I just returned from one of the most exciting weeks I've had...ever. I was in LA for 6 days for the annual Siggraph convention on computer animation. It was my first time, so despite rumors that the conference was smaller than in the past, it was still overwhelming to me. What follows is a detailed day-by-day account of my trip:
Saturday, July 30
Left Buffalo around 4:30 pm. My landlords were nice enough to drive me to the airport so I didn't have to leave my car there and pay ridiculous fees. I flew into Cincinnatti, then straight on to LA on a four hour flight. With the three hour time change I didn't get there until around 11 pm. So I get my baggage and I head out into the area where all the buses and shuttles are driving by. Of course there were like a MILLION of them and I had no idea where to go or which one to get on. After waiting around for about an hour and asking random tourists what to do, I figured out that Super Shuttle was my best bet to getting downtown. And only $15! Another hour later (round midnight) I finally made it to my hotel, the Westin Bonaventure. I stayed with my friend from RIT, Greg Smith. This hotel was daaaayamn pretty and rooms had these amazing Heavenly Beds. Really, that's what they're called. And they are heavenly. Here's some pics of the lobby/first few floors:
Sunday, July 31
First day of the conference! I met up with Rodrigo and Jeff (from Fisher Price) and bought breakfast at the convention center: a bagel, a muffin, and a little tiny thing of cereal... $11. I proceeded to pick up my free Exhibits Pluss pass (thanks Renderosity.com!) and started exploring the center. In the main lobby of South Hall they had one of those Star Wars ship things. An X-Fighter? Life size, I guess. Here's a pic:
Did I mention George Lucas was giving the keynote speech? There were also a couple classes and special sessions on Episode III and a Star Wars retrospective...but I didn't go to any of those. The first day I just kinda got my bearings and looked around. Here's a few views of South Hall, the main convention center area:
They had a nice selection of CG/film-related books to browse through, so I spent some time doing that. Around 3 pm I headed over to the Orpheum Theater with Greg for Alias's AGUA party. So much fun! Basically a giant comercial for Alias, but it was really neat to see some of the new features in Maya 7. Full-body IK and an amazing new toon shader system, as well as new poly tools and a million other awesome little things that I can't wait to try out. The theater itself was a really cool place, very old and ritzy. After the 4 hours of listening to people from Alias and Intel and HP and ILM and the Maya Master's awards...they released us into the parking lot outside where the party was at. Free drinks and dinner and t shirts and a ton of people milling around. Good times. Pics:
That first one is inside the Orpheum Theater, the next one is during the party. (Woo, I figured out how to put them side by side!)
Monday, August 1
I started the day off with a Maya Masterclass, (which by the way are amazing), on HyperReal Facial Blendshapes. It was taught by Jeff Unay and Randy (I can't remember his last name) from Weta. They had some good techniques I will have to look into sometime. After that I headed back to the convention center and checked out the Emerging Technologies exhibit. SO COOL! First, I checked out this crazy touch screen thing that was just a piece of plexiglass...but it had these cameras that tracked your hand motion and you could do Minority Report style hand gestures and it would recognize them. There was a fog screen that displayed projected images on it that you could interact with. There were talking robots and crazy techno musical instrument decives. I went virtual-hang gliding over a city! So much neat stuff in there, but too hard to describe without really interacting with it. Here's a few pics, that I took early in the day before anyone was really using anything. (First is the screen thing, then the hangglider setup, then this other neat interactive thing called "The Living Room".)
Then that afternoon from 2-5 I was on a tour of the Disney Studio! I was so psyched. And it was great! I got to feel like I was seeing behind the scenes stuf...until the next day at Siggraph when they put 99% of the things I saw on display for the public. (I will ofcourse only mention things I saw on the exhibition floor) First, they were all about Chicken Little, their first CG feature film. The development art we saw was beautiful and I really think this film might be worth seeing. It's directed by Mark Dindal, who directed Emperor's New Groove, one of my favorite animated films of all time. If it has even a quarter of the humor and personality that film had, it will be worth my $10 to see it. We also saw some work from "A Day With Wilbur Robinson," slated for 2006, based on the children's book of the same name. Some interesting characters in that one! Next we saw work from "American Dog" which just looks absolutely beautiful and imaginative and hilarious. And its directed by Chris Sanders of Lilo & Stitch fame...this man can do no wrong. And if I had been in the other tour group I would have seen Chris Sanders holding the door for me as I passed through. BUT I WASN'T! Ah well. I saw the director of Wilbur Robinson though. That's neat. We saw a few more things that I can't mention. I feel special saying that. They sounded like they will be recruiting a lot of people in the next two years or so, but then at their booth at Siggraph there was like a MILLION people throwing reels at them, so who knows what the chances of working there are. Also this lady took our picture in front of the big hat building, I hope she sends out a copy. After the tour I hung out with Aaron Walsman, (RIT TD extraordinaire) where we went out to the Hotel Figueroa with a bunch of Softimage guys he knew from work. I met a French guy (his name was Guy, ha ha) from La Maison, the company that did that amazing Nintendo commercial with the orchestra and the dragon thing. That bar at the Figueroa was amazing! It was like this little European thing with fountains and pools and a breezy flower covered veranda. So nice. Then we all ate dinner at this other restaurant which was delicious. I was sitting across from Ed Harriss, whose book (How to Get A Job in Computer Animation) I bought a couple years ago. I told him I liked it a lot. Which I do! I wasn't being flakey! Honest.
Tuesday, August 2
Tuesday was the first day the Exhibition Floor opened. This is the place where all the companies come to hock their software and movies and technology. They opened the doors at 10 AM and there was this huuuuuge crowd of people pushing their way in. It was overwhelming at first. I wandered around, once again trying to figure out where everything was, then started dropping off my demo reel. I left it at Disney, Blue Sky, Dreamworks, and Rhythm & Hues. Much good it did me though! I still have a year of school so I wasn't really looking for a job. Just trying to get my name out there and maybe score an interview if possible. I had to leave breifly for another Maya Masterclass, this one on Organic Quadruped Modeling. Taught by Sean Dunn of Weta! He was great. I ended up hopping in a cab with him back to the convention center. He was asking where he should go to pick up his exhibition pass and he was like "So where do you go?" and I was like, "RIT!" and he was like...."No...to pick up the passes...but that's a good answer!" And I laughed nervously and felt stupid. I went back in to the exhibition hall and spent a lot of time over at the Disney booth, which was by far one of the coolest there. They had development art and clips from all their slated films, even stuff from Rapunzel Unbraided, which looks incredible. Glen Keane is directing and he has been taking inspiration from the French artist Fragonard, which has made for a really terrific classic fairy tale style. Disney kinda seems to be returning to their roots with this film, due out in 2008. Also, Disney had three computers set up running Maya, with characters from Chicken Little and Wilbur Robinson on the screen. Animators were sitting there showing how the rigs worked and all the cool things you could do with them...and they would answer all your questions too! I stood around and chatted with Doug Bennett, a superivising animator on Chicken Little. I also got to talk to one of the Look Development leads on Toy Story 3...which I won't go into because I have mixed feelings about it. Here's some pics of Disney's booth:
I also picked up a bunch of free stuff...lots of t shirts, Renderman tea pots from Pixar, pens, pencils, dvd's, etc. And for dinner I finally met up with Fisher Price people again and had dinner at this amazing Japanese restaurant called SaiSai. Best Japanese food I've had in my life.
Wednesday, August 3
I think that Wednesday had to be the best day of the entire conference. I first went to the Animation Theater and watched some funny stuff, then at 10:30, Greg lent me his Full Conference pass so I could get into "The Legacy of Disney Animation." I knew Glen Keane was going to be there (his first Siggraph since he presented a thing with John Lassetter in 1986) so I sat in the front row with my camera. The panel of people they had was incredible. It started off with Steve Goldberg, a longtime CG animator at Disney. Mark Dindal and Randy Fullmer were there, along with Eamonn Butler, another CG animator. I was very interested in what Ian Gooding and Dan Cooper had to say about Art Direction in CG. They took a lot of inspiration from Mary Blair when working on Chicken Little, which you know seems kinda like it would be hard to do in 3d, but they pulled it off. (These guys are incredible...they art directed on Tarzan, Aladdin, Mulan, etc.) So then Glen Keane talked about the future of Disney animation. This was so much fun to listen to. Glen convinced me that Disney was not simply jumping on the 3d bandwagon when they made the switch, but that they had put a lot of time and effort into achieving a 2d feel with their 3d work. The rigs they use can do just about anything a 2d character can do. Arcs, curves, smears, pulling the joints right off the bones, fully sculptable silhouettes...and Glen was most excited about being able to give a Disney princess freckles in Rapunzel. They showed a clip from that film which looks beautiful and totally has the Disney feel to it. No more of this farmed-out 3d crap from other studios that just can't do it the right way. (Though I still have issues with the 3D Ariel clip he showed from some ride in Disneyworld.) So when he finished talking and the show was over I ran right up to the stage and shook his hand and got an autograph. He even talked to me for a bit, tho I had nothing really to say. I was just kind of in shock. Anyway, here's some pics:
Glen Keane wrote "Bill - Long Live Animation!" - Glen Keane" AWESOME. That's him talking in the middle pic, and on the left are Ian Gooding and Dan Cooper.
So as if meeting Glen Keane wasn't enough, I headed over to Ballistic Publishing's booth and bought a copy of their matte painting book and had it signed by the three authors, some of the best matte painters in the industry. (Dylan Cole, Alp Atliner, Scott Otis) While I was there I asked if any of them knew Christian Haley, a guy I worked with back in East Longmeadow at Veritech. He matte paints now at some big studios. And one Scott did! He had worked with him on Episode III at ILM. Niffffty. So I talked to them for a bit and then I had to run back to the hotel for one of the major highlights of the trip which the CGChar event. Some of the top talent in the industry gathered to talk about character animation...including Doug Bennett (Supervising Animator on Chicken Little), Jason Schliefer (Animator, Dreamworks....but also animator and TD on a little guy named Gollum), Carlos Baena and Andrew Gordon (both animators at Pixar) and Curtis Ausperger, a producer from Vanguard. Doug Bennett was funny and showed some great material on Runt (the pig) and Fish Out of Water from Chicken Little. Jason Schliefer (whos blog is great) went over a lot of the rigging and animation stuff from Madagascar, which I really enjoyed. The other guys were great too and I took a lot of notes. Afterwards I chatted with Jason about Fisher Price and these cool Viewmaster sculptures we have (which he had mentioned in his presentation, so it wasn't too random). What a nice guy. So ready to share his knowledge (which is probably greater than anyone else in the industry when it comes to rigging) and just very friendly and funny. Everyone there was just very excited about animation and it was hard not to be inspired by it. (Unfortunately I don't have any pics from it.)
Thursday, August 4
Last day of the conference and exhibition. I spent the morning in the Animation Theater, which was great. Some really innovative and interesting work in there. Also, it was nice because it was free and not $50 a ticket like the Electronic Theater. I then headed back to the exhibition floor for a while. Stopped by at Laika, which used to be called Will Vinton Studios. I have to say that they are a little mean about the way the company changed hands, saying things on their poster like "VINTON IS GONE - LAIKA IS HERE" and "After all, what's cooler - a man on Earth or a dog in space?" (Laika was the first animal in space.) Anyway, they have some cool projects underway by Henry Sellick. (Director of Nightmare Before Christmas) I grabbed a Moongirl t-shirt, but I am most excited about "Coraline" which is slated to begin production first quarter next year. I would loooooove to work on that film. Here's a little teaser poster thing:
Then I spent all afternoon (seriously, from 1:30 to 7:30 pm) in the SuperToon Maya Masterclasses. These were just as amazing and informative as I thought they would be. The first was cartoony body rigging, which was taught by a TD from Disney. He basically spelled out how they make their rigs, step by step. THANK YOU SIR. Then there was facial rigging by a guy from Imageworks, and finally an animation class with Disney animators Chris Cordingley and Randy Haycock. Randy's done some great stuff. I told him how I loved Baby Hercules and asked him if he knew Nancy Beiman, which he did. I told him she was my thesis advisor. Neat. I learned a lot in those classes, totally worth the $530 it cost. (Seriously, I learned more in 6 hours than in some of my RIT classes in a quarter.)
That night Greg and I met up with Jeff Rappess and Jen Herman and Matt Doll and some of Matt's friends from SCAD. We went to this amazing Japanese restaurant (a different one, in Santa Monica.) You got to cook your own food and stuff. So much fun and delicious. Also, I saw a picture of Scott Vosbury on the wall as I left. Weird, huh?
Friday, August 5
LONG day of traveling back to Buffalo. Woke up at 6:30, grabbed a shuttle to LAX at 7:10, waitied in security lines forever, hoppped on my plane to Atlanta at 9:30. Four hours later I got to Atlanta (5 pm with the time change) just in time for my three hour layover, which actually went by faster than I thought it would. Ate dinner (which felt like lunch) at the Atlanta Bread Company...in ATLANTA! Left for Buffalo at 8:15 pm, got there round 10:15....got my bags and was picked up by my very very very nice landlords. I should have known things were going too smoothly. When I got home I realized that I had left one of my bags at the airport. Good job, Bill. My keys were in the bag so I had to have my landlord drive me all the way back at 11:20 pm...I searched around and eventually found the bag in the back seat of a transit cop's cruiser. So they called the cop, but he still took AN HOUR to get back to the car. I was almost thwarted by some guy claiming a woman had overdosed in a stairwell nearby, but I wouldn't allow it. Finally at 12:30 I had my bag and we went home...I really need to do something nice for my landlord.
So overall Siggraph was a completely amazing experience. And where will it be next year? BOSTON. Kick ass!! I actually know plenty of people in the area and will be able to have a car and get around! Or not so much with the car, but at least there is the T. I would say that the biggest presence at this year's Siggraph was Disney Feature Animation, which may be them tryign to prove that the talented CG artists should want to work there and not at Pixar. They certainly succeeded in making me interested. I went out there brimming with hatred for the closing down of the Australia studio, (which still irks me), but I see that on the other hand they have done a lot to further the artform of 3D animation. And I DO want to see Chicken Little, the more clips of it that I saw. I will leave you now with some pictures of the maquettes from the movie, as well as some stuff from Wilbur and American Dog.
(And this took wayyyyy too long to write.)
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