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In Review: fmx/08 In Stuttgart

In its 13th annual appearance, fmx/08 once more lived up to its reputation. For four days, the conference on all things relevant to digital entertainment drew the international CG community to Stuttgart's Haus der Wirtschaft to inform themselves about the latest developments and -- more importantly -- to exchange ideas and experiences.

The comprehensive and first-rate program is decisive in making this event the best of its kind in Europe, but other factors also play a role. Under the Animation Institute's lead, fmx has been able to garner an atmosphere in which students, companies and world-class speakers engage in heartfelt discussion. The spirit of fmx is entrenched in the participation that the visitors bring with them.

Guests looking for big names at fmx/08 were well rewarded: Disney, Pixar, DreamWorks, Aardman and other leading studios were present at numerous presentations. The vfx Ivy League was also in attendance with ILM, LucasArts, Framestore and Double Negative. And true global players Electronic Arts, Sony, Ubisoft and Crytek made a splash.

This year's particularly lush line-up is certainly a reflection of the partnership with VES (Visual Effects Society) who activated their outstanding list of contacts. And the companies weren't the only participants packing excellent credentials. Quite a few of speakers were winners of the Technical Achievement Award (often referred to as the "Tech-Oscar") or other renowned awards such as the Emmys. Their work demonstrates what VES chief Eric Roth's panel of experts substantiated: the borders between visual effects and animation are becoming blurred -- and the last vestiges of one-dimensional thinking is giving way to holistic approaches.

A hot topic that Alex McDowell addressed in his discussion round is the new "digital production space" that allows designer, camera operator and vfx supervisor to work together intensively from the very beginning of a project. Other participants in this revealing debate were VFX Senior Art Director Alex Laurent from LucasArts, Director of Photography and Lighting Sharon Calahan from Pixar (RATATOUILLE), VFX Supervisor Chris Watts (300, THE CORPSE BRIDE) and VFX Supervisor Sven Martin from Elektrofilm (DIE GUSTLOFF).

Young companies operating on the front line of technological developments are at least as important for the FMX program, most visibly in the series Media Future, Echtzeit and Digital Cinema, created by the Stuttgart Media University, as well as the fmx/artek exhibit. These important contributions offered a fascinating glimpse at what developments the world of CG have in store over the next few years.

Abundant, thought-provoking and informative assessments that met with evident enthusiasm: Well over 6,000 visitors from 40 countries descended on Stuttgart for fmx/08. In comparison to recent years, the number of visitors from Germany remained solid while the number of international guests continued to rise -- by more than 40 percent. A further indication of the high standards set at fmx: the percentage of decision-makers among the visitors also continued to grow, while maintaining the ideal proportion of two professionals to every one student.

Whether newcomer or conglomerate, two basic trends were undisputed.

Trend No. 1: the segmentation of isolated formats and platforms is a thing of the past. Convergence has become the keyword for the increasing need to make content available on all platforms and at all times. After all, the complete array of media have now migrated to one same, digital basis technology. In the meantime, ideas, characters and stories are much less dependent on a specific medium or genre. The distribution paths they take can be woven seamlessly together. This freedom and simplicity plays into the hands of the creatives in the industry. One example among many was presented by Aardman Animation: the figure ANGRY KID was originally intended for television, but first made a splash in the Internet before going on to star in mobile content downloads and the digital channel BBC Three. Proof that convergence is rampant in non-creative sectors as well was offered by the series VISUAL COMPUTING CLUSTER, created by MFG Innovation and dedicated to visualization and simulation in scientific or industrial context. The automotive industry with its strong base in southwest Germany offers a good example of the transfer of animation and 3-D technologies to the economic sector: today, design usually relies on computer-assisted visualization. The institutions and high-tech companies in the Cluster presentations included the Universities of Konstanz and Karlsruhe, the German Cancer Research Center, the Fraunhofer Institutes of Mannheim and Darmstadt as well as TRIDELITY and IC:IDO.

Trend No. 2: the passive consumer is giving way to the active user. Prerequisite for the interactive use of digital media is the immediate availability of animation in realtime. This technology is surpassing its roots in computer games, demo-scenes and machinima and is becoming the driving force behind computer animation, even in film. And the aesthetics and narrative of modern gaming worlds are in keeping with the technology and are no longer comparable with their often crude beginnings. Serious games have become a means for education and training, casual games are now elaborate time-killers and immersive games offer the empathy and suspense of cinema. Details of gaming diversity and import were presented at great length together with Joseph Olin, president of the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences.

Despite the many achievements that have already been made, we are only at the beginning of the 3-D revolution, as new artistic and technical possibilities are becoming visible on the horizon. Renowned production designer Alex McDowell (MINORITY REPORT, CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, CORPSE BRIDE) coined the term "immersive design" to allude to the increasingly porous quality of story structures. The borders between reality and viruality are blurring, the audience is taking part in a world created via 3-D techniques and virtual design -- but infused through and through with narrative. McDowell discussed a new culture of design with Malcolm Garrett, Creative Director of Applied Information Group and Alex Laurent, VFX Senior Art Director with LucasArts.

Whether live-action or animation. no film can be good without a good story. MFG Filmfoerderung's Panel for Writing Animation has become an integral part of fmx. Susanne Schlosser, most recently Director of EM.TV, led the lively presentation of three current productions: THE COLD HEART by Hannes Rall and Martina Doecker (an adaption of the fable by Wilhelm Hauff); the return of ANNIE & BOO as a feature film and KLAEFF AND HAXE by Stefan Raiser (Dreamtool Entertainment) and Simon X.Rost.

fmx/forum bridges the industry and young talent, but it is also a hands-on trainings center at an extraordinary level of expertise. A wide array of talks, demos, master classes and seminars complement fmx/expo in offering visitors the chance to learn about innovations and polish personal qualifications. In 2008, the impression these offerings had on the audience was almost tangible: parallel series of events were met with a run of enthusiasm, as were the recruiting sessions.

A major indicator of the success of the concept and quality of these events was the participation of practically all leading members of the industry, including Pixar, Disney, Autodesk, Microsoft, Adobe, Softimage, NVIDIA, NaturalMotion, Luxology, weltenbauer., MAXON, Massive Software, Side Effects and Quantel. The feedback at the recruiting desks was particularly noteworthy. Students and new talent had the opportunity to meet the employer of their dreams from Germany, Europe and the U.S. -- which they did in droves. At the same time, most companies of distinction sent recruiters to Stuttgart to build contacts or crew up for upcoming projects.

The first-ever annual Digital Entertainment Award was the result of a cooperation between the Deutsche Telekom and fmx/08 and targeted established companies and research institutions as well as the independent scene and students. An expert jury selected three winners from nine nominees in three categories. Each winner received a prize of 5,000 Euros and an individual consultation with experts from the Deutsche Telekom.

The winners were:

Best New Technology in Effects & Animation:PRO FX by Dr. Sebastien Deguy, Allegorithmic, France

Young Talents Award:COMINO by Jakob Leitner, Fachhochschule Hagenberg, Germany

Best Interactive Design & Usability:MOTIONIZED by Philippe J. Dewost, Realeyes3d, France

fmx/08 was an event by Filmakademie Baden-Wuerttemberg in collaboration with VES, Stuttgart International Festival of Animated Film and ACM Siggraph.

fmx/08 was organized by the Institute of Animation, Visual Effects and Digital Postproduction of Filmakademie Baden-Wuerttemberg and NX Publishing.

fmx/08 was funded by the Ministry of State Baden-Wuerttemberg, Ministry of Economic Affairs Baden-Wuerttemberg, MFG Baden-Wuerttemberg Public Film Fund, MFG Baden- Wuerttemberg Public Innovation Agency for Information Technology and Media and the FFA German Federal Film Board.

Program partners of fmx/08 were AIAS -- Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences, HdM -- Stuttgart Media University, Gobelins -- l'ecole de l'image and the University of Applied Sciences Augsburg.

The event partners of fmx/08 included the Animation Production Day, Cluster Visual Computing, G.A.M.E, MFG Innovation Agency for Media and IT, MFG Public Film Fund, Deutsche Telekom, Design Center Stuttgart, AIAS -- Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences, flashconference and Eyes & Ears of Europe.

Furthermore, fxm/08 was supported by numerous partners from the industry, particularly Adobe Systems, Autodesk, Microsoft and NVIDIA as well as Sony and TVD.