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Impressions from Imagina 2000

Computer graphics veteran Jeff Kleiser attended Imagina 2000 in France and reports back on the thought-provoking experience.

Kleiser-Walczak's Jeff Kleiser with partner Dianna Walczak.

Kleiser-Walczak's Jeff Kleiser with partner Dianna Walczak.

Cote D'Azur: The weather in the south of France was quite lovely; warm enough to sunbathe on the beach in front of the stylish hotel and conference center, Le Meridien. This is the fifth time I have been invited to speak at this conference, which is held each year in Monte Carlo, and bills itself a "think tank for digital creation." Imagina has been steadily growing since my first visit in 1986 and each year it has seemed more crowded and bustling. Most remarkable about the conference this year was the fact that the hardware exhibition was held in Paris rather than Monte Carlo, due to a lack of space. In response to the surging demand for exhibition space, Imagina has in the past resorted to large tents along the harbor, but even this proved to be inadequate. Construction of a new conference facility called the Forum is well under way and next year, the organizers intend to house the conference and exhibition under one roof in this new facility. In my opinion, this is a mistake. An Intimate, Intelligent Setting The fact that the conference was separate from the exhibition this year resulted in an entirely different atmosphere gracing the proceedings. Without the exhibitors, the people in attendance were there primarily to hear the papers and find out about recent trends in art and technology. Without all the hype about what equipment and software one should buy, I was struck by the fact that in manyrespects, it is much more interesting to find out what people have been doing with new technology rather that with what technology they have been doing it. It reminded me of the early days of SIGGRAPH, when there was a palpable excitement in the air about the latest capability that had been invented and how it had been applied to the creation of imagery. Back then, a spirit of camaraderie existed amongst all the participants, each of us knowing that somethingamazing was being born in the circuitry of these crude machinesand that we were a part of that process. There was an opportunity to meet many more people at parties or in bars because everyone was so darned excited about the field they could not contain themselves. Without the heavy cloak of commerce hanging over the proceedings there was air to breath and room to sit down in the café and talk with people. There were no sales people in sight, and the handful of equipment exhibitors that were in attendance were largely ignored. What remained was the core and essence of Imagina -- the artists, academicians and production companies in a dialogue about the latest work being done and the prospects for what may come in the future. It would be my recommendation to separate the conference from the exhibit permanently, and that goes for SIGGRAPH as well. Winning Films The other interesting aspect of Imagina has always been thePrix Pixel Award Ceremony. This competition is divided into categories that include Art, Commercials, Music Video, Student Works, Fiction, Science and for the first time this year, Stereoscopic Projects. A jury has selected the top five or six entries in each category and the works are projected to the public over two nights. Duringthe screening, the audience votes for the top three pieces in each category. On the third night the awards are presented at a flashy Academy Award-like ceremony and winners are given the mic to make comments before their work is screened again. The Prix Pixel award itself is redesigned each year in the shape of a teapot, that durable icon of computer graphics that originated at the University of Utah back in the `70s. This year the teapots were slim multicolored glassand very fashionable, unlike the one I brought home in 1986 for our work at Omnibus on Flight Of The Navigator. That year the award was carved from an eighteen inch long block of marble and weighed 30 pounds (apparently, it also appeared to be an explosive device to the X-RAY security systems at the airport in Nice, requiring me to unpack my bags and heft it for the skeptical gendarmes).

kleiser02.gif Jury des Prix Pixel-Ina 2000: (clockwise from bottom left) Blandine Nicolas, David Arnold, Couture Charlélie, Juan Tomicic and Suzanne Jaschko. Courtesy of Imagina 2000.

There is a tangible excitement in the air at the screenings due to the fact that it is a competition and the audience will decide the winners, as opposed to the Electronic Theater at SIGGRAPH, where a jury selects works to be presented and there are no winners. As one might expect, there is a tendency for the largely French audience to favor projects of French origin but by and large the winners are the most well deserved. For Best Music Video, a striking piece called The Child by Alex Gopher beat out Bjork and the Chemical Brothers. Completed in just four weeks, this film follows an expectant mother in a taxi on her way to the hospital in a world where everything, including people, buildings and vehicles, is represented by 2D typography in a 3D cityscape. A humorous commercial for a new train called Alaris won the Prix Pixel for Advertising and sported trophy-hunting aliens. The Student Award went to a film about a fly called Bsss by German studentFelix Gonnert. The Fiction Award went to a film about a mosquito called Les Aventures d'un Mostique by Jean-Francois Bourrel and Jerome Calvet. A third film depicting an insect won the Award for Science but in this case the camera zooms in toward the wing of a butterfly and magnification is increased over a million times as we seamlessly zoom into scanning electron microscopy. The Award for Art went to Steve Katz at Pitch, Inc. for Protest, a film in which elephants leap from rooftops to protest man's mistreatment of their species, and the Stereoscopic Award went to Voyage Inside The Cell by Digital Studio SA. In the category of Special Effects, The Matrix, with effects by Manex Entertainment won over Walking With Dinosaurs by Framestore in London, and The Phantom Menace by ILM placed a surprising third. The Grand Prix of Imagina 2000, bestowed by the jury, was awarded to Pixar's Toy Story 2.

The Prix Pixel-Ina 3D Relief went to Voyage Inside The Cell; with computer graphics by director Laurent Larsonneur; and produced by Digital Studio SA's Rhône-Poulenc Rorer. Courtesy of Imagina 2000.

The Prix Pixel-Ina 3D Relief went to Voyage Inside The Cell; with computer graphics by director Laurent Larsonneur; and produced by Digital Studio SA's Rhône-Poulenc Rorer. Courtesy of Imagina 2000.

Fascinating Discussions

It is not possible to see everything at Imagina because of the broad spectrum of overlapping events that feature computer graphics for animation, special effects, real-time graphics for games, simulation and virtual/augmented reality. Due to the nature of my business, I focused my attention on the sessions called "3D and Interactive Techniques" and "Radio/TV and the Internet," while steering clear of "Finance, the Internet and Innovation" and the "Round Tables." There was an interesting panel organized by Laurin Herr called "From Hollywood to Microcinema" which dealt with current trends in bringing dramatic content to the Web. Six different companies presented their approach to electronic distribution. These companies ran the gamut from the heavily funded AtomFilms.com to the grassroots short film distributor/curator, Microcinema.com. Another session called "From Artificial Life to On-line Worlds" explored the recent trends in artificial intelligence as applied to on-line gaming. Thad Starner's work at Georgia Institute of Technology was of particular interest, and a conversation in the hotel bar with Thad, who has been wearing a computer for eight years, was punctuated by Thad staring off into space while he forwarded information to me via e-mail using a one-handed keyboard in his pocket and an HMD attached to his glasses.

The Matrix beat out effects giant Star Wars Episode 1 to win first prize for special effects at Imagina. Courtesy of Imagina 2000.

The Matrix beat out effects giant Star Wars Episode 1 to win first prize for special effects at Imagina. Courtesy of Imagina 2000.

Also of interest was the session called "Immersive + Interactive = The New Dimension." SGI, De Pinxi, The American Museum of Natural History, F.A.B.R.I.C.ATOURS and ZA Productions presented various approaches to interactive and immersive imagery. Tom DeFanti delivered a keynote speech on the concept of a 3D telephone call, where participants interact via a high-speed connection using stereoscopic CAVEsas virtual telephone booths.

In 2D/3D animation, the highlight was a film screening of the final reel of The Iron Giant (Warner Bros.), a film that was tragically missed by the public. In the final session, Special Effects, John Gaeta's rambling diatribe on the prophetic nature of The Matrix was dramatically contrasted by John Dykstra's inside look at the creation of Stuart Little, a totally believable synthetic character.

With an attendance of 1800, Imagina is dwarfed by SIGGRAPH, and unlike the non-stop party atmosphere of SIGGRAPH, Imagina is fairly humorless, but the intimacy and creative energy, particularly apparent this year because of the separation of conference and exhibit, made for a much more thought-provoking experience.

Jeff Kleiser is co-founder of Kleiser-Walczak Construction Co., which specializes in 3D animation. The company's credits include Universal Studios Florida's The Adventures of Spider-Man ride, Judge Dredd and Stargate. Previously, Kleiser served as animation director for films such as Tron,The Blue Lagoon, Flight of the Navigator and the TV series Captain Power.

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