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The Best of SIGGRAPH Electronic Theatre 2012

Today it takes an experienced eye to differentiate a synthetic actor from a real live one. It is amazing. It's a genuine achievement. So what is wrong with this?

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, it was 1985 in fact, the SIGGRAPH Electronic Theater thrilled me by selecting “Nick Brew”, my first ever CGI animated project, for its eminent annual screening of the best of computer animation from around the world. For me it was a foreword to the world of 3d computer animation.

For those readers who recall, and those who were not around back then, this was also the time when Robert Abel began to probe the power of this relatively new time media, advancing it in ways that took breath away from greenhorns like me. He had the spirit, persistence, imagination, creative and intellectual savvy, and ultimately the resources to “venture where no other has gone before”. What he was able to envision and bring to animated life, utilizing what back then were crude tools, was astounding. It was he who during his lifetime defined this new art form. Breaking rules, unveiling new horizons and, endowed by his amazing imagination and artistry, risk-taking and hunger for the unknown, he set the matchless standards for others to reach and surpass, if they can.

Back to 1985; issuing this major event, a major professional publication came out with a special edition devoted to computer animation. From the front page Robert Abel smiled at the readers. But, with a simple turn of a page, reader was able to read of a newcomer to the magical and infinite world of CGI, a digital canvas unrestrained by reality, physical and mental gravity or any rules at all. The only true restrain to its visual and storytelling powers was that of the creator’s own imagination. I believed it back then and I believe it now, but even more so. That belief was infused into all of the projects I created, two of which were later similarly recognized by the Electronic Theatre. Not too bad for a single, independent guy who did not even know “how” to do computer animation all by himself. In my case what made it work is understanding of the media, my ideas and imagination.

Deep inside of me I knew the power. Coming from live action film into drawn animation, which offered total freedom except from dimensionality, I advanced to object animation. Soon though I realized that dimensionality came at a cost to metamorphic magic of line animation, and so I switched to clay. This was a revelation, for it offered dimensionality and metamorphic freedoms. What else could a man ask for, right? It soon donned on me. It is “GRAVITY” that signifies the ultimate enemy. it is heavy, constipating, curbing, restrictive, troublesome and a true pain to defeat. So what was left to entrapped me? It is then that Atari 800 came out. It altered my life. To hell with gravity, reality and all the restrains and physical laws, or the mental ones! This is how I came up with a principal inspiring my art as well as mentoring, the “gravity free and reality independent” thinking.

Over the recent years I have been roaming the world, invited to launch academic programs and schools. These I dedicated to inspiring imagination and cultivation of creativity, global awareness, self-discovery, ideation and exploration of the infinite might of imagination set free and ignited by the “gravity free and reality independent” thinking. Thus, I became exposed to creative disciplines and outlets incubating multifaceted new forms of creative expression. I realized the power of fusion between arts, technology and science is going to change everything. In fact, it will revolutionize our creative brush, means of expressions, face of entertainment, education, performance, ways we play or learn, spatial, exhibit and interior designs, in fact everything we come in contact with. As a result of this revelation, I now speak of technology as the ultimate “magic wand”. But that’s not all! Then I became aware of interactivity. Soon I realized that it will bring everything to AI life. It will inject animated life and thought into all facets of our now passive environments. It will convert them into artificially intelligent characters.  And so, I have dived into concept designs probing it all. As a creative thinker who hates curbs of reality and gravity, I fuse potentials of interactivity with a space that seamlessly merges reality with virtuality into one dimension within which naught is impossible and everything is plausible. It may sounds utopian, but “you wait and see”.

A couple of weeks ago, back from my global exploits, conducting creative workshops inspiring imagination and metamorphically animated storytelling to students of diverse cultural, political ideological and social characters and setting, I landed in Los Angeles. While eager to offer my diverse experience to academia, I wish to probe my creative and artistic prospects in what is often referred to as the one and only “dream factory”.

So far I have been repeatedly asked to clearly, distinctly and narrowly define my skills, “what exactly can you do?” I have spent my life on breaking the boundaries, expanding my horizons and creative palette. Now I am being asked to fit myself into a pigeonhole. Why is that? Globalization is shrinking the world. It is vital that we open our minds to its impact. Fusion of arts, technology and science needs open-mindedness. And yet the old narrow specialization mindset is healthy and vibrant. But I am a “pigeonhole breaker”.

During these my three weeks here, I have joined two screening, aimed to re-expose me to the most current and the “state of the art” activities and developments in “traditional”, yet digital modern form of 2d animation, and to the very best of 3d computer animation.

In the first one I found myself watching stylized animals acting out and doing things that we humans do. I found it abundantly saturated with slapstick comedy, predictable and too human, limited by reality, the ways we human act, talk, behave and think. Glad to had reach the ending, I walked out with a nudging and painfully pecking at my achy mind question. Why do we bother to invest all this effort, money, energy, ideas and creative promises into recreation of what is a slightly modified reality, in this case populated by animals instead of real, life actors? What happened to the art of animation pushing and defying reality by metamorphic and animated thinking? Where if the exploration of the worlds we can not live in, see, experience, yet are able to dream about, conceive, visualize and bring to life through the magical powers of animation?

A week later, eager to be proven wrong, wishing to erase a bitter aftertaste of the above encounter with animation I love, art and magic of which I devoted most of my awaken time, dreams, passion and career, I went to be “blown away” by the feats of computer animation of today. Where would one go for that if not at a screening of the “SIGGRAPH 2012 Electronic Theatre”, event devoted to selection and presentation of the world very best, pioneering, the most superb and ultimately advanced examples of the power and magic of computer animation, as well as of the human ingenuity and creative potency.

I do admit, technologies utilized today by computer animation are simply breathtaking. Prospect such powers unveil are truly arousing. They made me itch for the chance to harness them, to will them to accomplish my imaginative feats, make my dreams come true. The insanely realistic modeling, texturing, shading, lighting and rendering are truly astonishing. Synthetic actors, their dynamics, the gestures and facial expressions are almost life like. Today it takes an experienced eye to differentiate a synthetic actor from a real live one. It is amazing. It's a genuine achievement. So what is wrong with this?

Why do we choose to vest all this energy, passion, persistence, development and effort into cloning reality that is all around us, restricting and gravitating us? Why, unless we then do with it what is not possible in reality offered to us by live action filmmaking? As is, it would seem that its all about the “technique” and “technology”. It definitely is not about imagination, “gravity free and reality independent” thinking, amazing ideas, or creating new exciting worlds that defy known reality, instead inspiring visions of what we, the viewers, will never be able to experience in our lifetime, unless we do it through the magical powers of computer animation. After all, this astonishingly formidable brush is the only way to visualize the unseen. It is the only way to make the unimaginable fully credible, now that technology for making everything ultra realistic is in our hands.

Human ingenuity has created the “holly grail”. Such technology is the marvelous “magic wand”, one that every creative, in any discipline, has been dreaming of. We have done that which in 1985 seemed unthinkable, that which the pioneers of computer animation were able to only dream of, knowing that such might will not be attainable for decades.

But now it is here! So why is it that we are not experimenting with it in the ways those of the past did with their extremely limited, primitive, simplistic and vexing tools acting as the only means for bringing to life their imaginative, fantastical and thought provoking ideas or stories? What is wrong with this picture? To me, as one of those who thru his creative career has tirelessly strived for the impossible, for projecting stories revolving around ideas and emotions that could not be seen or shared visually except by the use of the powerful medium of animation, whether 2d or 3d, traditional of CGI, its disturbing.

What is technology if not a form of empowerment, a magic key to all we can dream of and imagine? On its own it is a potent expression of inventor or programmer’s ingenuity. It is a mighty code created for us to wield, inspire, enlighten and challenge with. To me it is “magic wand” in the hands of imagination unbridled, empowered and unleashed by the power of “gravity free & reality independent” ideation. What more can one ask for?

Today is an artist’s dreamtime. Never before were we as powerful as we are right now. Technology makes us more impactful then ever. As it advances, so will our powers to make our impossible dreams come to animated life. Eventually we will even be able to inject ourselves into these dreams and, surrounded by them, able to interact with them, and free to evolve them from within. This is the trailblazingly inspiring time. All it takes is curiosity, ideas, metamorphic animated storytelling and, yes, IMAGINATION!  So what are we waiting for, a new release of an upgraded and bug free version of imagination?