Animation World Magazine, Issue 2.12, March 1998

World Summit for Feature Films and Visual Effects

by Mark Farquhar

Robert Abel's keynote speech was one of the
highlights of the World Summit for Feature Films
and Visual Effects.
Photo by and © Craig Skinner/Celebrity Photo,
courtesy of WAC.

Over the course of two days and six panel discussions, some of the most influential people in live-action effects and animation shared their views on where they think the animation industry is today and what its direction will take in the future. These panels marked the first meeting of the World Summit for Feature Films and Visual Effects. The summit is a new annual event being offered as part of the World Animation Celebration. Its purpose is to provide a forum for animation professionals to reflect on and consider the effects of technology and market changes on the animation industry.

The conference was able to attract an extraordinary group of people as panel members. The panels included the heads of several studios, independent producers and directors, and an impressive list of effects supervisors. Every major animation studio and production company was represented on the panels.

It was fitting that they chose one of the pioneering entrepreneurs of computer animation, Robert Abel, to be the first keynote speaker for the summit. Having someone like Robert Abel, who has played such a key role in the early development of the computer animation industry, give the address was one of the conference's high points. The value of the conference was getting a sense about what some of these influential people are thinking. If you have been to a good L.A. SIGGRAPH panel you have a pretty good idea what the summit was like. The scope of the discussions were fairly general and the usual kinds of concerns were expressed, such as the rising costs of production, particularly the increase in artist salaries over the past few years, and the consequences of the increased saturation of the marketplace of animation and effects-laden movies and entertainment. Other questions posed were, `Can the audience base for animated features be expanded into a wider range of genres?' and `What effect will computer technology have on our industry?'

Panelists at the Summit included, front row, left
to right: Ron Thornton, Eric Armstrong, Terrence
Masson, Sylvia Wong, Kelly Asbury, and back row:
Mark Gustafson, Kevin Kutchaver, Kevin O'Neill
and Henry Selick. Photo by and © Craig Skinner/Celebrity
Photo, courtesy of WAC.

Some of the more interesting ideas during the conference concerned the role of people and productions in the coming years. The idea that with more competition and greater availability of computing technology that the best projects and the most talented artists will continue to thrive. It is not the tool that is important. It is the artist using the tool that contributes to the quality of the work. With increasingly cheaper and more accessible equipment, competition among artists is going to increase. The quality of an artist will be judged less on their technical ability as the tools become easier to use and more powerful. There was also the feeling that audiences would support the quality projects even if there is an over-saturation of product. Everyone agreed, projects with a good story will always do well.

This conference was a great opportunity to gain some insight into what is going on in the animation community. There was definitely a positive buzz around the Animation Summit. The first World Summit for Feature Films and Visual Effects had plenty of moments to inspire.

Mark Farquhar is a CG character animator currently working on the Iron Giant project at Warner Bros. Feature Animation. His credits include Batman Forever, Marvin the Martian, Mars Attacks, Jonny Quest, and commercial work. He is also an instructor in the Warner Bros. training program and continuing education courses at Glendale Community College.

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