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SIGGRAPH 2005 Overview: Electronic Theater & Animation Festival

The Career Coach gives strategies and tips on how to work the job fair, especially at SIGGRAPH 2005.

Shane Ackers 9 was awarded the Best in Show prize. © Shane Acker. All images courtesy of SIGGRAPH.

To program the Electronic Theater and Animation Festival for the 2005 SIGGRAPH conference and exhibition, the festival committee and jury had the arduous, but ultimately rewarding task to review 560 submissions from 27 countries. The resulting program represents what could be considered the most innovative, creative and outstanding work in the world of visual effects, animation and scientific visualization. Contributors ranged from budding student artists to entertainment industry giants.

At the Electronic Theater, during the pre-show screening of John J. Walt Adamcyzks evolving animated art, Autocosm: Gardens of Thuban, the first thing that I noticed from the back, was the high-def digital cinema projector provided by Christie Digital. Despite the massive theater space, the picture was sharp and the colors saturated throughout the presentation. If there was any doubt in my mind that the demise of film was inevitable, this projector eradicated it.

The Electronic Theater programmed 31 shorts, excerpts and compilation reels in lengths from seven seconds to more than 10 minutes. Using the tag line, Bring Your Brain, the opening and interstitial animations, Previs and Brainhead (produced by Wild Brain) set the stage for the art and technology fun to come. Yet in such a diverse, extremely high caliber showing, several works managed to stand out as exceptional.

The honor of Best of Show was awarded to freelance director, Shane Acker, for his darkly futuristic 9. This post-apocalyptic vision, set in a rumble-filled world, tells the classic David and Goliath story of a stitched together rag doll, 9, who defeats a mechanical dinosaur set on devouring his soul just as he has consumed the souls of the other rag dolls. Inspired by puppetry and stop-motion (no wonder Tim Burton is producing a feature-length version), Acker brought these influences and his strong sense of composition to the world of CGI animation, adding the critical elements of sound and music to build a frighteningly believable fantasy world. The 10-minute, largely one-man labor of love took four-and-a-half years to finish and has garnered a student Oscar nomination and numerous festival awards.

Polish animator Tomek Baginski of Platige Image received Jury Honors for Fallen Art, a disturbing commentary on war and art that combines flawless technique and high production values with a twisted sense of storytelling. Baginski is the first two-time winner in the history of SIGGRAPH, having won Best of Show in 2002 with his previous film, The Cathedral. Jury Honors also went to Eric Castaing, Alexandre Heboyan and Fafah Togora of Lecole de Limage for La Migration Bigoudenn, a whimsical celebration of recurring patterns about a group of traditional ladies from Brittany competing to cook the most ethereal crepe that leaves the impression of a Busby Berkeley routine.

Several animations were particularly humorous. Learn Self Defense by Chris Harding and the Chris Harding Animation Concern successfully pulled off a satirical political commentary on violence and WMDs. Blur Studio offered its two most recent comical selections. Jeff Fowler went for broke with the 3D Gopher Broke, an amusing tale of a gopher and his quest for food that was nominated for an Oscar. The gopher POV, slow-mo, airborne cow was sidesplittingly hysterical. Paul Taylor time-lapsed through prehistoric times with his comic caveman chronicle, In the Rough. Supinfocom Valenciennes and artists Gabriel Garcia, Benjamin Fligans, Geordie Vandendaele and Benjamin Flinois choreographed the animation in Workin Progress to a 1940s style big-band version of Over There to comical effect.


Joshua Beveridges Things That Go Bump in the Night (top left), Ming-Yuan Chuans Cubic Tragedy (top right) and Damian Hooks East End Zombies(bottom left) showcase the best in student work. Things That Go Bump in the Night © Joshua Beveridge. Cubic Tragedy © Ming-Yuan Chuan. East End Zombies © Damian Hook © NCCA 2004.

Student animations excelled at humor. Joshua Beveridge, from the acclaimed Ringling School of Art and Design, dispelled the classic childhood fear in Things That Go Bump in the Night with the shorts closing observation: Special Thanks to My Loving Parents. Cubic Tragedy, by Ming-Yuan Chuan of National Taiwan University, got the insider laughs with its Do It Yourself Guide to character animation, complete with the indispensable undo button and a Pablo Picasso inspired ending. The clever narration of East End Zombies by Damian Hook of NCCA Bournemouth University warned and instructed the viewer on how to deal with zombies while illustrating the techniques through stick-figure animation.

Directing team, Dom and Nic of Framestore CFC, combined live action with a paper cutout businessman in their imaginative spot for Renault, Espace La Vie dHector. Matt Samia and Blizzard Ents World of WarCraft demonstrated the photorealistic fantasy creations coveted by the gaming industry. Nicolas Salis of Foret Bleue used a stark color palette and soaring camera moves to expose a graphic, Metropolis-like industrial world in an abbreviated version of La Derniere Minute. Overtime by Oury Atlan, Damien Ferrie and Thibaut Berland of Supinfocom Valenciennes used black-and-white 3D animation, lots of Kermit-type frogs and changing musical themes to stage a bizarre requiem to deceased puppeteer, Jim Henson. Helium by Adam Janeczek and Florian Durand of Supinfocom Arles and Dice by Hitoshi Akayama of Kyoto Seika University both achieved a hypnotic effect with the shifting patterns of the animations.

Meanwhile, some of the biggest and brightest international visual effects houses presented show reels that revealed some of the technological magic behind the art. On the super high-end, keynote speaker, George Lucas Industrial Light & Magic revealed the making of Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith from greenscreens through finished shots, disparate elements were transformed into rivers of fire, light sabers and even whole worlds. Wipes and the driven cutting style of editor Greg Hyman, accompanied by a blockbuster soundtrack, brought it all together. And if you ever wondered how baby Sunny in Lemony Snickets A Series of Unfortunate Events caught that spindle in her teeth like a dog or how Tom Cruise survived all those colossal explosions in War of the Worlds, the ILM 2005 reel lifts the veil.

Digital Domain presented high profile director David Finchers commercial (and the making of) for Hewlett Packard. In this almost completely CG spot, Constant Change does exactly what the title implies the camera tracks with a young businessman as he walks through his office. All the while the backgrounds and the mans clothing seamlessly change. In addition to almost entirely CG fire effects, DD showcased the breathtaking planet surfaces achieved by their groundbreaking Tergen terrain generator as used in the aerial adventure, Stealth. Tergen allowed them to create any background, to light it any way and to make any camera move.

DreamWorks presented the technical reel for Madagascar, illuminating the process of character development and animationfrom wireframe to furfor the creatures in the jungle jaunt. Their techniques with extreme deformations and ocean and sand systems were illustrated in the fanciful manner of the film, accompanied by a lighthearted musical score.

There was a resurgence in scientific visualization at the show. From Dorothy Hall and the NASA Goddard Space Center, MODIS Daily Global Snow Cover and Sea Ice Surface Temperature used satellite technology to track climate change, water location and global sea ice through the seasons, creating a mesmerizing, constantly shifting study of the planet. Visualization of an F3 Tornado within a Simulated Supercell Thunderstorm by Robert Patterson and Donna Cox from the National Center for Supercomputing Applications used colored threads to trace air currents elevating this graphic depiction into a paradigm of modern art.

Other instructive animations included Sony Picture Imageworks Visualizing the XYZ Color Space by Jeremy Selan, A Semi-Lagrangian Contouring Method for Fluid Simulation by Adam Bargtell of UC Berkeley, Greens Fractal Terrain by Jason Sewall and the Resfest 2004 Opening on motion theory.

As a teaser to the rest of the conference, trailers for the various SIGGRAPH programs were also screened. These previews approved for geeks included the Art Gallery, Emerging Technologies, Papers Program and Animation Theater.

In keeping with its theme, the animations in Laugh did just that. Peter Lepeniotis of Pantaloons Prods./DKP Studios presented the madcap misadventures of the Surly Squirrel, a film that exemplifies the moral that crime does not pay, at least not for sneaky, plotting squirrels (my dogs would have barked out loud at this one). Films about clever crabs, Venice Beach, by Jung-Ho Kim (Dongseo University); hungry monsters, Food for Thought, by Ian Yonika (Ringling School of Art and Design); a clever little boy with a plan for piranhas, Lionel, by Gabriel Gelade, Medhi Leffad, Anthony Menard and Matthieu Poirey (Lecole de Limage); imaginary inebriation, Awkward, by Cesar Kuriyama (Pratt Institute/Embrionyc Prods.); and a play on words, Street Stories - Episode 14: To Air is Human, by Christopher Bancroft (Ringling School of Art and Design), proved that the current class of students is not only technically talented, but also has a sense of humor.

Play was as much fun as Laugh. If I had to choose a personal favorite among the numerous funnies, it would be Piñata by Mike Hollands of Act3animation. Hollands command of what to include and what not to include in the frame is part of what made this animation so enjoyable. When the donkey piñata manages to evade the small sticks poking up above the small sombreros occupying the bottom of the frame, I wanted to cheer, but then when the big sombrero with the big stick enterswell, you get the picture. Hernando is a witty musical romp reminiscent of classic Hollywood musicals by Supinfocom Valenciennes students Thomas Bernos, Nicolas Lesaffre and Jerome Haupert. Mike Blum of Pipsqueak Films reminds us of our teenage years when we were faced with the horror of The Zit. Andrew Makesky of Ringling School of Art and Design humorously takes on old age with the hot-rodding, powerchair driving Sal and the Great Frustration. Sealed Lips from Lecole de Limage and Coline Veith of Lecole de Limage takes a new twist on ventriloquism. Hopeless Romantic by Bill Burg of the Pratt Institute and Love Letters by Jeff Paul of the Art Institute of California, San Francisco both give their comedic takes on how to get the girl.

Teachpresents visualizations used by various fields that make the explanation of scientific and medical concepts accessible even to non-professionals. These included Surgical Planning in Congenital Heart Disease by Means of Real-Time Medical Visualization and Simulation (Thomas Sangild Sorensen Centre for Advanced Visualization and Interaction, University of Aarhus), an aid for surgeons planning heart surgery; The Elbe Flood (Nils Sparwasser and Robert Meisner, German Aerospace Center), a life-saving system to track flooding; Tick Animation (Sven Dreesbach and Matthias Zeller, Filmakademie Baden-Wurttemberg), an animated depiction of the blood-sucking parasites (ugh!); Cell Invasions: Visual Computing, Health and Cancer (Charles Lumsden Department of Medicine, University of Toronto), a study of how cancer cells invade the body; Manufacturing Proteins with Biomolecular Machines (Rick Hankins, Computer Visualization Center), how proteins are synthesized and Image-Based Material Editing (Erik Reinhard, University of Central Florida), dealing with recovered shapes, transparency and translucency.

The immersive experience of seeing so much talent and creativity as well as so many technical achievements in such a short space of time was truly an awe-inspiring assignment, one that I hope to repeat at SIGGRAPH 2006. If you were unfortunate enough to miss this extraordinary experience, the full program, including both the Electronic Theater and Animation Festival selections, is available on three DVDs that can be purchased as a set or individually from

Mary Ann Skweres is a filmmaker and freelance writer. She has worked extensively in feature film and documentary post-production with credits as a picture editor and visual effects assistant. She is a member of the Motion Picture Editors Guild.