Comic-Con veterans Kim Christianson, Jerry Beck, Mark Evanier, Heather Kenyon, Carlos Ramos, Alex Wu and Jennifer Yuh Nelson share their take on the annual convention in San Diego with additional vfx happenings reported by Bill Desowitz.
Just when you thought it couldnt get any bigger Comic-Con International 2005, July 14-17, 2005, the event drew a record 96,300 attendees and 7,700 exhibitors for a grand total of 104,000 individual people to San Diego. Attendees included not only fans of comics, sci-fi, fantasy and animation, but many entertainment industry types and press to the San Diego Convention Center.
The studios were again down there in full force, previewing movies, games, and animation amongst the comic publishers and collectors, as well as creative development execs looking for their next hit. No big deals were announced during or immediately after but undoubtedly many were spawned for future consumption.
This Comic-Con was even featured on a recent episode of the HBO series, Entourage, as the series stars did a mock appearance at the Con. Another growing event within the animation community for pitching and scouting talent are the parties given by animation talent agencies The Gotham Group and Natural Talent, as well as the annual Writers Guild Assoc. reception for its Animation Caucus.
The variety and numbers of participants dressed up as comic character seemed to have declined a bit and the San Diego Convention Center food services is still hopelessly inadequate at dealing with the vast numbers of junk-food munching zealots and booth workers who either cant or wont escape the center to refuel at the many fine nearby restaurants.
Producers, writers, animators, voice actors directors and network execs from Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, Warner Bros. DreamWorks, Sci Fi and Disney/Jetix did presentations for returning and new shows, while Craig Millers now annual animation writing panel took a look at writing for gaming. For more details on what was presented, check out the AWN Comic-Con Flash Newsletter.
Writer/producer Mark Evanier, host of 14 panels, gave a great tribute to voice actor/radio personality host Gary Owens who amazed the audience with his incredible recall of names, facts figures and trivia. The man is a human encyclopedia and Google search, as well as a gracious and humble man.
Meanwhile, there were plenty of opportunities at Comic-Con to delve into the vfx and animation with filmmakers on a number of high profile features.
Director Bryan Singer touted the new Genesis camera used on Warner Bros. Superman Returns (opening June 30, 2006) while addressing IMAX and 3D possibilities. He suggested that the movie will look like Rebecca in color, but will also reference the original Richard Donner feature, the TV series and the Max Fleischer cartoons.
Weve discussed an IMAX versionas far as a 3D version, I have to see the demonstrations of how to do it that waySo for us to do a 3D version we would have to re-render other elements in the digital world, so weve not yet discussed the notion of rendering our visual effects in 3D.
We are the first film to essentially use the Genesis camera, which was built from the ground up by Sony and Panavision to look more like film than any digital camera so far. And its quite fascinating and has created quite an image. It was spawned from when I did Brandon Rouths screen test. I did it in both 35mm and 70mm and I looked at the 70mm resolution and I thought if there was only some way we could shoot this is in 70mm, but its not possible because of the cameras, the lenses, the rigs, so the Genesis camera offers something classic but new and with the resolution that will blow up to IMAX.
Dean Wright, the visual effects supervisor on Disneys The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (opening Dec. 9), addressed the various artistic and technical challenges in creating the 2,000 CGI shots, which are being handled primarily by Rhythm + Hues and Sony Pictures Imageworks, We are growing on the technology that was developed for the Rings trilogy. One of the climactic moments of the film is a battle sequence where Peter leads [the lion] Aslans troops to fight against the White Witchs bad guys, which are filled with all these mythological creatures giants and dwarfs and goblins and a myriad and so we used the Massive [crowd simulation software]. And what happened was that Rhythm + Hues contacted the developer of that software [Stephen Regelous] and invited him down and we talked about the enormous challenges of this film.
Not only do you have thousands of creatures that attack each other that have to be believable but also the variety is much greater in scope than on the Rings, Wright continued. There are 20-30 different creatures here that could be battling at any one time, each with its own unique attributes. You dont want it to look like a mess out there. You cant art direct 10,000 creatures so you need to have the tools to run these computer simulations and have it look right.
That was just the brute force but its not the artistic nature of whats driving this project. The actual performances that had to come out of the key characters. In this we have Aslan, who basically drives the whole story, and is a lion that is entirely CG, except for an animatronic character in one scene where he gets manhandled by some creatures. And the first creature that the kids meet is Mr. Tumnus, and hes half-human and half CG, and they also run into Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, which are all-CG, and theres tons of scenes where [so many characters] have to interact and bring the story to life.
Director Darren Aronofsky addressed his anti-CGI stance for The Fountain, the metaphysical sci-fi drama from Warner Bros. tentatively slated for December, in which Hugh Jackman travels through space and time to find a cure for wife Rachel Weisz, who is dying of cancer. Weve done an about face and turned our backs on CGI, he said. Theres minimal CGI and over 400 effects shots at this point. We found this [optical effects] guy named Peter Parks, who has actually won an Oscar for building optical benches, but is an eccentric who lives in Oxford, England, and photographs [tiny] reactions. And that was how we created our space environment [for the futuristic sequence]. I wanted to reinvent space. I didnt want another typical hyperspace movie, which is what everything has been since Star Wars. We really did something different.
Everything in space is organic so we built nebulas out of little tiny reactions that happened that we photographed and are the size of a postage stamp, things from yeast growing to different types of chemical interactions, according to Aronofsky. I was searching for a guy who could do something that abstract and we found Peter and a few vendors.
The Fountain, which was first shut down several years ago after star Brad Pitt left the project, saw its budget slashed from $90 million to $35 million, but was always intended to be an indie-style feature in the mode of the directors Pi and Requiem for a Dream. That is one of the reasons why The Fountain is being designed by Amoeba Proteus, the New York-based digital studio founded by Aronofsky and his former college roommates, Dan Schrecker and Jeremy Dawson (along with Eric Watson). We take the stuff that theyve done and find creative ways of reusing it. Aronofsky added. Theyre designing the movie. The visual effects are mostly compositing work, putting together all the things that were photographed. Nothing was created inside a computer. Thats because if you look at vfx from five years ago andCGI dates. I sat down and looked at 2001 and wondered why it doesnt date. Thats because they shot models and live action and they composited. That was the goal to do effects that in 20 years will look strong.
Other vfx houses working on The Fountain are based in Canada, where the film was shot, including Intelligent Creatures and Buzz.
V for Vendetta producer Grant Hill divulged that Double Negative is doing around 190 CG shots for Warner Bros. graphic novel adaptation by the Wachowskis (opening March 17, 2006), the majority of which consist of, small artifact removal and blending the [Cinesite] models with the visual effects component.
Given the spate of recent terrorist bombings in London (V for Vendetta concerns a terrorist siege against Britains tyrannical government), Hill added, The thing that attracted everybody to the original material was that it did pose the questions that related to how powerful societies [have become] and how people can express their desire for change or not. Given whats going on in the world today, its become a complicated, violent world.
Illustrator David Lloyd, who collaborated on V for Vendetta with Alan Moore and recently completed a new graphic novel, The Kickback (Dark Horse), added, This is a sophisticated thriller with very provocative themes about terrorism. The Wachowskis revised their script from eight years ago to make it more sophisticated and to add [their own ideas].
Peter Chung, creator of the Aeon Flux animated TV series, discussed Paramounts live-action futuristic thriller (opening Dec. 2) starring Oscar winner Charlize Theron. It was translated into live action using very stark architecture [in Berlin, where it was shot], said Chung. This look [could not have been achieved] in the animated series. Chung added that he intentionally left out any backstory in the series and that the feature was different from what he might have done. However, he praised the minimal look, which still reflects an Asian influence in the sets and props.
And speaking of animation, Mike Johnson and Allison Abbate, co-director and producer of Tim Burtons highly anticipated stop motion feature, Corpse Bride (Warner Bros., Sept. 23), explained how the 18" puppets are a major leap forward. Thanks to new stainless steel armatures covered by a silicon skin (courtesy of MacKinnon & Saunders), the puppets are capable of a wide range of emotions. No more head replacements for the major characters in this gothic fairytale. Indeed, eyes can be exchanged with the use of a magnet and facial quirks can be tweaked by an Allen wrench. In fact, the filmmakers suggested that the Corpse Bride herself was like animating three characters, given her delicate hair and veil.
AWN asked some Comic-Con veterans for their perspective and observations on the show. These regulars include Kim Christianson, vp, creative affairs, Warner Bros. Animation; Jerry Beck, animation author/historian; Mark Evanier, writer/producer; Heather Kenyon, senior director of development, original animation, Cartoon Network; Carlos Ramos, exec producer/art director/creator of The Xs, Nickelodeon; Alex Wu, production coordinator, DreamWorks Animation; Jennifer Yuh Nelson, head of story at DreamWorks Animation; (Anime expert Fred Patten is still recovering from a stroke he suffered earlier this year. The AWN team looks forward to him continuing his contributions to Animation World Magazine.)
AWN: How many Comic-Cons have you attended?
Evanier: All of them. Ive been at every danged San Diego Con since the first one, way back in the previous century. In fact, if I dont show up, by law they have to call the thing off.
Yuh Nelson: Ive only attended a few, and most recently about six years ago. So, many things have changed.
Ramos: Ive been going since college, so about nine years.
Wu: Ive attended three.
Christianson: Ive been to at least six or seven of these events. Ive lost count
AWN: What features, events, booths draw you? What parts of Comic-Con do you most enjoy? And what did you get out of them this time?
I like the booths from the major companies especially this years Corpse Bride booth, DWA booth, Gentle Giant, Hasbro, Marvel and DC. I really like the panels although I didnt get to check them out this year. I saw some of them on iFilm and thought that the King Kong and Superman Returns panels to be the best. I really wanted to see J. Michael Straczynski, but didnt get a chance.
Ramos: Everything Japanese. And this year, Tenacious D played.
The amazing new toy makers, and artists. I got a beautiful silkscreen that an artist didnt intend to sell, and put it in my office for inspiration.
Christianson: I love the eclectic mix of people and events that you find at Comic-Con. Its a really great gathering of comic book writers and artists, along with celebs, executives, and of course, die-hard fans. Where else can you see Sailor Moon hanging out with Princess Leia and Duff Man? The convention also has a nice mix of events, from traditional panels and signings to Klingon ceremonies. And, its the only time I get to wear my Wonder Woman costume without people pointing and laughing at me.
Evanier: The thing I enjoy most is walking until my feet swell to the size of life rafts. No, I spend my time there moderating panels and since thats pretty much all I do, its what I enjoy... or maybe I have that backwards. Its what I enjoy so its all I do. But I also enjoy meeting people, I guess. The place is full of interesting folks. Some year, if theyd give me a good location, I think Id like to buy a booth in the main hall, set up a little couch and lay in some refreshments. Id just sit there for the whole con, inviting passersby to sit and chat.
Kenyon: Comic-Con is one of the most useful events of the year! Last year as I was leaving the exhibit floor I was finding entire sections that I hadnt visited so this year I extended my stay. I arrived late Wednesday night and stayed through Sunday afternoon. I managed to cover the entire floor, searching for new characters and talented people for Cartoon Network, but also cute T-shirts and one of those hats from Japan with ears on it for me. Due to the size of the floor and so much to go through I needed that extra day so that I could also go to the panel discussions, which I find really helpful, not only to see what the competition is up to and hear more about properties of interest but also to see what the other divisions of Cartoon Network are doing!
Beck: I was asked to host the Disney preview event in Hall H. That thrill was only topped (slightly) by the great reaction to my Worst Cartoons Ever screening on Friday night. I never knew so many people liked bad cartoons (like Bucky and Pepito and Super President)!
I enjoyed the Writers Guild party and the Forry Ackerman, Ray Bradbury, Ray Harryhausen panel... but the true highlight is meeting up with old friends from around the world who make it to San Diego.
Yuh Nelson: Mostly, I like to trawl the independent artist area as well as the import comics booths. Its great seeing how many people from the industry are printing their own work. Also, it is always a fun place to people watch and meet artists Id rarely have access to.
AWN: Did you see anything or anyone surprising?
Ramos: Jack Black at the King Kong event was amazing, and hilarious. Plus seeing old faces from the past is always surprising.
Yuh Nelson: I saw a guy wearing the back of an animal as a hat.
I saw the guy that played Flash Gordon from the early eighties movie.
Christianson: I think I actually saw a comicbook fan amongst all the Hollywood execs. Actually, I saw Gene Simmons several times. And I ALMOST saw Tenacious D, but they shut down the line with just eight people in front of me ouch! So disappointing!
Evanier: I saw a spot in the main hall on Saturday that didnt have anyone standing on it. But just for a second.
AWN: How did this one compare to previous ones?
Beck: Its gotten too big... its literally overwhelming. The intimacy is gone. But if you plan your day right, wear some comfortable shoes and allow some time to explore the dealers room, you can still have a lot of fun.
Wu: I just thought it was more of the same.
Evanier: Every con is a little bigger than the one before. Whatever you liked last year, theres 10% more of it this year and therell be 10% more next year. Other than that, its pretty much the same convention. Every single dealer I was looking for in the exhibit hall was in the exact same place as last year so I didnt even have to consult the little map in the program book. I think some of the people were wearing the same clothes...and by that I dont mean that they took them off and had them laundered in the interim.
Christianson: All of the Cons are a lot of fun, and they seem to grow in size every year. It took me more than five hours to drive to San Diego from Los Angeles San Fernando Valley, which was my first clue that this years Con was going to be busy. It was jam-packed inside the convention area this year, especially on Saturday. Thankfully, a wookie was able to show me the way out.
Ramos: Well, I had a screening for the first time for the public of The Xs, and a signing. To go from fan to autograph-signer was surreal. So, this one was the best!
Yuh Nelson: The Con certainly has gotten a lot bigger and more high-stakes than a few years ago. I used to see more small businesses and people selling their garage collections. Now, there was a much larger corporate presence. It closer resembled the flash and bang of E3 with its elaborate booths and presentations.
Kenyon: Comic-Con is not only a chance for me to run into half the writers and artists that pitch to me, but also many of my Cartoon Network colleagues from Atlanta. The company always has a huge presence in San Diego and it is great to get to meet the people at the other end of the email and hang out together for a few days. This year I made sure to pick up the contact info for a lot of the galleries and stores that had booths. I am getting on their email lists so that I can attend their special events and have a little bit of the Con throughout the year.
Christianson: If youre going to Comic-Con, definitely take the train!
Ramos: I just wanted to personally thank all the kids for showing up to The Xs/Catscratch screening. It was so rewarding to hear those laughs.
Evanier: On Saturday, someone asked me what I thought Will Eisner would be doing if he were still alive. I said, Waiting in line at Pro Registration.
Wu: I think the whole Comic-Con thing is starting to get a little out of hand and perverse. Its fun but I was a little overwhelmed.
Beck: The Con has gotten TOO big. I liked it when it only drew 50,000 people. As crazy as its become, it is a must to attend to get a sense of the latest trends in the animation (and comics and movie) industry.
If you are planning to go next year, book your hotel NOW!
Sarah Baisley is editor of Animation World Network and Bill Desowitz is editor of VFXWorld.