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IMAGINA `98: Digital Becomes Integral

Singier relates the events of IMAGINA `98, France's digital showcase.

IMAGINA held its 17th edition from March 4 - 6, 1998 in Monaco. The theme of this year's festival was `Integral Digital.' From virtual creatures to special effects for the cinema and from the Web to television, the entire digital community was there. Six thousand professionals, artists, directors, producers, journalists, publishers and program distributors from the new imaging technologies, such as 3-D animation, digital compositing and video games, all participated in the huge three-day trade fair. For 1998, the conference's general coordination was entrusted to Mr. Jean-Michel Blottiere. The co-presidents were Mr. Philippe Queau (UNESCO) and Bernard Stiegler (INA). Marathon training is recommended for those who want to follow all of the diverse lectures, screenings and parties. For the fan of new imaging, the day begins at 10:00 a.m., and finishes at 3:00 or 4:00 a.m. the next morning! The Industry Exposition Fifty-seven exhibitors gathered beneath the immense white pillars on the port of Monaco (only 15,000 square feet!). The exposition was situated on the embankment where the famous automobile races are celebrated. This year the makers of computers, except for Digital, were conspicuous in their absence. One imagines that Silicon Graphics wouldn't want to present old computer systems, such as 02 and Octane, that are near the end of their life span, and are waiting for SIGGRAPH to launch their new Pentium computers functioning on NT. Rumor has it that the cost of entry is around $5,000 to $6,000! SGI must be envisioning launching directly to a mass market. The positioning would be in relation to Dell, Compaq or HP. SGI was nonetheless represented on the expo floor by the loan of computers, notably the Onyx 2. Intergraph, who had a large presence last year with a Render Farm of 10 by 4 processors on ATM net, was also absent. There weren't many new things in the hardware department, but Minolta did present a 3-D digitizer: the portable VI 700 which uses laser triangulation. CGIx, another event in Amsterdam, took place a month earlier, and perhaps cast a shadow on IMAGINA. In the area of software programs, Softimage presented a beta version of Twister, a new renderer. Twister uses Mental Ray 2, and allows you to finalize a rendering without calculating the image, which is like IPR but with a much more reasonable wait time. The biggest event as far as the industry was concerned was the first official European launching of MAYA. The presentation took place in the largest hall of the Loews Hotel. The Gold Room was full with a standing room only audience of 700 to 800 people. MAYA is the product of four companies, or ex-companies, that are leaders in 3-D animation: Alias, Wavefront, TDI and SGI. Briefly, it is an adjustable interface with some tool oriented objects, a programming language with scripts for repetitive tasks (MEL), an open program with Plug In Manager, an adjustable Hot Box accessible by keyboard, a new modeler (Artisan) and the use of links for construction animation. Chris Landreth just used the state-of-the-art system to make Bingo, a 5-minute film with several 3-D actors in order to push the program to its limits. Orad presented its solutions for virtual studios to the video screen, but they had not installed a model that actually functioned yet. Their concepts have not yet managed to be utilized by the French television channels. The only channel that is equipped internally remains TF1.

The College of Arts and Crafts [ENSAM] presented an elevator which presented the infinitely small. The installation was composed of a booth equipped with a giant screen on the floor. The manipulation of controls permitted the booth to descend and simultaneously to penetrate into matter through the succession of images taken with microscopes and digital effects. The film, interfaced with the elevator, is a 3-D experience of the invisible. It was duly rewarded in the competition winning both the First place Pixel-INA Prize for Simulation/Visualization, and the Media Prize for the best European creation.

This year was Infogrames Entertainment's first time exhibiting at IMAGINA. The leading European publisher of programs for interactive video games bestowed the Creagina Prize for the encouragement of young talents to Samuel Tourneux for the film Mad Cow (Sup Info Com). Infogrames plans to develop new activities, perhaps films, in the future. The Transarchitecture Exhibition was the first international exhibition focused on the theme of virtual space and the ideas of architecture via the new technologies. It presented different themes of theoretical research recently developed about the emerging world resulting from a new rapport of space and technologies. In envisioning this transfer into virtual space, the architect changes the tool and thus the culture. The spaces that he conceives logically make reference to systems internal in the computer. Some 20 architects presented their research via the Internet or on CD-Rom. Their creations were printed out on a 12 foot square surface for each project. The exhibition was conceived by Odile Fillion and Michel Vienne.

Tous Sur Orbite! by Nícolas Gessner of FantômeAnimation. Image © Fantôme Animation, courtesy of IMAGINA.

Tous Sur Orbite! by Nícolas Gessner of FantômeAnimation. Image © Fantôme Animation, courtesy of IMAGINA.

SOS Fantôme

Georges Lacroix, president of the Fantôme Society, organized a press conference on March 6, to launch an appeal in the name of his enterprise. In effect, the different series developed by the society (the third season of Insektors, The Giraffes of Mordillo) did not receive proper budgets. No European bank wanted to invest in the 3-D sector, which is looked upon like a circus act.Representatives from the majority of 3-D companies were present to support a company as symbolic as Fantôme. Mr. Jacques Delmoly, from the Media program of the European Commission, intervened to specify that a study of this sector had been started. Representatives from the National Center for Cinematography (Ministry of Culture) were also present in the auditorium. The real problem in this situation is that there really isn't a client anymore in France, aside from Canal+, that can co-produce programs based on new technology. Plenty of know-how and good plans exist, but there are too few partners ready to take the risks! There's no financial mechanism allowing businesses that know how to develop for themselves, to finance the second stage, production. Less than two years from the year 2000, and there was only one French television channel present at IMAGINA `98 (Canal+)! Do we have to move to another continent in order to show our work? Fantôme is in danger of closing down, and sends out its SOS ... Contact: Georges Lacroix.

A model wearing a motion-capture apparatus and the Kinetix software configuration used for the Thierry Mugler fashion show. Image © Thierry Mugler/Kinetix, courtesy of IMAGINA.

A model wearing a motion-capture apparatus and the Kinetix software configuration used for the Thierry Mugler fashion show. Image © Thierry Mugler/Kinetix, courtesy of IMAGINA.

Thierry Mugler's Fashion Show

The great fashion designer Thierry Mugler discovered six months ago at SIGGRAPH the potential of new technologies for 3-D simulations. He proposed to the European company Kinetix, directed by Eric Lemarechal, to develop the concept of a virtual fashion show. (Kinetix also advertised Max 2 for the first time at IMAGINA.) Several companies are associated with the project. REM Infografica provided its program Cloth Reyes, which consists of a program made to detect collisions that have been applied to cloth. The movement of the cloth can then follow the movements of the model with the proper movement of drapery. The movements of the model are captured with a Vicon optic system (infrared camera at 240 Hz), which marks in space the displacement of little markers that are visible in the infra-red spectrum. The 3-D modeling, animation and rendering are realized with 3D Studio Max2 on a digital computer.

I have to admit that even if the animation of the cloth is very near to reality, the charm of a living model, which we usually admire during such a presentation, has not yet been integrated into the programming! Various improvements are foreseen for the next SIGGRAPH, so let's dream on, and we'll see this summer.

The French Press Association

The French Press Association launched a 3-D Desk destined for broadcast on television. The fabrication of images are done on an O2 and an Octane with Alias Wavefront and Discreet Logic's Frost. Michel Leroy, the head of the department, announced that one news item would be made each day. The commercial distribution will be done by the intermediary WTN agency. Along with launching the 3-D service by the Press Association, a panel discussion on the ethics and philosophical issues of image manipulation also took place. The panel discussed how an image should not be subjected to subtractions or additions in relationship to the original information. The manipulation of content must not become a travesty of reality when transmitted in large scale. Senator Claude Huriet, author of a report on this subject, extolled respect for ethics, education about reading such images, and education for the use of these tools by young people in the school system. Mr. Senator Claude Huriet's "Report No. 169: Digital Images and the Virtual World: Techniques and Stakes for Society" (198 pages) is available for 45 Francs [U.S. $10.00] not including shipping, from the Parliamentary Office of Evaluation of Scientific Choices and Technologies, Espace librairie du Senat, 20 rue de Vaugirard, 75006 Paris, France. Regrettably, within the framework of the report no financial analysis of the 3-D animation sector has been made or study regarding the problems of development (cf. SOS Fantôme). Special Effects Lectures More and more films are using special effects and mixing 3-D and digital simulations. The stories are spectacular, but the effects remain inscrutable. They are transparent. The digital revolution permits a perfect integration. American and French studios collaborate quite regularly. For The Visitors II, Mac Guff Ligne created the digital special effects with a program from Trukor. Buf Company worked on the 3-D special effects and the digitizing, the rendering to film was completed by the Duboi Company, while the digital matte-painting was done by Jean-Marie Vives. The specialists in special effects present at IMAGINA were: Robert Legato, Digital Domain [USA], Titanic. Pitof, Duboi [France], Alien Resurrection. Christoph Hery, ILM [USA], Spawn. Rodolphe Chabrier, Mac Guff Ligne [France], The Visitors II, Doberman. Tim McGovern, Sony ImageWorks [USA], The Ghost of the Darkness. Arnaud Lamorlette, Buf Company [France], Batman and Robin. Some of these films were in competition in the Special Effects category. Titanic won first prize, followed by Alien Resurrection and The Fifth Element. The quality of the films in competition was very impressive.

Marie Paccou, director of Un Jour. Photo by Ron Diamond, © Animation World Network.

Marie Paccou, director of Un Jour. Photo by Ron Diamond, © Animation World Network.

The Pixel-INA Prizes The public voted for the prizes for nine categories. The Jury gave three prizes, and the sponsors offered five awards. More than 500 works were sent in for selection, from which 63 films were chosen for competition. Geri's Game by Jan Pinkava at Pixar received the Grand Prize IMAGINA `98 and the first Pixel-INA Prize for Fiction. This was a true actor's play, with astonishing expressions in this latest little gem from Pixar. One would love to see the rapid integration of these tools into our everyday programs! The second and third place prizes in the Fiction category were stories of skeletons. Good scripts, nice animation, but no problems with animating clothes or faces because there weren't any! They were: Teaspoon by Marc Thonon and Patrick Chereau, produced by Ecoutez Voir, and Owzat by Mark Brierley, produced by Aardman Animation. Aardman is making 3-D animation with Softimage. Will they be unfaithful to their clay?

The Category Schools and Universities was very impressive. The creativity and mastery of techniques made us realize that the younger generation is arriving with great talents. All the schools must be congratulated for the quality of their teaching. Mad Cow, directed by Samuel Tourneux from Sup Info Com, is a very good example, and won the First Prize. This hilarious animation brings our hero cow to Nirvana. Casimir passes by however, before she gets milked by a badminton racket! Where do you find ideas like that? The soundtrack is equally remarkable. Second prize went to Migrations, made by Constantin Chamski of Sup Info Com, and third prize went to Rice Veves, made by Stephane Keller of AII-ENSAD. In the Commercial category, Perrier made by Bruno Aveillan at Duboi was also very funny. The advertisement Pastilles Vichy by Pierre Cofin at Ex Machina, was created entirely on 3DMax, and showed two wolves eating sheep lozenges!

In the Art category, the prize, along with a special Jury citation, went to Un Jour, created by Marie Paccou at 2001, with the 2-D software Tic Tac Toon. Second prize, with special mention for the best soundtrack, was won by U-Man by Julien Dajez, produced by Venus Productions and made at Mikros Image. In the Category of Music Videos, the First Prize went to Pink made by Doug Nichol at Mikros Image. Yet another piece that presented us with a whirlwind of people digitally altered in a seamless fashion. The narrative qualities and techniques of the better films have once again taken a leap forward. Completely digital productions let us imagine scenarios without limits. Probing Conferences The DVD conference was an opportunistic round-table two weeks before the launching of DVD ("DVD Attacks March 23, 1998 in France"). There are supposed to be seven French titles so far: The Fifth Element, Leon, Les Guignols de L'Info vol. 11 and vol. 12, Microcosmos, Children of Light, and Life is Beautiful. In the U.S., some 340,000 DVD players, and more than a million discs, of which 90,000 were Batman and Robin, were sold by the end of 1997. In short, if one wants to launch something successfully, the producers have to work together. Remember that France was the leading European country for the acceptance of the LaserDisc. According to Frederic Genin (COAM), there are three groups of architects today: 1) The Users who want to have access to computer programs since digital simulation is not a tool of conception but more for visualization. 2) The Cyberthinkers, a group that appears to be opposed to this first group. They are the ground-breakers. It's a new generation that wants to go much farther than considering computers as merely tools. 3) The Rebels who believe the digital image brings nothing to conception. They believe by using digital synthesis too soon in the process of visualization, the architect takes real risks.

A full CGI reconstruction of Japanese traditional architecture by Taisei Corporation. Image© Taisei Corporation, courtesy of IMAGINA.

A full CGI reconstruction of Japanese traditional architecture by Taisei Corporation. Image© Taisei Corporation, courtesy of IMAGINA.

Architecture is currently in a period of change or at a turning-point. For the last three years, the Frank Gehry Agency (U.S.) has radically transformed the process of architectural conception by abandoning the traditional work of design. The Agency designs their projects directly in models. The elements of the model are then digitized in 3-D with an electromagnetic stylus in the Catia program. Jim Glyph presented the concept of the Guggenheim Museum at Bilbao, where the computerized procedure was pursued right through to the use of digital document files controlling a laser to cut the stones and the metallic elements. The construction seems a bit like a giant mechano. Jim Glymph thinks that the new technologies will permit the architect to regain power. The digital tool extends the control of the architect into the process of building. 3-D models allow him to make paper excursions, models and then prefabricated elements with a precision of two to three millimeters.

Other examples of digital realizations by architects were presented as well. For instance, The Water Pavilion in Rotterdam is made up of two different interactive pavilions, conceived simultaneously by two architects, Kas Oosterhuis and Lars Spuybroek from the Nox Group. The Pavilion of Salt Water is a building animated in real time by information collected from the marine environment. Outside details modify the sound and light environment of the interior space. The Fresh Water Pavilion is a concept of liquid architecture where the traditional spatial landmarks disappear. The shell of the building is half buried with no reference to horizontal or vertical. Sensors alter the light.

We also saw a documentary made by Odile Fillion about the Paperless Studio at Columbia University (New York). Bernard Tschumi created this studio in 1994, equipped with Silicon Graphics terminals and animation software like Softimage.

Architectural Agencies are equipping themselves more and more with 3-D tools. The price of equipment is lowering very nicely as well. Today for less than U.S. $10,000 an agency can acquire a Dell computer with an Open GL card, 3D Studio Viz, Photoshop, a scanner and a graphics system. For twice that amount, there is a high-end system. The true cost is humane: $60,000 a year. The question then is more knowing how architecture can be profitable with such an investment, and if a business owner should create a new job or train one of their current collaborators? The stakes are important because in two years these tools will be widely distributed. With the 64 bit processors, they will permit one to work in real time. Architects have to assimilate this know-how quickly.

Traditional tools do offer some competition, like vendors who put their products on-line and communicate thanks to tools like VRML. Architects who haven't until now had access are going to need to communicate on a large scale, that is, sell their projects on line. They have to get ready for that. Sites for architecture are going to be created. A new forum is coming thanks to Virtual Studios of Architecture (AVA), where many independent architects will be able to regroup in order to collaborate and share their work. Independents are thereby going to multiply their capacity to work, calculate, and be able to get their work known.

Projet BW, a computer animated film by an up and coming young group of artists who go by the name of Group BW. © Group BW.

Projet BW, a computer animated film by an up and coming young group of artists who go by the name of Group BW. © Group BW.

In conclusion, the 3-D terminal for architecture is a real gamble for the short and medium term. The architect is also going to have to learn to construct virtual spaces: shopping malls, forums, or spaces favorable for virtual installations.

A virtual reality installation using the immersion process CAVE was presented at the Canal+ booth. Maurice Benayoun's creation utilized an Onyx 2, using 3-D glasses, permits the user to take photos in order to obtain a souvenir of this virtual experience. Worldskin puts you in a situation that attempts a desperately aggressive effacement of the collective memory. Worldskin is safari photos of a world at war. Armed with a camera, we wander through a wartime landscape. Images of soldiers, wagons, bodies and houses, devastated in the sonic universe of combat, unfold before us.

With such a varied and vast amount of information presented at IMAGINA '98 it was a whirlwind three days, that was interesting and stimulating. The 18th IMAGINA will be held again in Monaco, February 3-5, 1999. A new Palais des Congrès will be constructed over the next two years; a virtual forum for the year 2,000 and we will be there.

A list of the IMAGINA `98 award-winning films is included in this issue.

Stéphane Singier is the director of Paris' Z.A. Productions. Since 1987, the studio has won more than 20 international prizes and has become known as one of the most creative in the field of digital simulation with such 3-D series as The Quarx. He is also a consultant on new imaging technologies and a member of the Administrative Council of CARTOON, a media council of the European Commission, where he represents France. He is also a member of CST and AFCA and was formerly vice president of the Union of Animation Producers (SPFA).

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