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ADAPT 2006 Conference: Advancing Digital Art Production

Fred Galpern gives a preview of what digital artists can expect to experience later this month at the first ADAPT 2006 Conference in Montreal.

This could be the start of something big: ADAPT holds its inaugural conference this month and promises lectures on advanced digital art production techniques as well as quality presenters. All images courtesy of ADAPT 2006.

With the number of conferences relevant to digital artists growing every year, choosing which to attend gets more and more difficult. Those keeping score should add the ADAPT Conference to its consideration score card. The first ADAPT event will be held Sept. 23-24 in the beautiful city of Montreal at the Hyatt Regency Hotel. ADAPT looks to be an event to watch, offering a variety of instructional lectures ranging from concept art to 3D modeling and animation. The conference is billed as advanced digital art production techniques. Like most conferences, the content is second only to the quality of the presenters, and in this department ADAPT is well prepared. Guest speakers such as Syd Mead, Jeremy Birn and Meats Meier are well-respected, experienced creators who likely have some valuable insight to share with conference attendees.

Putting a large-scale conference together is no easy task. Jean-Eric Hénault is the main man behind ADAPT, aided by the other fine folks at Digital 04 Studios, the company that actually puts on the conference. The Studios mission is to teach and promote digital art and artists worldwide. Digital 04 Studios was co-founded by Hénault, president of CGChannel.com, Emile Ghorayeb, formerly at DreamWorks Animation, and Jonathan Abenhaim, a senior animator at Ubisoft Ent. Hénault discussed the conference, his background and the general state of the digital art production industry, including its many different varieties.

ADAPT is something Ive had in my mind for several years now, Hénault said. Montreal is a great city with a thriving computer graphics industry. Companies like Autodesk and Softimage have their main headquarters here. Ubisoft now employs about 1,500 people and Montreal keeps getting better and better. So, I thought it was about time we had an event like this, he continued.

Clearly the conference is an enormous undertaking, one that could not be executed by any single person. Making that daunting leap from idea to reality was not immediate for Hénault. When talking about bringing the event to life he said, Its only when I met with Jonathan Abenhaim and then Emile Ghorayeb that I felt confident we could pull this off. Although I am the original founder of CG Channel, this is not a CG Channel event. Its a completely new entity called Digital 04 Studios, made-up of Jonathan Abenhaim, Emile Ghorayeb and myself.

The group had some specific goals in mind for ADAPT, most importantly they saw the need to distinguish their event from the others offered in Canada, the U.S. and abroad. Talking about what makes ADAPT stand apart from other similar events Hénault suggested, This is the only conference designed exclusively for creative artists looking to advance or kick start their careers. No rocket-science here. Education, inspiration, the latest digital tools, the biggest names in the film and game industry.

CG Channels Jean-Eric Hénault (above) had the idea for a conference relevant to digital artists for many years. Along with Emile Ghorayeb and Jonathan Abenhaim, ADAPT has become a reality.

We quickly learned that this involved a lot more than what we could imagine. It gained popularity in the industry and, well, now we had to figure out how to deliver. How would we turn our ideas and vision into a realistic, feasible event? I must say, I dont know where we would be without Annemarie Gabriele on our team. Shes the one holding this event on her shoulders right now. In addition, we have about five other people helping us out. I think this will pan out to be a great, high-quality event.

One of the things Hénault believes is a key to his ability to create such an event is his background. With nearly 20 years experience with 3D software, I created CG Channel.com back in 2000. The sites mission was to seek out and promote digital artists worldwide. Something I strive to continue with ADAPT, he added. Right now, ADAPT takes most of my time, it is a fun project to put together and the team I have now is exceptional. My day-to-day activities vary from talking with the conference speakers to gathering assets for print, to running out for coffee. It changes so much and we never have a dull moment! he laughed.

In addition to keeping busy with ADAPT and CG Channel, Hénault remains interested in the future of the digital tools artists use to create their work. I often use Photoshop as an analogy. When you think about it, Photoshop is easy enough for anyone who uses a computer yet so versatile that even ILM uses it to create Star Wars. One day, Id like to be able to say the same thing about 3D. Once this happens, 3D will become a truly accessible tool everyone can use. The tools will be more about storytelling and less about pushing polygons around he shared.

Diverging into the interactive arena Hénault offered, Im quite impressed by Microsofts new XNA Framework, which enables smaller developers to be able to develop their own games without the huge infrastructure game companies traditionally require. I think we might see a lot of new ideas out in the next few years thanks to this ease of access in the industry. I think this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Montreal is home to a thriving computer graphics industry with Autodesk, Softimage and Ubisoft nearby, and Hénault thought it was time the city hosted an event like this. Above is the conference site, the Hyatt Regency Hotel, in downtown Montr

Artists have found more options as digital tools converge, some finding they can move from one part of the CG industry to another quite easily. Hénault has seen this trend and observed, Over the past few years, I have seen a lot of people crossing over from film, videogame development all the time. And as video games thrive to become more and more film-like, I think this phenomenon is bound to accelerate even faster over years to come. This will create more jobs and more opportunities for digital artists all over the world. I think the biggest challenge is training high-quality people to feed this growing industry. Studios are demanding more than ever from their creative staff. My hope is that an event like ADAPT will help digital artists at all levels to learn the most advanced production techniques there are to learn.

Although he is a great fan and cheerleader for digital artists, Hénault also sees a downside. I think the industry itself has become a bit boring. Technology is not evolving as dramatically as it was 10 years ago. I sometimes miss that. But thats why I think people should focus more on what [they] are doing with these tools rather than focusing their attentions on the actual tools. This industry is about people first, technology second. The ADAPT 2006 Conference is designed to reflect this. I think that targeting the creative professionals of this thriving industry, over the years, we can grow this into one of the largest conferences in the field.

Fred Galpern is currently the art manager for Blue Fang Games, located just outside Boston. He is also a Maya instructor at Northeastern University and a co-creator of the game development program at Bristol Community College. Since entering the digital art field more than 10 years ago, Galpern has held management positions in several game and entertainment companies, including Hasbro and Looking Glass Studios. He began his art career in comic books and also has interactive, print and web design experience.

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