleepy Guy, and also co-director of Antz.
  • Chris Wedge, founder of Blue Sky Studios, who will discuss his creative steps toward realizing his film Bunny -- a film recently awarded an Oscar and First Prize at ImagIna `99.
  • Chris Landreth, director of Bingo, will retrace the creative road he followed to make a film based on a stage play.
  • Peter Lord and Michael Rose of Aardman, whose short films we know so well we don't need to screen them, will tell us about the feature they are presently working on.

Thursday, June 3, will be a day dedicated to Japan, where we will see that `Innovation and Tradition' work side-by-side in superb films using new technologies, which will be introduced by their creators. Machiko Kusahara of the University of Kobe, Sachiko Kondo of PH Studios, Masaki Taira of Trilogy, director Morimoto Koji and director Hideyuki Tanaka will reveal to us the Japan of the year 2000. Bandai Visual will show some projects, and so hopefully will Square, but their participation is still tentative. Friday, June 4, `Animation, Video Games and the Internet' will be presented. This explosion is also the future. Animation is omnipresent in video games and on the Internet. Jean-Noel Portugal from In Visio, Philippe Ulrich from Cryo, Benoit Sokal of Amerzone and Olivier Heckmann from Multimedia Productions, as well as Ubisoft and Infogrames possibly, will share their experience with us. AT: This year will Fantôme once again be the principle partner in organizing this conference?

Fantôme's Insektors. Courtesy of and © Fantôme.

GL: As you know, Fantôme was acquired by Neurones so it has become a branch of the group (as reported in the 3/30/99 Animation Flash). Paul Hannequart and Marc Minjaw decided to partner our event under the name Neurones and Fantôme, and I thank them for it. So the official presentation will read: The International Animation Film Festival of Annecy, Neurones and Fantôme present... Moreover in reference to partnership, this year we have several other sponsors and partners that I would like to name and thank here: the National Center for Cinematography, the Secretary of State for Industry, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Neurones-Fantôme, the Cartoon and Media Program of the European Union, Ina-Imagina, Pole Images from Angouleme, Bandai Visual, the magazines Total Screen and Pixel, and also Animation World Network. AT: What convergence or overlapping is there between the programs of student films at ImagIna and Annecy? GL: There's a real synergy between ImagIna and Annecy. ImagIna has a global approach, and its conferences put the accent on technologies,and research and development, while, of course, paying attention to content and the creative aspect. Annecy puts animation and creative expression in first place, while also paying attention to technology. The two approaches are complementary, and the collaboration of the two festivals results in offering the best programs. The audiences are different, even though some people attend both Annecy and ImagIna.

AT: This partnership between the Annecy Festival and Ina-Imagina is a very interesting first. Do you envision this type of collaboration involving other events, such as Milia, which for the past two editions focused on the convergence of the gaming industry and animation? GL: I'm not the only one who would decide on partnerships or collaborations. There is a board of directors and an administrative counsel for the festival. However, if you would like my personal opinion, I believe that certain relationships are obvious and necessary when they are complementary regarding scheduling and the subject matter concerned. On the other hand, I don't believe that such alliances should be systematically multiplied. A festival has to take care of its soul. AT: Can you still use the term `new technologies' when they dominate not only animation, but also live-action features with their special effects?

Antz. Courtesy of and © DreamWorks Pictures.

GL: The term `New Technologies' is best applied in certain sectors, such as industries like aerospace and biomedics, and communications among others. It's getting more and more debased. It is also necessary to differentiate between furnishing services and the creation of content. Our approach consists of speaking about new technologies in the art of animation, in service to creation, to reflect on how mastering them may permit artists to produce content and express different emotions. Technologies are called `new' until you learn how to master them so that they become a part of your everyday life. All technology was a `new technology' to start with. You know the saying: `In the last analysis, a tradition is nothing more than an innovation that succeeded.' The term will certainly disappear, and that's so much the better. Meanwhile, these conferences show the current state of an industry in constant growth, which is still unknown to a lot of people. It bears repeating that the more powerful the creative tools are, and this goes for all forms of expression, the more you have to master your art in order to master your style. Furthermore, never before have tools experienced such rapid evolution. Today everything goes so quickly. Every time you blink your eye, you've missed something. AT: After inviting the U.S. last year, Japan is the invited country this year. Japan is also the Honored Guest of the festival. Why? Is it in belated recognition of the quality of Japanese animation beyond the genre of what we call `anime' in the West? It is often all we see? GL: Japan has always enjoyed a privileged place at Annecy, which has already welcomed such prestigious animators as Yoji Kuri, Renzo Kinoshita, Kawamoto, Hayako Miyasaki, Furukawa, Takahata...Forgive me but the list is long, and I can't mention everyone. Several Japanese films have received the Grand Prize in the past. When we had the idea of inviting the Japanese filmmakers to our conferences on New Technologies, Jean-Luc Xiberras decided to realize a project close to his heart for a long time: Japan as the guest of honor for the festival, and not just for the conferences. For me, if animation has a homeland, then it's certainly Japan. I'm happy today that the Japanese will be present in force at Annecy. After inviting the U.S., the next obvious step was inviting Japan, since they have artists with strong personalities, and a traditional animation culture that engenders innovative works on a solid foundation. Good news! Hayao Miyasaki's Princess Mononoke will be screened as the official opening of the festival. AT: For these Conferences, beyond the technological issues, how do you promotethe artistic potential and creativity that new technologies offer? Because you have been a pioneer in the creation of completely CGI animated series, you are certainly a chosen ambassador...

A View of Annecy's Old Town. Photo courtesy of Heather Kenyon.

GL: Thanks for the `ambassador,' but I believe I'm too headstrong, too passionate, to merit that title. On the other hand, there's a saying that the roads of the American west were littered with dead pioneers impaled by Indian arrows -- so `pioneer' isn't such a good job either! In fact, I'm delighted to see that these technologies are being widely used now, and so much the better if I participated in their evolution -- but I like to look ahead. Today, films have become more spectacular. Animation has become more magical thanks partly to new technologies. No one doubts that from the U.S. to Japan and beyond! I only have one regret about Europe, and France in particular, that we have still not perceived the immense potential that technology can offer. We're content to treat it as an epiphenomenon, just good for making special effects or advertising, and restricting businesses to act only as for hire production houses. There are certainly talented creators, but they can only be used for hire. Creative artists who don't find ambitious projects in France must leave for other countries. Furthermore, since no measures have been taken by the public powers to create an environment favorable for the creation of programs of content (contrary to what's done in Canada, for example), in addition to the creative artists, businesses who want to make original programs (films, series, shorts) will soon leave, too. It's regrettable to have to declare such a mess, since France was ahead and had taken early measures for developing this field. I'm talking about the time when Jack Lang was Minister of Culture. It is urgent to encourage the `Industries of the Imagination' which will create employment, enrich the cultural heritage and shape our identity. I recently heard a public speech by Mr. Lang. He spoke of Europe, and suggested the creation of a Ministry of the Future, to whom would be given the means to implement his policy, and who would be in charge of developing new technologies in general, as well as those of the image. Our current Minister of Culture, Catherine Trautmann, should be listening. Translated from French by William Moritz. Annick Teninge is General Manager of Animation World Network.

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