SIGGRAPH’s 41st annual Computer Animation Festival spotlights cutting-edge technical work and the incredible creativity that fuels it. By Tom McLean.
Few festivals take so technical an approach to animation as the SIGGRAPH Computer Animation Festival. Now in its 41st year, the annual competition again lives up to its reputation for delivering animation that pushes the envelope for both technical and creative boundaries.
This year’s festival will present more than 100 animations Aug. 10-14 at the Vancouver Convention Centre through a series of Daytime Selects and in the iconic Electronic Theater. Of those films, a select few have been singled out for awards in several categories. This year’s jury of experts selected the winners from more than 450 submissions.
This year’s jury consists of Ken Anjyo, OLM Digital, Tokyo; Greg Butler, MPC, Vancouver; Jim Foley, Georgia Tech, Atlanta; Evan Goldberg, Walt Disney Animation Studios, Burbank; Georgina Hayns, Laika, Portland, Ore.; Chris Perry, Hampshire College, Amherst, Mass.; Jason RM Smith, SoMa Play, San Francisco; Jason Stansell, Sucker Punch Productions, Bellevue, Wash. Jerome Solomon of Cogswell College is the festival director.
Best in show went to a stunning short film titled Box, directed by Tarik Abdel-Gawad of San Francisco-based Bot & Dolly. The film uses robotics and 3D projection to create a stunning synchronized performance that was all filmed live.
Since its release online last year, Box has earned praise from just about everyone who’s seen it.
Winning the Jury Award is the short Paper World from Hungary. Directed by Dávid Ringeisen and László Ruska as a diploma project at Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design, it also was made for World Wildlife Fund Hungary.
The film uses computer animation to recreate the natural world as though it were made of origami-style paper creatures and plants. The film is intended to represent the values of the WWF as a visible metaphor on the level of a micro-world.
The Best Animated Short went to the French entry Home Sweet Home. Directed by Pierre Clenet, Alejandro Diaz, Romain Mazenet and Stéphane Paccolat for Supinfocom Arles, the clever film follows a house as it uproots from its foundation and goes for a walk around the world.
Wrapped, made by students at the Filmakademie Baden-Wüerttemberg, won the Best Student Project Award. Directed by Roman Kaelin, Falko Paeper and Florian Wittmann, the film explores the idea that the deterioration of one is the foundation of another one’s life. The world, with its never-ending interplay of eating and being eaten, takes on new dimensions when the unexpected forces of nature clash with the existing structures of our society. The only constant is change.
The jury gave the Best Visual Effects award to Gravity, the Alfonso Cuaron feature that won seven Oscars — including Best Visual Effects.
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The work that won was submitted by Framestore in the United Kingdom and spotlighted the film’s cutting-edge approach to creating as much as 80 percent to 90 percent of the imagery with computer graphics and then integrating the live-action elements seamlessly.
A video visualization titled Kinematics, directed by Jessica Rosenkrantz and Jesse Louis-Rosenberg of Nervous System, won the best visualization and simulation honor.
The video visualizes Kinematics, a system for designing and simulating flexible structures for 3D printing. Kinematics generates customized designs composed of tens to thousands of hinged, interlocking modules. The designs are computationally folded using rigid-body physics into a smaller form for fabrication by 3D printing.
Best Game went to The Crew, directed by Maxime Luère, Dominique Boidin and Rémi Kozyra of France-based Unit Image, while Best Real-Time Graphics went to the game Ryse: Son of Rome, directed by Chris Evans, Peter Gornstein and Martin L’Heureux of Crytek in Germany. Ryse is an eight-hour game with an additional 110 minutes of linear storytelling content.
And the best commercial advertisement went to an ad called “The Pony,” produced for Three, a mobile-phone and broadband provider in the United Kingdom. Directed by Dougal Wilson for Blink Productions, the film featured VFX work by MPC to create an ad in which a pony dances and moonwalks to a Fleetwood Mac tune. The pony’s bouncy moves were created using a photo-real CG digital double and extensive R&D to translate human movement to a horse.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recognizes the SIGGRAPH Computer Animation Festival as a qualifying festival. Since 1999, several works originally presented in the festival have been nominated for or have received a Best Animated Short Film Academy Award.
very savvy with technical stuff. And he’s very agile in that he can build with his hands while he’s doing some other things.”
In fact, when the Guardians make a wild prison escape early on, Rocket assembles batteries from the tower while taking off in a craft. “And the way we played it was exactly what we discussed during that meeting (about raccoon behavior). We had a lot of close-ups (and in 3D) so the level of detail had to be very high. I think the challenge was more about the performance and displaying the eyes and in the eyelids and the reflections. We played around with the level of color. When we wanted more emotion, we actually made the eyes a little darker. For some reason, that made him more childish. Also, he has that mask on his face so it was important that we played around with the eyebrows. At times they were almost going on top of the eyelids.”
Rocket’s walk — or strut — was important as well. Most of the time, Framestore had him walk straight up on two feet but then running
on all fours and going as fast as he can when he’s in battle. “And that was part of the idea of keeping some of the animalistic qualities in his animation,” Ceretti says.
Groot Double Gunn-ed
There were stand-ins for both Rocket and Groot, but, interestingly, Rocket’s stand-in was the director’s brother, Sean Gunn. “We had Sean with us in every single Rocket shot with witness cameras to make sure that the eye lines were correct and the other actors had a proper actor to respond with.”
Of course, Groot is a lot less expressive and more stylized and had his own set of animation challenges. MPC came up with a very complicated facial rig. His eyelids are really detailed along with the sockets and the way they move with the eyes was crucial.
But because Groot’s a tree and made of wood, the biggest consideration was how much to make him bend. “We wanted the wood to be pretty stern and not look rubbery,” Ceretti says. “So for the body, we have these pretty big exterior plates that are pretty solid and don’t bend, and then we have the interior rig in place with all the branches and twigs kind of sliding and pulling the overall structure of his body like muscles. The vines are more bend-y.”
For the branches that act as Groot’s arms and legs, he has the capacity to make them grow on the spot, and that’s where he derives his incredible strength when grabbing baddies or making his escape. “We tried to keep a language that’s consistent throughout so we looked at time-lapse photography for how plants and trees grow. But we tried to keep it natural with slightly stronger wood.”
Rocket and Groot apparently form quite a strong bond, but you’ll have to see the movie, out Aug. 1, to experience how that emotional arc plays out. Bill Desowitz is owner of Immersed in Movies (www.billdesowitz.com), author of James Bond Unmasked (www.jamesbondunmasked.com) and a regular contributor to Thompson on Hollywood and Animation Scoop at Indiewire.