Saturday morning. Sitting in P.J.’s, the coffee shop around the corner from the Shaw Center. Except for a handful of sessions today, Red Stick ended Friday night with the awarding of the Golden Baton. The winner (of the three candidates discussed yesterday) was Chris O’Neill’s elegiac (how many times to you get a chance to use that word?) Lilac Wine. Earlier in the fest O’Neill had described his video as the remembrance of loved one who was no longer around, whether via the end of a love affair, or death.
It was an appropriate theme sadly: Red Stick’s annual Lifetime Award was a posthumous one this year, given to DreamWorks and Disney animator Pres Romanillos. Romanillos, responsible for characters like Spirit’s Little Creek, Pocahontas, and Mulan bad guy Hun Shan-Yu, fell to leukemia in July. The collective sense of grief in the room was palpable, with presenter Scott Johnston audibly tearing up when describing Romanillos’ “passion and generosity…he was in touch with something deeper than everyone sees normally.” Glen Keane appeared via video standing in front of Romanillos’ animation table. His sadness was visible too, in an extended, heartfelt (and obviously spontaneous) remembrance of the artist he had mentored, describing Romanillos’ talent and unbridled creativity. (“We had to hold back his desire to detail every drawing – it was like trying to restrain wild horses.”) Romanillos’ widow Jeannine accepted the award in his memory.
Just before starting this report I found myself sharing a table with Adam Yates, a Systems Administrator with Louisiana State University’s (LSU) Center for Computation and Technology. (Did I mention the CCT is the entity behind the Red Stick festival, with the goal of making Baton Rouge a digital production mecca?) Adam gave me a head-spinning overview of CCT’s work in the day-after-tomorrow, stratospheric reaches of next-gen computational technology. For starters, consider “Beowulf clusters” of rendering servers containing multiple graphic cards, each card containing 512 processing cores as opposed to the one or two they previously contained.
We’ve all heard of megabytes, gigabytes, terabytes in terms of storage, each greater than the previous by a magnitude of 100, right? When it comes to computers actually computing, the suffix changes to the less than sophisticated –FLOPS, for floating point operations per second, but the orders of magnitude stay the same.
But on beyond teraflops; are you ready for petaflops? Or exaflops? They’re just down the road – and not that far, either. They’re not only for CGI production; the gargantuan increase in processing speed might someday make possible disease-curing medicines customized to an individual’s specific DNA. (I feel better already.)
Meanwhile, back on Friday… In a huge hall in the castle-like Old State House across from the ultra-modern Shaw Center Rubicon’s David Corbett and Marlene Sharp described their new Pink Panther TV series. A capacity audience of enthusiastic school kids learned about the Panther’s history, all the way back to his birth in the 1964 (likely before most of their parents were born) movie’s opening credits.
Next up was Scott Johnston’s “3D vs. 2D” presentation. (All of these are the sessions I found most irresistible, you understand; like any festival or convention, one has to pass up almost as interesting events that are taking place simultaneously.)
3D wasn’t invented for today’s crop of animated and live-action spectaculars nor was it first used in 1950’s far schlockier entertainments, as Johnston proved with an 1895 patent for a 3D ‘magic lantern.’ Johnston’s bottom line: While we see in three dimensions, beyond 15 feet or so both eyes perceive pretty much the identical image. Three-dimensional space can be represented two-dimensionally in any number of ways, from placing a closer object in front of a more distant one to the use of perspective, scale or layering. Johnston illustrated his points with clips from North by Northwest (that crop duster scene), The Lady from Shanghai (house of mirrors) and Top Secret! (A grotesquely out-of-scale telephone in the foreground.)
For my money one of the highlights of the entire festival was Christian DeVita’s production deconstruction of Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox. Prior to taking on the job, DeVita (the movie’s lead story artist) was completely in the dark as to the director’s reputation. He soon found out the entire movie was essentially an extension of Anderson himself. The director videotaped himself performing almost every part for the animators to follow; one animatic clip featured a trio of composited Andersons to represent every character in a three-shot. (And don’t tell anyone, but Mr. Fox’s suit is identical to one of Anderson’s own.)