CTN Expo 2.0: Day 1
written by RickDeMott
The CTN Expo has returned to Burbank for the second year. The conference has expanded a great deal from last year's event. It also has seen an explosion of attendees, which pushed off the scheduled start times of all the events as the eager guest were being registered. This created some bumps along the road for the two-year old event, which is again valiantly put together by Tina Price and her tiny staff with help from a host of volunteers.
Despite its problems, the event once again showed the real reason to attend once you arrived in the panels. First of the day for me was David Schaub, the animation supervisor on ALICE IN WONDERLAND, chronicling the process Sony Pictures Animation went through to develop the mind-bending visual effects of Tim Burton's hit film. Interestingly, the animators had a chance to experiment with the way the characters were to act, ranging from realistic to cartoony. Just goes to show you the leeway a big budget production has to experiment along the way. Burton settled on a stylized realism. In addition to completely animated characters like the White Rabbit, there were many hybrid characters such as the Knave of Hearts. One interesting challenge with that character came in the development of the costume. In all the renditions right up to the start of production, he had a large collar, so for the green screen shoot actor Crispin Glover was given a green suit with a high collar. When the final designs came, there was no collar, so the digital artists had to go in and add digital hair to fill in Glover's long hair that was blocked by the green suit's high collar.
Next up I listened to Sergio Pablos talk about the process of developing Universal's summer hit DESPICABLE ME. Originally titled EVIL ME, studio execs believed that the word evil would remind people of the Axis of Evil and scare away audiences from their family film. At first, Gru was to face off against an arrogant James Bond-like hero, but the hero was transformed into the geeky villain Vector. Gru's design morphed a great deal from the first sketches too. At the beginning he had a more intimidating look. Actually, the final design of Gru was intended for Gru's sidekick. As for the story, Pablos felt the one element that was changed that he wished would have remained was Gru trying to kidnap the girls from the orphanage instead of going right in to adopt them. To see what changed and what stayed the same, the talk was a fascinating look into the development process of a major feature film.
The final speaker I went to see was independent director Mike Disa, who has worked on such features as HOODWINKED TOO: HOOD VS EVIL and EA’s DANTE’S INFERNO. Boldly he came out and declared that directors are the reason independent animated features fail. The reason he argues is that they try to direct them like a studio production, which leaves the production bankrupt before it's finished. He asked the audience, "How many indie studios have you heard sign three picture deals and only come out with one picture?" It's because they spend all the money on the first film when it was meant to make three. The outspoken animator said for indie animation to work, one has to work lean and quick. A director has to work out the story and look as fast as possible and then never stray from that path along the way.
The first day of CTN ended with a nice reception for VIPs. Topics of conversation ranged from the unionization of visual effects artists to how easy risotto is to cook when you know how.