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The New Animation Technology Exposition and Conference Viewed and Reviewed

Pixar technology chief and executive vice president Ed Catmull gave an early morning keynote address at the New Animation Technology Expo. Photo courtesy of Pixar.Once again the World Animation Celebration has come and gone, transforming the Pasadena Civic center into an extremely happy (but not "The Happiest") place on Earth. For many Los Angeles-based industry professionals the Celebration is like an animator's New Years, a time to reflect and take stock of progress and change, as well as set resolutions and goals for the next Celebration. One indispensable element of the...

Pixar technology chief and executive vice president Ed Catmull gave an early morning keynote address at the New Animation Technology Expo. Photo courtesy of Pixar.

Once again the World Animation Celebration has come and gone, transforming the Pasadena Civic center into an extremely happy (but not "The Happiest") place on Earth. For many Los Angeles-based industry professionals the Celebration is like an animator's New Years, a time to reflect and take stock of progress and change, as well as set resolutions and goals for the next Celebration. One indispensable element of the Celebration is the New Animation Technology Conference and Exposition, a selection of workshops, seminars and presentations designed to help the industry professional keep abreast of this rapidly evolving field.

Like many traditional animation artists, I have felt the pinch of encroaching technology, and have been simultaneously intimidated and awe-inspired by the expanding visual parameters in this new era of digital animation. I found both the exposition and the conference seminars to be helpful in demystifying new advances in digital animation, as well as informative on a variety of business topics. However, each had their own strengths in presenting this information.

The exposition I enjoyed mostly for the personalized one-on-one demonstrations provided, as well as the freedom to hop from presentation to presentation in relative anonymity. I could ask the questions I wanted without risking the group contempt of a classroom of more advanced users, as well as grill demonstrators on specific items of interest without delaying any particular schedule of topics. For these reasons I generally preferred product presentations on the Exposition floor to their counterpart Conference class as many companies did both.

Conversely, I benefited from the conference class presentations because they gave a broader overview of a topic. Jill Smolin, event organizer and also the training and artistic development manager at Cinesite, explained, "The whole focus [of the courses] was to establish the foundations." She wanted to "get away from the `learn a package in an hour and get a job'" mentality of many events. "The fundamentals are imperative," she said.

More than 60 companies exhibited at the New Animation Technology Expo, which will move to Silicon Valley in 1999. Photo courtesy of Michelle Klein-Häss.

During the conference classes, I also learned from the mostly intelligent questions posed by a relatively well informed audience. However, what I really enjoyed about the classes were the more conceptual business topics covered, where nothing was being sold or promoted, merely taught. Many of these business classes covered a scope much broader than the digital animation realm and both enlightened and inspired. Finally, the quality of the conference classes depended heavily upon the chosen speakers. I preferred the professors and similarly experienced speakers over the programmers and computer techies whose presentations were real snoozers. I particularly enjoyed the speakers who used quirky, whimsical anecdotes to underscore their point or whose bubbling enthusiasm and excitement for their topic became contagious.

The only drawback to the New Animation Technology Conference and Exposition was the excess of different events simultaneously competing with each other. If a presentation didn't capture a person's interest or teach them anything within the first ten minutes they left because they were probably missing something else more enlightening. On the last three days there were six Conference classes simultaneously competing for each hour and a half time slot, not too mention the Exposition floor. If you go next year choose wisely, plan ahead, and if at all possible wake up early; coffee is still a legal stimulant in this country, so use it.

Ben Fried is a Los Angeles-based freelance graphic designer and animator who works for many of the major television animation studios. He also creates independent animated films and has supervised ASIFA-Hollywood's life drawing workshops for over two years.

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