written by Johannes Wolters
Cloudy, sometimes rainy. Stuttgart, the capital of the German federal state of Baden Wüerrttemberg is once again for the next four days the global center of animation. The 14. International Conference on Animation, Effects, Games and Digital Media opened its gates to the huge crowds of professionals, students, journalists and all enthusiasts, who are interested in the latest technologies, brilliant developments and in meeting and talking to the leading women and men behind the magic of animation. “The fmx09 has become Europe´s most significant animation get together” stated the Minister for Media, Professor Dr. Wolfgang Reinhart. And the Conference is still growing strongly. At the opening press conference, Prof. Thomas Haegele thanked all the partners of the event, especially the Visual Effects Society (VES) and the Academy of Arts & Sciences (AIAS) The new kid on the block is the 5D Conference, becoming a cooperation partner of the fmx for the first time this year. Main partners again are Autodesk, Deutsche Telekom, Pixar Animation Studios and Sony Pictures Imageworks. And every year, more and more floors of the gigantic old Palais, now called Haus der Wirtschaft/House of Commerce become occupied with all the highly interesting events of the fmx. That means, if you choose one event, you miss 10 other. So either you have to be Doctor Manhattan and split up, or you have to suffer through those difficult decisions, where to go, what to attend. Thinking all the time, what you are missing.
Ed Hooks gave a masterclass about Acting for animators in a jammed room, full of ardent pupils. Recruitment Sessions of Sony Imageworks, Mackevision, Framestore or Double Negative provoked long lines of young and talented animators, ready to start into their professional lives.
At the cinema Metropol 2 you had the opportunity to get various views on 3D.
Robert Neumann talked about the 3-D pipeline created for Disney´s “Bolt” while Lionel Fages talked about the 15 years of 3-D movie production at Cube Creative, while DreamWorks´s David Burgess explained the 3D-approach of "Monsters vs. Aliens." French producer and director Pascal Herold presented his in-house build Fantasmagorix software suite. His very interesting goal is to produce a 3D-feature film at minimal costs and in a very short time frame. Fantasmagorix allows a very fast previs of all the aspects of a shot and is heavily used to create “Cinderella”, the very first 3-D CGI feature film of Herold and his studio Delacave.
VFX Supervisor John Scheele, VFX Producer Georgia Scheele and Previs Supervisor Ron Frankel, President and Founder of Proof, Inc. presented an interesting insight into the Previs of Oliver Stone´s “World Trade Center”, the historical Epos “Alexander” and Steven Spielbers “The Terminal”. Reconstructing recent history with great detail, extreme care and sensitivity was the goal for the story of two surviving policemen in the catastrophe of the collapsing twin towers. Los Angeles´s Lebanon Street was chosen to stand in for parts of New York. For “The Terminal” the artists combined parts of the Airport of Montreal with the Airports of New York to create an unreal real place to work in.
Stone´s obsession for historical detail can be observed in the fact that he demanded to create an exact replication of the moon and its positions during the nights of 9/11 and after.
As the competition of VFX/Animation Studios grows, the production has to be streamlined. The short deadlines demand more efficiency. And the increased complexity of work needed new talent and innovation. Xavier Nicolas, escorted by imperial Stormtroopers, explained the genesis of Lucas Animation Singapore, its past, present and future. The studio works closely together with ILM, Lucas Arts and of course Lucas Animation San Francisco. As Nicolas stated, George Lucas wanted to access the Asian talent. Being a lifelong fan of Japanese Manga and Chinese culture, Lucas tried to capture the creativity born from the diversity of Asian artists. Singapore is English speaking, has a reliable infrastructure and protects intellectual properties. Also labor is more cost effective than in the States. And of course the US visa limitations do not allow to invite the Asian talent in a big way to San Francisco. The studio was set up in 2005, they started work for the TV-show “The Clone Wars” in 2006 and produced VFX for films like “Transformers”, “Iron Man”, G-Force” since then. A year later the artists began to collaborate with Lucas Arts on games like “Star Wars – The force unleashed” and developed their own game: “The Clone Wars – Jedi Alliance”. Due to an extensive training program, called “The Jedi Master Program” 330 highly trained artists are now working in a great multicultural environment and they are preparing now for their first own feature film endeavour.
Bob Osher, President of Sony Digital Productions, presented an inside look at Sony Pictures Digital Production Companies Sony Pictures Animation and Sony Pictures Imageworks. “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” will come to us in mouthwatering 3D Osher explained the new philosophy of the studios, who will produce four types of animation: The all audience features, hybrid Live Action films, Direct to DVD Movies like the highly successful “Open Season 2” and audience specific features. Animation is handled like a technique here and not as a genre. Mentioning films like “Tripplets of Belleville”, “Waltz with Bashir” or “Persepolis” Sony aims now also to other audience groups than the common family entertainment films. A yet untitled Avi Arad-Project, written by Mark Frost will be the first film in this direction.
The biggest room of the Haus der Wirtschaft was still too small for the audience, who wanted to know all about the unbelievable amount of work, achieved in a very small amount of time for Zach Snyder´s “Watchmen”. Alex McDowell, John DJ Desjardin and Pete Travers explained in three hours the making of Doctor Manhattan, explained the production design and the VFX of the ambitious and groundbreaking adaptation of Alan Moore´s famous graphic novel. Funny enough to create Doc Manhattan, Pete Travers had the opportunity to “hire” the “Beowulf”-character as an early stand-in.
Meanwhile Kevin Geiger opened the section focus on China with his talk on the cultural revolution coming now to the western animated world as China opens up. Wen Feng and Lijun Sun from Magic Dumpling (www.magicdumpling.com ) presented China´s first environmentally-themed animated feature film, called “Road to Home”, while Lifeng Wang, president of Xing Xing Digital Corporation (www.xing-xing.com ) showed examples of the studio´s vfx created for films like “Fantastic Four”, “Tropic Thunder” or “The Forbidden kingdom”. Vance Huang and Stella Huang completed the section with a brief overview about the work and achievements of SOFA studios, based in Taipeh, Taiwan. (www.sofastudios.com ). The studio generates high quality computer animation from concept design to rendering.
And in case you were not tired enough, panel after panel, talk after talk, meeting after meeting – at the end of the day Animation World Network publisher Ron Diamond presented the Screening of “The Animation Show of Shows”. Nine exquisite short films delighted the audience in High Definition, from the academy award winning “La Maison en petit cubes” to Chris Williams stunning “Glago´s Guest”.