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SIGGRAPH Asia Kicks Off, CAF Awards & the Clone Wars Invades

The inaugural SIGGRAPH Asia 2008 was formally opened on Tuesday, Dec 11, in true Singaporean style: with festive opening speeches by the Conference Chair YT Lee and by distinguished government representatives.

Don Greenberg. Courtesy of SIGGRAPH ASIA 2008.The inaugural SIGGRAPH Asia 2008 was formally opened on Tuesday, Dec 11, in true Singaporean style: with festive opening speeches by the Conference Chair YT Lee and by distinguished government representatives.

Highlight of the opening ceremony was featured speaker of the day Don Greenberg, Computer Graphics Pioneer and Director of Cornell University. Coming from an architecture background and using some of the earliest computer science to generate his first visualizations, Don was basically marking out the new territory of computer graphics. Yes, they did use punch cards back then to feed XYZ coordinates into the computer! Courage to try out new approaches and techniques, and find new fields to apply this technology, were the driving factors for him and his peers back then in the early days of computer graphics. Don noted that large parts of the new computer science research in the SIGGRAPH community are focused in animation, games and entertainment. While the quality increases, research topics have narrowed down to a few fields. Don calls us to have courage not to be risk adverse and venture into new areas of research and interdisciplinary practice, citing examples of applications in medical technology, earthquake and tectonic research, to ornithology where he researched the potential existence of an extinct bird species.

This curiosity for innovative uses of technology and to look beyond narrowing boarders shines through in Don’s enthusiasm. Adequately the motto, which he thinks of every morning, is “happy is the man whose work is his hobby.” More...Computer Animation Festival Announces Awards SIGGRAPH Asia’s Computer Animation Festival showcases an amazing selection of animated works. The competition was tough; out of 685 submissions from 44 countries the jury selected 29 works for the Electronic Theatre.

One of the two Jury Special awards went to the short Oktapodi by students of Gobelins, l'école de l'image in France. Oktapodi is a pulsing and vivid animation that has been a crowd pleaser and major award winner on the festival circuit this year. Both a marvel in style, animation and tight storytelling, it also sports amazing character rigs for the main characters.

Kudan was one of the hits at SIGGRAPH Asia.

The second Jury Special was awarded to Kudan by director Taku Kimura, Kudan’s story revolves around the disconnected relationship between a father and his son, taking us into a beautiful fantasy world with box headed cows, giant trees and strange creatures.

Best of Show was awarded to This Way Up by directors Smith & Foulkes of Nexus Productions Ltd, United Kingdom. This Way Up takes us on the hilarious journey of two undertakers struggling to lay the dead to rest. Intriguing visual designs with backgrounds in soft washes and great animation and character personalities, coupled with the unique British humor makes a funeral funny as never seen before.

Other notable shorts in the Electronic Theater selection are Blind Spot, another Gobelins piece, about a grandmother's shopping trip that didn’t turn out quite right. And the short Hugh by students of the Ecole Supérieure des Métiers Artistiques in France, retelling an Apache legend with great character personalities and a wonderful mix of 3D and stylized 2D sequences.

The Electronic Theater program was dense and entertaining as rarely seen before, with a clear focus on storytelling and innovative visuals. Interestingly no visualizations, research demos or experimental work was included in this selection, a novelty for the SIGGRAPH Electronic Theatre. These pieces, among other animated works, can be seen in the Animation Theater program running throughout the conference.

The Computer Animation Festival also includes another special program showing more great submitted animated works, as well as several invited screening programs, such as previous Best of SIGGRAPH Award Winners, School selections and an Australian and India Focus. The SIGGRAPH Asia CAF trailer can be viewed at AWNtv. The Clone Wars Are Upon Us – At Least When You Are In Singapore Thursday featured a whole line up of speakers from Lucasfilm Animation Singapore. One sketch I am particularly grateful for, as I am a teacher myself, addressed overlooked fundamentals of our art – seeing and understanding — which are sometimes missed by aspiring artists. Kalene Dunsmoor’s sketch Keeping It Real: Classical Art Principles in Today's VFX Features talked about observation in nature, conceptualization and composition as the essential tools a VFX artist needs to rely on in their process.

Ben Huber spoke about the art of lighting and the creation of the unique look in Lighting Clone Wars: A New Planet Every Week. He explained how the lighting process helps sculpt the character features, particularly how the edgy and strong designs in the facial shapes become enforced. The passion for his art showed when he spoke of treating the light almost as its own character. They are indeed painting with light in the Clone Wars series, using a far more stylized approach than in the Star Wars feature films and employing strong hues to tint entire sequences and episodes to achieve the desired mood and outer worldly feel.

Visual gems were shown in another talk about the Clone Wars. Matt Aldrich, Art Director in Games at Lucasfilm Animation Singapore showed concept art created for the Nintendo DS game Star Wars: the Clone Wars: Jedi Alliance. Many beautiful original designs of galaxies and characters were created for the game. My favorite was the series of designs for the Night Sister, clearly inspired by the Star Wars character Darth Maul with a touch of Anime designs. As Matt told us, George Lucas was so impressed by the original concept art that we might see some of these designs fed back into the TV series.

Melanie Beisswenger is character animator and animation teacher based in Singapore. Some of her past projects include the Academy Award winning feature film Happy Feet, the stereoscopic 3D animated feature Fly Me to the Moon and the TV launch commercial for the blockbuster game BioShock.

Melanie is teaching as Assistant Professor at the School of Art, Design and Media, NTU in Singapore and has been involved with SIGGRAPH Asia 2008 as Computer Animation Festival Producer.

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Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.