Festival Watch
SIGGRAPH 2003: July 31
We're networking, honest: from Monday's SIGGRAPH Chapters party

Emru Townsend · July 31
| One aspect of SIGGRAPH I haven't mentioned is the parties. Actually, it's an aspect of every film festival or convention I've been to with a heavy corporate presence; a company rents a bar or a club for the evening and the party is either open to conference attendees or they have to jockey to get tickets.

I only mention this because every night of the conference I ended up going to parties put on by Houdini, Kaydara, Computer Graphics World, and SIGGRAPH themselves (the reception on Wednesday and the SIGGRAPH Chapters party on Monday)—to name a few—and getting very little sleep. (Lest you think that it's all fun and games, the parties are also a great way for people to meet and talk without the pressure of trying to cram in conversations between events. Honest. No, really.) This finally caught up with me on Thursday morning, when I just couldn't drag myself to the morning's Web Graphics session I'd planned to see: Web Production Creativity. Actually, I was most interested in seeing Sandro Corsaro's presentation, "Flash Finally Hits the Big Screen."

I met Sandro during a party at last year's SIGGRAPH (see? I told you so) and we had a good conversation on Macromedia Flash and where it meets traditional animation. I was especially curious about his presentation because the basis of Flash technology itself—vector-based, resolution-independent animation—isn't new; in fact, Toon Boom did it about ten years ago with their Tic Tac Toon software, just a bit before FutureSplash Animator, which eventually became Flash, came on the scene. But I've generally found the Flash software to be a little unfriendly to traditional animators; it's well organized and well set up for the structural aspects of production, but its interface seems less accommodating for people used to pencils and animation discs.

Anyway, I missed it. No use crying over spilt milk, right? I did, however, make it to the presentation titled "Finding Nemo: Story, Art, Technology and Triage." Presented by Pixar's Graham Walters, Dylan Brown, Sharon Calahan, Ralph Eggelston, Oren Jacob and Jeremy Lasky, it detailed the making of Finding Nemo from different perspectives. The session kicked off with a little talk about how Nemo writer/director Andrew Stanton refined his story ideas during impromptu pitch sessions with just about anyone who would listen; then Eggleston played a video clip of Stanton pitching the story to international marketing people at the El Capitan theater. Watching his energetic delivery, two things came to mind:

First, after seeing so many videos of Stanton dressed casually and basically being a goofy guy, it was weird seeing him in a suit, even without a tie.

Second, I thought of all the "how to pitch" articles I've read and talks I've attended. It's common to hear that you should only pitch something you truly care about, because the people you're pitching to will pick up on that. It's hard to miss Stanton's enthusiasm during his pitch: he quickly moves back and forth, waving his arms and his voice rising higher as he talks faster. You can see another reason why Pixar's films connect with people, even when they suffer from a few structural or character problems: they connect on a storytelling level, the same way as, say, Spider-Man did, despite a multitude of plot holes.

An audience member asked the panel about the perception that the traditionally animated film is dead, to which Eggleston responded, "I do believe a 2D film won the Academy Award last year." After the applause died down, he pointed out that audiences don't care how a film's made, so long as it's interesting. I had to wonder if this shouldn't this be obvious by now—I don't think anyone but a group of entertainment writers thinks traditional animation is dead.

Another interesting point was that the Pixar staffers kept forgetting Marlin's name, referring to him instead as "the father." I wondered if that was because his name was decided on late or if, as some feel, he's just not that interesting a character—even to the point where the people who made the movie keep forgetting his name.

My last stop for the day, and for the conference, was actually somewhere I'd meant to visit since I got to San Diego: the Guerilla Studio. I met one of the Guerilla guys on the last day of last year's conference, and what they were doing piqued my interest. Thanks to donations from various companies, they set up a room full of Windows and Macintosh computers with a mix of software (a small portion of the list includes Adobe's Photoshop, Softimage|XSI, Right Hemisphere's Deep Paint, and Corel's Painter), and anyone can sit down at a computer and create—and, if they were so inclined, they could output their work on one of the high-end printers on hand. I like the idea because it democratizes creativity, something I've long supported. Because my schedule was so busy, I completely missed out on the Guerilla Studio until that moment, and as I stood at the entrance, I realized I just didn't have the energy to start pushing pixels. I guess there's always next year.
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