Janet Hetherington chats with //ADAPT co-founder Jean-Eric Hault as Montreal gears up for its second //ADAPT conference from Sept. 24 to 28.
Digital animation and vfx professionals from all over the world convened in Montreal in September 2006 at the inaugural //ADAPT (Advanced Digital Art Production Techniques) conference. This year, the show is expanding from two to five days -- and there's a good reason why.
"In 2006, the event exceeded all our expectations and the feedback we received was absolutely amazing," comments //ADAPT co-founder Jean-Eric Hénault. "The biggest feedback we got was that there was just too much to see and not enough time to see it all. We ended up with so much content; we felt we had enough to fill an event lasting at least twice as long. We are adding more content for this year, and much of it is quite spectacular."
Hénault explains that extending //ADAPT 2007 to five days avoids overlapping events and maximizes content. "It is now physically possible to attend classes in the 2D and 3D Masters Program, if you purchase the full conference pass," Hénault says.
//ADAPT 2007 plans to present 2D, 3D and Exploration tracks of programming, similar to last year, but with a big plus. "We have also added a 2D/3D + Program, open to all attendees, which will feature extra classes on how tools of the trade are used on game and film projects," Hénault adds. "In addition, attendees in the 2D and 3D Masters Program can also take advantage of the 2D/3D + and the Exploration program among all the other activities surrounding the conference."
Last year, //ADAPT attendees were treated to such A-list speakers as Syd Mead, Iain McCaig and Mark Goerner, and they are all returning this year. Hénault also offered a sneak peek at the list of other high-quality speakers presenting in 2007.
"To begin with, on Monday evening, Sept. 24 at 7:00 p.m., Phil Tippett will be our keynote speaker," Hénault continues. "We are very honored to have such an illustrious guest on what is, after all, only the second edition of this event."
Tippett is the founder of Berkeley-based Tippett Studio. His filmmaking knowledge and ability to design and breathe life into complex animated characters has earned him two Academy Awards, two Emmys and a Special Achievement Award during the course of a career that has spanned more than 30 years.
"I intend to bring along fond memories from where we've been, advantages of the current digital age and some trepidation toward the future," Tippett offers. "Having participated in the dramatic changeover from creating visual effects for motion pictures photo-chemically (and with models) to now, where nearly everything is being created digitally, I've been allowed a somewhat unique perspective."
Hénault has provided some highlights from the forthcoming 2007 program. "Keep in mind this is just a sample of the actual program and more names will be announced shortly," he continues.
KEYNOTE Phil Tippett
2D PROGRAMSyd Mead (Blade Runner, Aliens, Tron, The Island)Iain McCaig (Star Wars Episode I, II, III, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, Hook)Mark Goerner (Superman Returns, X-Men 2, The Terminal, Minority Report, Constantine)Ryan Cook/Double Negative (Harry Potter I III, Star Wars Episode I, II)
3D PROGRAM Shawn Kelly & Carlos Baena/AnimationMentor.com (Star Wars I, II, Hulk, Cars, The Incredibles) Bill Kroyer/Rhythm & Hues (The Chronicles of Narnia, Tron, A Nightmare on Elm Street) Dan Gregoire /Halon Ent. (Transformers, War of the Worlds, Star Wars II, III) Andy Schmidt/Pixar (Ratatouille, Finding Nemo, Monsters, Inc.) Aaron Holly (Meet the Robinsons, The Matrix Revolutions, Matrix Reloaded, Shark Tale)
FOUR SPECIAL FEATURE PRESENTATIONSRatatouille /Pixar (Michael Fong) Transformers/Industrial Light & Magic (Todd Vaziri)Halo 3/Bungie (CJ Cowan)Making of a 3D Movie Panel featuring: Carolyn Soper (vp production)/Walt Disney Animation Studios Tim Johnson (co-director of Over the Hedge)/DreamWorks Animation SKG Lydia Bottegoni (co-producer of Surf's Up)/Sony Pictures Animation/Imageworks
Aaron Holly, lead character td at Disney Animation in Burbank, is a returning speaker at //ADAPT 2007. "It's a long flight to Montreal, but well worth it," Holly says. "I was completely impressed with the energy and turnout at last year's //ADAPT conference. It was a great time, and I think people responded well to my presentation. I'm totally committed to education and helping other aspiring artists gain the skills to realize their dreams and goals. So it was a no-brainer that I return again."
Last year, Holly spoke on the well-received topic of "Rigging for Animation: Applying 2D Principles in a 3D World." For the 2007 show, Holly says that he will be presenting something new, yet related to last year's presentation.
"This year I will focus on `Facial Rigging for Animation,' a topic that I didn't cover last year," he continues. "Once again, I'll start with a brief discussion of the classic principles of animation and how they influence the facial rigging process," Holly explains. "Then, I'll do another hands-on demonstration showing methods for building the underlying head rig, mouth and lip controls and controls for `smearing' the character's face and allow for greater cartoony posing."
New to the //ADAPT conference is special speaker Todd Vaziri, sequence supervisor for Transformers, who works at Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) in San Francisco. "Montreal is a scant 3,000 miles away," he jokes.
Vaziri is scheduled to give a special "making-of" presentation on Transformers. "I'm really so excited to talk about Transformers with people," he says. "Working on the film has been a wild ride, and I'm very anxious to talk about how we came up with solutions to very difficult problems. I love interacting with fellow colleagues, trading ideas, making new friends, and that looks like what //ADAPT is all about."
Vaziri will speak for two hours about how ILM accomplished the effects for the film. "I'll be talking about just about all the aspects of our production, from shooting on location, design work and creating the characters, animation, lighting, roto/paint and compositing, of course, with a special emphasis on compositing and integration of synthetic characters into photographic plates," he adds. "The presentation will contain relatively general terminology, but since one of my main focuses will be photographic integration, I'll probably be tossing out more film/photography terms than complex computer graphics terms. I plan on showing off specific shots from the film, showing before and after breakdowns and talking about what techniques we used to complete them."
The huge success of Transformers has not surprised Vaziri, but it wasn't easy to predict during production. "To be honest, while you're working on a film like this, it's hard to imagine what it will be like when it's completed and ready for audiences," Vaziri offers. "I personally try to focus on the work -- making sure we're hitting all the right notes (Is this shot spectacular? Is this shot funny? Does this shot look scary enough?). So week in, week out for almost a year, I've been creating these spectacular shots. But you never really know how they'll `play' until you see the finished movie, with final color timing, final sound mix, final score, the whole shebang. We're very happy that fans are enjoying the movie."
Not surprisingly, both Holly and Vaziri are fans of Tippett. "I started my career working at Tippett Studio," Holly admits, "and his work is why I am in the industry today. I absolutely idolize the guy and cannot wait to hear him talk and chat with him again."
"I always love hearing Phil Tippett speak," agrees Vaziri. "He's got such a deep perspective on the business and art of visual effects. The art of moviemaking is what drives Phil, and I love hearing that passion. The lineup of other special speakers looks fantastic, too, especially Carlos Baena and Shawn Kelley's presentation, Syd Mead, and since I've never been to //ADAPT before, I'm anxious to explore the rest of the conference."
There will be much to explore. //ADAPT 2007 is adding brand-new elements, including the //ADAPT Theatre, where participants can showcase their work. "We are looking for short films, feature length films, game cinematics, and other video content to present at the //ADAPT Theatre," Hénault says. "We think it's a perfect opportunity for attendees to relax and view the work created by their peers."
Hénault adds that entries so far are looking very good but concedes, "We are still looking for more independent artists, game and feature film studios; they are invited to submit their content."
Another new feature is the //ADAPT Art Expo. "The Art Expo will be located inside Salle Jeanne-Mance, right next to the new registration desk, on the main floor of the hotel," Hénault says. "So far, we have confirmed the presence of many high-profile studios and artists. We'll be announcing details shortly."
The Art Expo environment will combine both an art exhibition and a lounge so people can unwind, be inspired and discover some amazing artwork. Hénault says that the area will also be uniquely designed to have an "//ADAPT" look and feel to it.
Hénault notes that there may still be room for individual artists, game and feature film studios to submit artwork, storyboards, concept art, matte paintings and other eye candy to be displayed at the Art Expo, but that space is limited.
New and Improved The //ADAPT conference job fair will be a little different this year. "The job fair will only be open during the last three days of the conference, from Wednesday, Sept. 26, to Friday, Sept. 28. We will announce the list of companies participating on the website.
"The job fair will be presented in a unique style. Each studio will be recruiting in a transformed hotel room and equipped with a TV and DVD to review demo reels and conduct on the spot interviews. Interested participants should come prepared. Last year, we had 10 rooms available and we had to turn down many companies due to a lack of space and high interest. This year, we have up to 30 rooms available. Hopefully, it will be enough!"
Not returning to //ADAPT this year, though, is the exhibition area. "We realized last year that the `show floor' format was perhaps not the best for artists and companies alike not to mention booths are extremely expensive and not that effective," Hénault explains.
However, one of the most popular features of the show will be returning -- the parties. "Of course we have parties!" Hénault enthuses. "What would we do without parties in this industry? Not only are they a good opportunity to have a good time, but also to network and make new friends!
"On Tuesday, we have the official //ADAPT Cocktail party sponsored by Autodesk, on Wednesday, we are working on something too early to talk about and on Thursday, we have the Official //ADAPT Party. If you still need more -- well, you happen to be in Montreal, so, you can't go wrong with the city's legendary nightlife."
Montreal is proving to be an appropriate setting for a conference on digital techniques. "I think our infrastructure -- great schools and companies -- has helped pioneer this industry and has played a big role in the success of this conference," Hénault observes. "Today, Montreal is the home of many world-leading players such as Softimage, Autodesk Media & Ent. and Ubisoft, EA, A2M and now EIDOS have joined the ranks to create a booming, thriving industry. And let's not forget the many fx and film studios like Hybride, Buzz Image, Damn FX, Meteor and Mokko Studio, among others, who have done remarkable things over the years."
For those wishing to mix pleasure with business, Hénault says, "Montreal is a beautiful, safe city to visit. Favorite hot spots like Saint-Laurent Blvd., Crescent Street, Saint-Denis Street, known for the fashion, nightclubs and terraces, the trendy Old Montreal with its very unique lifestyle and European architecture has much to offer. Montreal as a whole is a very diverse, rich city with a lot of different cultures from all over the world merging to create a very vibrant and unique spot to be and visit."
"Montreal is a gorgeous city," adds Holly. "Last year, I spent a lot of time just walking around the city and enjoying the architecture and beauty of the city when I was not at conference events. I am certainly looking forward to seeing even more of the city this year."
//ADAPT 2007 returns to the same venue as last year -- the Hyatt Regency. "The Hyatt has both the sex appeal and the space we are looking for," Hénault says. "Extending the event to five days allowed us to maximize the space. Also, it's a great venue. The hotel just renovated most of the rooms and the location is second to none. We're right in the middle of the cultural district, right on the famous Sainte-Catherine Street. We have direct underground access to two metro stations and there are a million things to do nearby. Not to mention the great support we received from the Hyatt last year and this year."
If the show continues to grow, Hénault admits that it may have to consider a new venue. "Next year, however, we might need to find something bigger the Convention Center perhaps. We know how important having a quality venue is essential to making a quality event."
As for this year, Hénault is pleased with the initial numbers. "Registration is doing better than expected!" he says. "We expect to sell out. We anticipate over 2,500 attendees this year."
Hénault comments that what sets //ADAPT apart is its accessibility. "No Ph.D in advanced quantum mathematics required to attend!" he quips. "We want to teach real hands-on techniques used by real people in film and game studios. Much more than just an educational conference, we want people who participate to be inspired. We feel this is very important to help digital artists find and nurture the inspiration that is so critical to the success of their careers.
"We put a lot of effort in making this feel like anything but `another conference,'" Hénault says. "We work hard to package the event through our web presence, the music, the ambiance, the plasma screens -- even the way the rooms are dressed to make everyone feel special. We do this because we believe our attendees are important, and we want them to feel like VIPs."
For further information on //ADAPT 2007, including registration, visit www.adaptmontreal.com.
Janet Hetherington is a freelance writer and cartoonist who shares a studio in Ottawa, Canada, with artist Ronn Sutton and a ginger cat, Heidi.