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ImagIna `99:
Innovative Villages and Dancing Babies

All photos courtesy ImagIna 99.

by Stéphane Singier

On the brink of the next century, 1999 was a key year for ImagIna, Europe's premier computer technology showcase and festival; and I am happy to report that the event came through with flying colors. The 18th edition was held January 18-22, and featured the theme "Integrating Digital Images and Metatools." This year however, the event was separated into two different locales. Keeping with tradition, the event opened in Monaco from January 18-20 where the organizers hosted conferences, the Innovation Village and the Dancing Baby Contest during the day, and competition film screenings and parties at night. In a new move, from January 20-22, ImagIna graced Paris' La Défense World Trade Center for the Industrial Exhibition. Splitting venues was a gamble but proved to be a success. The 1,300 participants in Monaco found the exhibition floor to be the most lively and energetic in years. Paris attracted more than 5,000 visitors. Large corporations returned to the show taking ample booth space. Silicon Graphics was such a player they returned to the exhibition hall this year with a booth.

The Conferences
The program for 1999 was divided into three categories on the theme of "Integrating Digital Images and Metatools": Interactive Television (TiVo, VISTA, the multimedia studio, Interactive Electronic Television Program Guides), Video Games (artificial life, 3D, 3D Internet, virtual reality), and Animation and Special Effects (Bunny, Antz, Bingo, The Prince of Egypt, Invisible Ocean, X-Files, Small Soldiers, Babel, Asterix and Obelix, What Dreams May Come, etc.).

"L'Amerzone," directed by Benoît Sokal, won a Prix Pixel-INA for "Best Game Intro." © Microfolie's Editions / Casterman.

The Innovation Village
This pavilion was a brand new addition to ImagIna and presented new software and hardware that is currently in development. The 13 companies invited represented six countries. The demonstrations covered such topics as artistic simulations, TV production, television interfaces, 3D visualization tools, numeric means of rendering, the Internet and architecture. The Innovation Village is a true laboratory of the future which gives a novel view of the next uses of new technology. Here is a sampling of what could be viewed and played with:

This Innovation center was such a success, ImagIna will continue with it next year.

The Dancing Babies Contest
We've all seen the disco dancing baby that quickly rose to fame through word of mouth and the Internet. Well, ImagIna, Kinetix, Silicon Graphics and Discreet Logic proudly hosted the first international competition of virtual dancing babies. Participants were given a standard baby model, then using the supplied hardware and software, had 24 hours to create the best dance for their virtual baby.

Exercice of Steel directed by Marc Caro. © 1ère Heure / Canal+.
There were four competition categories: schools, independent freelance 3D animators, video game developers and 3D animation production companies. There was a prize in each category, plus, one grand prize and two jury special mentions. All together the prizes were worth 100,000 FF (US$20,000) and awarded in the form of 3D Studio Max 2.5 software and 3D compositing tools. 153 teams were pre-selected, with 19 of them in the final competition. Just hours after the world premiere of this new software/hardware combo, 20 NT 320 SGI stations featuring Kinetix and Discreet Logic software were unveiled to be used for the competition. The grand prize was given to Daniel Tecquert and Frédéric Vico from Cryo, a gaming company. Their piece shows the baby dancing to a hit disco song while in his playpen with his toys. The competition's clips can be seen at www.2bo.com/ktx/ This competition was so successful that festival organizers have pledged to continue it next year. So, all animators of babies...go to your keyboards!

The Pixel-INA Prizes
ImagIna is also home to Europe's premier computer graphics festival, and on the final night the 13th edition of the "Prix Pixel-INA" awards were given. The pre-selection committee chose 70 out of the 510 submitted films. The final contestants came from 26 countries, marking the greatest participation since ImagIna's creation. Interestingly, the Jury was strictly composed of women. Blue Sky Studios' Bunny took home three awards including the Grand Prix. In addition, the school categories were exceptionally strong. Not only did the students capture 13 out of the 70 coveted spots, at the end of the screenings the conversations among professionals were mostly focused on these student films!

A complete list of winners from this prestigious European awards program honoring the world's best computer graphics was published in the Animation Flash 2/02/99.

Bunny is featured in AWN's Oscar Showcase with images and a QuickTime clip.

The Industrial Exhibition in Paris
More people attended The Industrial Exhibition (a trade show displaying new and innovative technologies) as a result of it being held in Paris for the first time instead of Monaco. The event is becoming a bridge between different industries, which used to be parallel but are now converging. Television, movies, web providers, multimedia and the gaming industry are all generating digital images that can be manipulated and broadcast in different medias. The new president of France's National Audiovisual Institute, Francis Beck, confirmed that this new venue is a meeting place for all of these different industries.

The Paris exhibition space was on the second floor and took up 7,000 square meters. Frankly, it was a little cramped and claustrophobic, with 75 exhibitors. Last year they only had 57 exhibitors and 5,000 square meters. This is a true sign of growth! Here are a few briefs on the biggest announcements made during the Exhibition:

Silicon Graphics chose ImagIna for the European launch of their new NT graphics station. The starting price was US $5000 for a SGI 320, which is the price we announced here in Animation World Magazine's coverage of ImagIna one year ago. People were very curious about these new NT stations. However, they are not yet available for sale on the Internet in Europe, leaving a lot of consumers wondering why.

Softimage/Avid presented Softimage 3D 3.8, which was on sale during ImagIna for US $5000, Twister DS 2.1, and Toonz, but there is still no word on Sumatra.

"Polar Bear Swim" directed by Bill Kroyer. © Rhythm & Hues.

Maya was celebrating its first anniversary in France at ImagIna, so Alias|Wavefront held two workshops that taught the basic program. One was with SGI NT machines, while the other was using Intergraph workstations. Both workshops were packed, and I think that with even twice the number of workstations it still would have been just as packed! It was a treat for young, passionate 3D artists and enthusiasts to get their hands on Maya.

Motion-capture company, Polhemus organized the first presentation of their new data entry system, 3D HLS (hand laser scanner).

Square, a Japanese video game company, discussed the creation of a studio in Paris and is preparing a film for 2001 that boasted very impressive test images.

Kinetix organized demonstrations of 3D Studio Max 2.5, Character Studio 2.0, paint*, effect*, and edit*, plus special one-on-one discovery stations for the truly intrigued. The Kinetix booth was the only one that was connected to the other events in Monaco. On a big screen, they were showing the Dancing Baby Contest's championship round. This idea should be used by other companies to join the two events.

ImagIna and FNAC, a large music chain, have launched an international contest for the next edition. The theme is "love." This contest is open to new, young 3D artists (under 35 years of age). They have to make a 3D film under 13 minutes and show that computer images, which are often described as cold, can show subtle emotions. More information about the contest can be found at: www.ina.fr/Imagina/99/Evenements/concours.fr.html

Before the October 22, 1999 deadline, entries can be sent to: Concours FNAC/INA/ImagIna, 4 avenue de l'Europe, 94366 Bry sur Marne Cedex, France

ImagIna changed our habits this year and it was a success. The move to hold the event in two separate places was well received, but the organizers will have to anchor the event in two locations as an ongoing tradition, rather than a one year novelty. I think it would be very difficult for the organizers to have the exhibition outside of Paris. It is unlikely that the many new visitors -- an increase of 30% -- who work in Paris for large companies will travel outside of the city. They will also have to create more interactivity between the two venues, maybe high-speed Internet access and other new innovations will help to reach this goal.

The organizers have already announced that the 2000 edition will be held January 30 - February 4 and will be organized in the same way -- in two locations.

Translated from French by Annick Teninge.

Stéphane Singier is the director of Paris' Z.A. Productions. Since 1987, the studio has won more than 20 international prizes and has become known as one of the most creative in the field of digital simulation with such 3-D series as
The Quarx. He is also a consultant on new imaging technologies and a member of the Administrative Council of CARTOON, a media council of the European Commission, where he represents France. He is also a member of CST and AFCA and was formerly vice president of the Union of Animation Producers (SPFA).

Note: Readers may contact any Animation World Magazine contributor by sending an e-mail to editor@awn.com.