The Pixel Priestess: Copenhagen’s 3D Festival as Mini-SIGGRAPH

The Pixel Priestess explores the 3Es of Copenhagens 3D Festival -- education, entertainment and enlightenment.

Image courtesy of Deron Yamada. © 2004 DYA367.

Image courtesy of Deron Yamada. © 2004 DYA367.

For a week at the beginning of May, a few hundred computer graphics enthusiasts flocked to Copenhagen for some education, entertainment and enlightenment at the annual 3D Festival. Something like a mini-SIGGRAPH, this gathering brought students, professionals and the simply curious to see some impressive content put together by the folks at CG Networks and Gnomon School of Visual Effects (OK, in the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that I work for The Gnomon Workshop).

Now Ill tell you about all the really cool sessions, but the truly wonderful distinction of this conference was the access it gave to students and professionals from all over the EU (standing in the lobby made me feel like Id been dropped into a linguistic melting pot). Incredible artists and speakers such as Tippetts Blair Clark, ILMs Hal Hickel, PDIs Bill Seneshen and Wetas Shawn Dunn held court and presented fascinating content. The conference also provided a stage for those folks to see creations from their continental counterparts. Simon Clutterbuck at the Moving Picture Company talked about Ella Enchanteds snake; Luc Froehlicher gave a glimpse into the magic created at La Maison, Ikuo Nishiis discussed Onimushas dazzling opening sequence.

The 3D Festival could be the 3E Festival, standing for education, entertainment and enlightenment. All festival photos © 2003-2004, Bella Center and 3D Festival. All rights reserved.

The 3D Festival could be the 3E Festival, standing for education, entertainment and enlightenment. All festival photos © 2003-2004, Bella Center and 3D Festival. All rights reserved.

I have to say that Copenhagens a really great place to have a conference like this. Its small, manageable, easy to navigate, beautiful to look at and there is so much to see and do between the hours of 6:00 pm and 4:00 am, of course. Seriously, though (and dont get me wrong, theres nothing frivolous about beer), if we live in an art and industry-heavy community, as I do, we should take a second and realize how great we have it: an embarrassment of riches, indeed. Though the Internet has opened the world to all kinds of great information, we have the opportunity to hear much of it first hand. We have access to so many festivals, conferences, meetings, user groups, exhibitor talks, school event and gifted (generous) artists from whom to learn that we become complacent and (sometimes) almost lazy. When I started talking to a group of kids who shlepped to the conference from Bulgaria, Germany, England, Italy it just kind of hit me!

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A warm and fun spirit lingered at the speakers luncheon at the end of the event. Wetas Shawn Dunn (right) talked about his work on Lord of the Rings.

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The 3D Festivals a great place to see what EU students and professionals are up to. Here, participants (left) gather at the Bella Center reception area. The ambience at the 3D Festival is casual and inviting. A participant (right) checks out the latest gear at the Festival Expo.

Just watching the audiences was inspiring. Whether they were sitting rapt during Alex Alvarez Maya lesson (yes, hes my boss; and a great teacher), or hanging on every one of Dunn and Greg Butlers Lord of the Rings enlightenments, you got the sense this was for many a unique experience. It was particularly great to see full rooms for concept artists Scott Robertson and Feng Zhu. It was great to see 3D artists absorb some great 2D content from these two gifted artists.

And while the conference offered workshop-type talks, there was an abundance of enlightening production talk as well. In his Pirates of the Caribbean presentation, Hickel showed just how animated an animation director could be. He incorporated home video of the model builds, model shoots, pyro shoots and an explosion, if I remember correctly. I have to say how much I love this stuff, and how great it is to show this to artists who spend the great portion of their time sitting in front of a CRT, rather than out on a set (and seriously, how often does an artist from Bulgaria get to see how life works in a tank at ILM?). Clark illuminated the visual effects pipeline in the context of Hellboy, while Bill Seneshen gave us a look at the wonderful (and extensive) worlds of Shrek.

Though sales-oriented talk crept in here and there, when I expected to hear about Kaydara from company President Michel Besner, I was delighted to hear something completely different: a history and future of storytelling in animation. Of course, he wouldnt mind if you wanted to purchase Kaydaras animation products, but his talk about animation (to the point where he didnt want to answer Kaydara questions), was refreshing. Refreshing, too was Oddworlds Lorne Lannings keynote address about his companys evolution and the changing world of content development.

Technical sessions balanced the more conversational or structural sessions, and lent an overall balance to the conference. Of course, being an industry of images, the three film festival sessions edited by DreamWorks Shelley Page, VFXWorld co-publisher Dan Sarto and conference organizer Leonard Teo provided a feast of (mainly) beautiful imagery: Though most pieces were remarkable, some just fell a bit short, reminding us once again that its just really difficult to write a good story. There were definite treats, though, like Annie & Boo from Johannes Weilund at the Filmakademie Baden-Wuerttemberg. I have to say how much I love the work that comes out of this school, which is consistently inventive, creative, beautifully rendered and with not a shred of sexist, scatalogical or cruel humor (we could learn a little something from the Filmakademie and Supinfocom). Jojo and the Stars was another treat. This sweet, tragic love story captivated me (though there were no fish or birds, the impossible relationship reminded me a bit of Stella and Stanley from years ago). Im a sucker for computer graphics that uses the technology in an unexpected manner (it was rendered in very rough black and white). The festival also provided an opportunity to see work from the ever awesome Meni Tsirbas and the Will Vinton Studios, among many, many others.

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Chris Landreth provided another of the conferences treats. Weve been watching Chris output for years, and whether or not you enjoy or are troubled by Chris work, I think its fair to say that its different and daring. His piece, Ryan, which we were privileged to see here, is no different. Integrating 3D-animated characters into a live-action documentary, Chris manages to show us another way of looking at reality. Playing with the documentary form is complicated: the documentarian is an observer of the story; we get his opinion through the image he presents. In the case of Ryan, while Chris presents his protagonists situation the tragic plight of animator Ryan Larkin when he introduces himself into the film, it becomes something else. Fiction? Nonfiction? Animation? Truth or Fiction? Doesnt really matter, and its impact is indisputable.

One of the greatest aspects of this festival was its location. This time Im not really talking about Copenhagen. Rather, Im talking about east rather than west. While there are other exemplary shows such as Eurographcs, FMx, Annecy and others, the 3D Festival is a friendly, casual conference (very much in the tone of its creator Jimmy Hassel), which offers a little of several areas of the field. Gaming and architecture have a voice along with visual effects and animation; sessions were conducted mainly in English, while conversations were held in just about anything else, creating the feeling that computer graphics is as international a language as math and music. I hope that the conference continues (with a few logistic, content and technical adjustments, possibly), but in the same location so we can all learn from the same masters we love to learn from, regardless of our country or our language.

Jill Smolin has been a grateful member of the visual effects industry for about a decade, and has documented the industry (before it was one) for about twice that long.

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