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Editor's Notebook

The future is starting now...

Heather Kenyon

The fields of computer and Internet animation are quickly changing and remarkable. Professionals involved in computer graphics used to be the crazy, unknown, outlaws of animation. However, manipulated images are now the norm and in almost everything we see. The new odd birds of animation are those that have moved into the medium of the Internet and have been quietly creating for only a few years. It seems just this year word has gotten out and Web animation is suddenly white hot. A new group of innovators is bringing animation to yet another outlet.

While amazingly believable dinosaurs and space battles seem common place, new improvements and progress continue to be made at light speed. One area of growth and improvement is in creating realistic looking human beings and animals. I recently visited Sony Imageworks and was amazed to see some of their early footage of the feature film Stuart Little. Stuart Little is a mouse voiced by Michael J. Fox, who comes to live with a human family in New York City. The folks at Sony are boldly putting their synthetic mouse character right next to a real Persian cat. Do you think I could see the difference in the fur? Absolutely not. It made me smile to think back to the days of Jumanji -- which was only 1995 -- and the hubbub that film made by featuring a realistic looking lion's mane. I knew people that had to see the film opening night just to see that mane! Now, our industry's best are confident that savvy viewers are not going to detect the subtle differences between a computer generated talking mouse and a household pet, an animal everyone has seen, even while they are "acting" in a scene together, side by side. Furthermore, audiences have grown and won't even think twice about Stuart not being real. Audiences expect to be amazed, and they expect effects to be good. It is no longer a mystery....everyone has seen enough "making of's" by now to know roughly how it all works. As Rob Coleman says in his interview with Karl Cohen, it "is a very high benchmark to hit every time." By being so good at what they do, effects and computer animation companies need to be better and better, continually more impressive to wow tough audiences.

While CG animators are settling in to improving what they already do, others are diving into the Internet, true pioneers on a new frontier. Just the other day a person at a large Internet design firm told me that they couldn't really tell me what their job was going to be in six months, because the lay of the Internet land changes almost monthly. Six months is long range planning in a world that is moving and evolving at breakneck speed! One year? Unthinkable! By reading "Leading the Animated Internet" and Lee Dannacher's "The Big Apple's Silicon Alley" one can get an interesting perspective on how different companies are arriving at the Internet for different purposes and with different backgrounds. AtomFilms is using the Internet as a distribution outlet. Humongous and Cavedog Entertainment are creating games involving animation to be played on the web. Other companies, like togglethis, are creating animations for marketing and promotion purposes. Still others, like Funny Garbage and Visionary Media, are creating original animated series directly for the web. The Internet right now is like a super-collider with many people approaching it from different backgrounds for different reasons -- what this collision of people, ideas, technology and funding will create and how it will change everything that we know to date will be one of the greatest revolutions we will see. Buzz Potamkin has some ideas as to the scope in his "Dinosaurs Never See It Coming: Are the GatekeepersClueless?"

SIGGRAPH is also held, in all of its wide ranging, forward-thinking facets, this month. We have provided our readers with a preview section this year that will act as a guide to the animation interest areas. I would still encourage people to look in all of SIGGRAPH's nooks and crannies as well. SIGGRAPH is a crossroads of groups coming together -- from the hottest effects makers to the most brilliant astrophysicists, SIGGRAPH has something for everyone. I find SIGGRAPH very inspiring as one can see avant garde artistic projects that feature technology and experimental technology with an artistic angle. While this range can be both eye and mind-opening, it can be too much to comprehend in a short period of time. Because of the size and "noise" of SIGGRAPH, one would do well to sit down with all of the catalogues and plan a schedule that includes free time to discover the obscure and different, but focuses on the most valuable events for the individual. Otherwise, one can easily get distracted and six days later realize once in a life time opportunities passed by. SIGGRAPH is a tumultuous circus that is not to be missed. Here's hoping everyone has a great week at the Los Angeles Convention Center!

Until Next Time, Heather