German character designer Harald Siepermann journeyed to the VESs festival, edit/VES, in Frankfurt and reports back about what he witnessed.
The eDIT/VES Event in Frankfurt The European Festival for Production and Visual Effects, hosted by the Visual Effects Society offers a great opportunity to exchange ideas about the latest tricks of the digital trade with writers, producers, effects specialists and media people from all over the world.
Despite the global economic downturn, however, the festival attracted 1,500 visitors from 17 countries, raising the standard of the past five years, and boasting an audience that has become more international and professional.
Professionals, students and layman were brought together in a showcase of the latest digital technology in cinema from Hollywood to eccentric arthouse, but also discussed were the latest trends and issues dominating advertising, television, animation, sound effects and computer games.
It didnt hurt at all that this years topic, Storytelling in the Digital Age, was touched on only casually. Its still up to the storytellers to use the tools provided in an inventive and intelligent way. These are skills that no technological tool can provide.
Storytellers and technical wizards thats still two worlds apart but Frankfurt gave both worlds a chance to meet and interact.
The celebrity guests were wisely chosen, offering a beautiful triad from Hollywoods spectacle-wizards (Industrial Light & Magics Dennis Muren) over traditional storytellers (cinematographer Michael Ballhaus) to representatives of experimental arthouse (director Peter Greenaway) .
But most of all, the eDIT/VES provided a pretty clear picture of things to come.
And it made one trend perfectly clear: sooner or later, movies will be HD. Greenaway already announced and celebrated the death of celluloid in his presentation. As a matter of fact, his latest work, The Tulse Luper Suitcases, shot in HD, breaks with the rules and conventions of cinema, as we know it, playing with our normal understanding of frame, story, length and completion.
Well, it might be a little early to sing an epitaph on celluloid altogether, but the eDIT/VES clearly gave the impression that the evolution cannot be stopped anymore. It will not happen over night it will rather take at least another couple of years, but it was pretty obvious where the journey is heading.
The trendy hype of the 90s seems to be over and HD is on the brink of becoming a serious tool of future filmmaking.
Even Ballhaus, a representative of character and story-driven cinema, is not scared by the idea of the digital camera. He welcomes it as just another tool to tell a story. Maybe, he says, itll give us more freedom to express creativity and not less, as some people fear, but it certainly will not make filmmaking cheaper, as some producers hope. Lets not forget that the likes of George Lucas get sponsored by the digital industry. We wont all have the same luck.
Michael Ballhaus (left) welcomes the digital camera as a storytelling tool. Program Director Rolf Krämer (center) and Tom Atkin (right), Director of the Visual Effects Society, speak at the festival.
Well, maybe he is right, but certainly a larger number of people will have access to high-performance tools and hopefully a democratizing of filmmaking will get going.
Of course, like any other tool, the technical equipment alone will not turn noncreative nobodies into the next Lars Van Triers overnight. It will still take a pro and smart, creative mind that knows and masters the art form to revolutionize our understanding of what cinema can be.
The first glimpses of this bright future were already visible at the eDIT/VES, not only in terms of HD but also in terms of digitally enhanced visuals that slowly but steadily sneak their way into serious movies and become more and more attractive to non-special-effects moviemakers.
The best example of this development might have been The Hulk, presented at the eDIT/VES by Gerald Gutschmidt. Lets not forget: were talking about a superhero-special-effects movie with a digital main character, shot by former arthouse director Ang Lee.
Director Peter Greenaway (left) rang the death knell for celluloid. His latest work is shot entirely in HD. Author Harald Siepermann found time to sketch Dennis Muren. Courtesy of Harald Siepermann.
This might be an exception, but visual effects constantly keep maturing, witness the various forms of digital doubles or face replacements seen more and more often in serious movies. Movies such as Roman Polanskis The Pianist or Sönke Wortmanns Das Wunder von Bern, where you wouldnt have seen them a couple of years ago. That wouldnt have happened if visual effects werent able to guarantee a solid performance and believability.
Conventions such as the eDIT/VES can definitely serve as a breeding ground for trends like that, which usually start with commercials. Some brilliant and highly creative examples were presented and discussed.
We all know that it is much easier for commercials, because they rely much more on decorative pictures and eye-catching visuals than on coherent stories and character development, to create stunning effects and breathtaking visuals. They will continue to lead the way, push the envelope and inevitably the less agile features will follow.
When it comes to pure animation, it has become very obvious that Flash and other sorts of digital animation have left their South Park-ish 2D looks behind, and animators have begun to explore different perspectives as a result of more sophisticated storytelling tools. eDIT/VES takes care of a flow of information that is necessary for further development and progress in all arts devoted to the visual image, and provides an opportunity for people to understand that the tool for future filmmaking is convergence and looking outside your own gene pool.
Harald Siepermann lives in Hamburg, Germany, and works as a freelance character designer for Walt Disney Feature Animation, DreamWorks and many other major studios. His credits include Mulan, Tarzan, Treasure Planet and Brother Bear. He also runs his own comic book series, Alfred J. Kwak, which has been transformed into a TV series and stage play. He is currently developing a feature film based on this character.