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INA -- A Pioneer In New Technologies

Valie Rivoallon profiles INA, the National Audiovisual Institute, which is dedicated to the preservation and development of French audiovisual heritage, through research, education and high-profile exhibitions. Available in French and English.

In 1974 the French National Radio-Television (ORTF) split into seven autonomous organizations, one of which became INA, the National Audiovisual Institute, dedicated to the preservation and development of the French audiovisual heritage. The stimulation of creativity, research, and the education of professionals share equally in INA's chief concerns. Research and education have been primarily concentrated on "new technologies." Since its creation in 1964, the Research and Development department of ORTF was interested in animation. Under the notable influence of Pierre Schaeffer, Jacques Rouxel developed various prototypes of animation machines, among them the Animographe with which that hysterical series The Shadoks was produced.

With over 150 interdisciplinary courses, INA offers a broad base of opportunities for students to learn. © INA.

Research and Development

At the beginning of the 1980s, when most animation was being made in Asian countries, steps were taken to rectify the situation in French animation. Four major priorities were defined: research (basic and applied), education, and the formation of the technical poles of manufacturing, utilization and production. Obviously a privileged place for the application of new technologies, the field of animation became the chosen territory for INA to put their work into operation. To that end, they developed their first system for producing animation with computers, for which they had to educate animators and producers. Three generations of digital systems were created by their research staff, with the object of modernizing the chain of production. It was imperative that repetitive tasks be limited in order to enhance productivity and diminish costs. Thus Toonbox and Anim 2000 saw the light of day. Toonbox could be used from the shooting of artwork through the final edit since it permitted automated inbetweening, inking and painting, and the digitizing of photographic images for use as backgrounds. Anim 2000 (developed in collaboration with France Animation, Getris Images and the German Center for Data Processing) promised a single platform that could offer a total solution to the whole production process. It could be used for layout, and was especially good for enterprises that had to handle several projects simultaneously on more than one site, and which had to deal with different types of products: advertising, pilots, TV series and features. Some programs such as Explore originated in the research laboratories of INA before they were entrusted to other companies such as Thomson Digital Image. Bruno Bachimont, the director of research at INA, explained: "Our mandate is not to rival the private sector, but rather to stimulate an activity that is just emerging. Since we were interested in computer graphics, we responded to a need. Today many commercial businesses have taken over what we pioneered, so our priorities have moved on to digital restoration and to the protection of data processing, as well as to the analysis and interpretation of documents in light of the new consultation modes." The Most Important Step: Education In the area of education everything is different, because one must continually respond to the needs of professionals in regard to handling tools. As the first European center for education in the new audiovisual skills, INA's educational section accomodates some 3,500 students each year, and includes studies in all sectors of the audiovisual, multimedia, and new technologies. Enriched with 25 years of experience, this department benefits from a unique technical and professional environment thanks to the nearness of its other units. More than 150 interdisciplinary courses figure in the INA catalogue, as well as services for evaluations, consultations, and pedagogic exercises that can be adapted to the special needs of individual students. 16 laboratories, 4 studios, 18 editing rooms and many computer-graphic studios equipped with either Indigo II high impact, NT Silicon Graphics, or Onyx machines are available to the students for the purpose of learning through experimentation. For the creation of computer graphics and special effects, students are introduced to the software packages Softimage 3D, Studio Max 3D, Character Studio, Maya, Lightwave, Flame-Flint-Effect, Media Illusion, After-Effects, and Avid Media Composer. They practice these packages for periods of 3 to 25 days in groups no larger than 9 people. Acquiring knowledge of tools, systems, procedures and the costs of a virtual studio is provided in a three day class limited to 16 people. Courses in word processing and other basic office programs, as well as multimedia, are even more varied, and touch on all the steps of introducing CD-ROM/Internet technology for the management of a project from scriptwriting and storyboarding, to Internet research, to the presentation of information, to multimedia animation.

Dominique Bloch explains: "Even though, since 1996, the greater part of our education centers on digital technologies, we wanted this year to create a 13 week course in 3D animation. Meant for large classes, it introduces the fundamentals of animation in all techniques (cutouts, pin-screen, puppets, etc.), with special emphasis on the analysis of movement and mastery of rhythm. With a lot of time devoted to exercises which are reviewed, we propose hands-on access, comparable to that of long-established educational programs in such schools as CFT Gobelins."

rivoallon02.gif Imagina's "teapot" logo from 1999. © Aréa Stratégic Design. rivoallon03.gif Imagina and SIGGRAPH are the premiere computer animation conventions. © MBQ.

Imagina: INA's Gift

To accompany this new direction, the National Audiovisual Institute started in 1981 a formidable observation opportunity in the form of the Imagina event. Created in collaboration with the Monte Carlo Festival of Television, Imagina in its first year only presented "some monochrome polygons animated by computers according to elementary laws of physics" as Francis Beck, President of INA, described it on the occasion of the most recent manifestation. Today Imagina is regarded in addition to SIGGRAPH as one of the most important computer conventions. With the decentralization of the trade fair to Paris (in the year 2000 it will take place in the Port Maillot convention center), the Forum will reach a larger public. In addition to this new move to Paris, carefully planned admission fees will permit easier access to the following convention in Monaco, which will enable people to pick and pay for specific packages according to their interests in the areas of 3D and interactive techniques, television and the Internet. Visitors will be able to attend the competition for the Pixel-INA prize, and visit the Innovation Village, a true laboratory of the future. Another presentation of the real-time creation competition (this past year it was devoted to the now famous "Dancing Baby") will also take place, as will the Action New Independent Talents prize, sponsored by Action Films in order to recognize the creativity of amateurs, the professionals of tomorrow. Numerous lectures will cover themes in 3D animation, such as its use in video games, special effects and the Internet. A presentation of the most innovative Web sites is also planned, along with a number of surprises that have not yet been unveiled. There is no doubt that these multiple events will give the convention a festive air, humanizing a world that up until now has been stigmatized by a reputation of producing cold and sterile images, a reputaion which 3D has suffered with long enough. Now that it has opened the way for all kinds of digital phenomena, INA is well intent, thanks to these new directions, on giving the keys to creators, as well as users. For more about Imagina's past editions we invite you to read Animation World Magazine's reviews of the 1997 and 1998 editions.

For the complete information on the upcoming Imagina, please refer to the Calendar of Events, where we provide additional information and entry deadlines. Translated from French by Dr. William Moritz. Originally a screenwriter, Valérie Rivoallon has worked in journalism since 1988. On the editorial staff of BREF, a magazine devoted to the short film, she has specialized in animation since 1993. She has also organized programs for several festivals, and works on the radio. Her monthly animation program is called Bulles de rêve.