Must-See Panels

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The eclec­tic lineup of this year’s sum­mit ex­plores many dif­fer­ent as­pects of the an­i­ma­tion and vfx in­dus­tries, from be­hind-the-scenes tips on how to pro­duce a suc­cess­ful in­ter­na­tional co­pro, to the nuts and bolts of cre­at­ing con­tent for VR, to informative talks with the di­rec­tors and pro­duc­ers of this year’s fea­ture and short films that are con­tenders for Academy Awards. Here is a list of some of the top in­dus­try pro­fes­sion­als who were con­firmed to ap­pear on the panels at press time: Agnes Au­gustin, CEO/pres­i­dent, Shaw Rocket Fund Kyle Balda, di­rec­tor, De­spi­ca­ble Me 3 Chris­tine Bren­dle, CEO, FUN Union Kobe Bryant, CEO, Kobe Inc. Law­son Dem­ing, owner/vfx su­per­vi­sor, Barn­storm VFX Mo Davoudian, cre­ative di­rec­tor/CEO, Brain Zoo Stu­dios Paul DeBenedit­tis, se­nior VP, pro­gram­ming, Dis­ney Chan­nels World­wide Vanessa Chap­man, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor, VJC Me­dia Pete Denomme, CEO/exec pro­ducer, Switch VFX & Switch An­i­ma­tion Joel Douek, com­poser, sound de­signer Ruth Field­ing, pro­ducer/joint MD, Lu­pus Films Ar­chita Ghosh, exec pro­ducer/part­ner, E*D Films Jorge Gu­tiér­rez, di­rec­tor, Son of Jaguar Michaela Hart, an­i­ma­tion exec, pro­duc­tion spe­cial­ist Michael Hef­feron, pres­i­dent, Rain­maker & Main­frame Stu­dios Guil­laume Hel­louin, TeamTO Max Howard, pro­ducer and an­i­ma­tion con­sul­tant Kevin Tod Haug, vfx su­per­vi­sor and de­signer Terry Kala­gian, VP cre­ative, Gau­mont An­i­ma­tion Ken Kat­sumoto, EVP fam­ily en­ter­tain­ment, Lion­s­gate En­ter­tain­ment Glen Keane, di­rec­tor, Dear Bas­ket­ball Iryna Kostyuk, pro­ducer/cre­ator/me­dia ex­pert Tom McGrath, di­rec­tor, The Boss Baby Peter McHugh, man­ager, The Gotham Group Chris McKay, di­rec­tor, The LEGO Bat­man Movie Ali­son Nor­ring­ton, writer/pro­ducer/founder, sto­rycen­tral Chris O’Reilly, co-founder/ ECD, Nexus Stu­dios San­dra Rabins, pro­ducer/an­i­ma­tion ex­ec­u­tive John Robson, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor, WildBrain Adam Ru­manek, founder, Aux Mode Richard Scott, CEO, Axis Stu­dios David L. Si­mon, an­i­ma­tion pro­ducer and ex­ec­u­tive Car­los Sal­danha, di­rec­tor, Fer­di­nand David Soren, di­rec­tor, Cap­tain Un­der­pants: The First Epic Movie Philippe Sout­ter, co-founder, PGS Irene Sparre, exec pro­ducer, Wil Film Mark Tay­lor, exec VP, phys­i­cal pro­duc­tion, DreamWorks An­i­ma­tion TV Toper Tay­lor, pres­i­dent, Net­work of One Nico­las Trout, co-head of an­i­ma­tion/exec pro­ducer, Mikros Im­age Tom van Wav­eren, CEO/cre­ative di­rec­tor, Cake Lin Zhang, CEO, DeZer­lin Me­dia

four li­censes for its Sto­ry­board Pro and Har­mony soft­ware; sec­ond and third place win­ners re­ceived Imag­i­na­tion In­ter­na­tional sets from Copic Mark­ers and dig­i­tal sub­scrip­tions to An­i­ma­tion Mag­a­zine. The win­ners were: 1st Place – Priscilla Bo­jorge & Sarah Cier­lak, Taro’s Quest 2nd Place – John Sanoff, Taxi Girl 3rd Place – Daniela Ro­driguez, Linny

This year’s World An­i­ma­tion Cel­e­bra­tion film fes­ti­val judges in­cluded Stephen Chiodo, Rick Farmiloe, Anthea Kerou, Lee Lanier, Audu Paden, Sherie Pol­lack, Robb Pratt and Charles Solomon. The shorts com­pe­ti­tion screened some 150 films from 40 coun­tries.

record in Hol­ly­wood.” A Longer Jour­ney One of the qual­i­ties that makes Rain­bow Crow stand out the in VR realm is its length. While the pro­logue piece that screened at

IThe stun­ning new Google Spot­light Sto­ries VR shorts By Ellen Wolff

n 2016, when Google Spot­light Sto­ries’ Pearl be­came the first VR piece to land an Os­car nom­i­na­tion for Best An­i­mated Short, many an­i­ma­tors took no­tice. “After watch­ing Pa­trick Os­borne’s Pearl I did two things,” says Jorge Gu­tiér­rez, di­rec­tor of the Golden Globe-nom­i­nated fea­ture The Book of Life and the co-cre­ator of Nick­elodeon’s Emmy-win­ning se­ries El Ti­gre. “First I cried, and then I said, ‘Can I watch it again, please?’ I’d con­nected on an emo­tional lev- el that I’d never felt be­fore. If we can make peo­ple feel things, that is the best spe­cial ef­fect. I knew I wanted to do one of th­ese.”

Gu­tiér­rez got his wish, com­plet­ing his first VR piece for Google Spot­light Sto­ries, Son of Jaguar, which puts view­ers in­side the POV of a Mex­i­can wrestler. “When wrestlers put on a mask they be­come some­one else. That’s what we do in VR. When you put the head­set on, you be­come some­one else. It also made me feel like a ghost, be­cause I’m watch­ing things that can’t in­ter­act. That led to the idea of a Mex­i­can wrestler ghost who on the Day of the Dead comes down to visit his fam­ily. That’s where the in­spi­ra­tion came from.”

Gu­tiér­rez tack­led the project along­side Reel FX in North Hol­ly­wood, Calif., his col­lab­o­ra­tors on The Book of Life. Gu­tiér­rez ad­mits, “VR was a lot harder and cra­zier than I ever imag­ined. I was very skep­ti­cal of

Although the cur­rent vir­tual re­al­ity in­dus­try echoes the early days of com­puter an­i­ma­tion, where a lot of time and en­ergy was spent on de­vel­op­ing the tools, find­ing in­vestors has not been a prob­lem for Pen­rose Stu­dios founder and CEO Eu­gene Chung.

“The good news about be­ing at Sil­i­con Val­ley is the per­va­sive men­tal­ity that we’re here to help build the fu­ture,” says Chung, who served as head of film and me­dia at Ocu­lus be­fore found­ing San Fran­cis­cobased Pen­rose two years ago. “We think that vir­tual re­al­ity is the next ma­jor com­put­ing plat­form. Over the last 60 years we’ve had five ma­jor com­put­ing plat­forms, in­clud­ing the main­frames of the 1960s, mini-com­puter a decade later, per­sonal com­puter, desk­top/ In­ter­net, and now we live in the era of the mo­bile/ In­ter­net. Each com­put­ing cy­cle has gen­er­ated 10 times the num­ber of users as the prior com­puter cy­cle. Gold­man Sachs es­ti­mates that this is go­ing to be a $23 bil­lion to $182 bil­lion in­dus­try within the com­ing years, so the op­por­tu­nity set is very large.”

“Our mis­sion is to de­fine the next gen­er­a­tion of hu­man sto­ry­telling,” ex­plains Chung. “We have this vi­sion that we can cre­ate this next-gen­er­a­tion me­dia com­pany pow­ered by tech­nol­ogy in a way that we haven’t seen since the ad­vent of the mov­ing pic­ture, which was 120 years ago.”

Mys­ter­ies of the Deep Chung de­liv­ered his first VR short The Rose and I two years ago, which was fol­lowed by Al­lumette in 2016. This year, Pen­rose de­buted the pro­logue for its third VR project, Ar­den’s Wake— a beau­ti­fully an­i­mated and tech­ni­cally daz­zling piece about an in­ven­tor who lives with his daugh­ter, Meena, in the mid­dle of an ocean. There’s also a pos­si­ble love in­ter­est and a strange deep-wa­ter beast, as well as a heart-break­ing back­story.

“Ar­den’s Wake is, more so than any­thing, a huge ad­ven­ture,” re­marks Chung, who wrote and directed the stun­ning piece. “You jour­ney from deep in the ocean to the edge of a postapoc­a­lyp­tic light­house. Then you fol­low this sub­ma­rine and en­counter some fan­tas­ti­cal crea­tures at deep depths. As it pro­gresses, you re­al­ize how in­cred­i­ble and ex­pan­sive the world is. It’s the most am­bi­tious project that we’ve ever done. It has more char­ac­ters. For the first time, we have in­tro­duced dia­logue. We’re push­ing the bound­aries of the artis­tic look of the an­i­ma­tion and the so­phis­ti­ca­tion of the sto­ry­telling. More and more of our work is be­ing pro­duced na­tively in VR us­ing our na­tive VR cre­ation tools. That’s an ex­cit­ing de­vel­op­ment. We have only show­cased the pro­logue, but there are other parts of Ar­den’s Wake that will be cre­ated and re­leased.”

Chung points out that tra­di­tional tools do not nec­es­sar­ily give a good sense of how things will look in vir­tual re­al­ity. “Mae­stro is a part of our broader tool suite. It’s our abil­ity to re­view things in­side of vir­tual re­al­ity and di­rectly col­lab­o­rate with our team mem­bers. We’ve done re­views where peo­ple are thou­sands of miles away and it feels as if they are sit­ting right next to you. Even if they are sit­ting right next to you, it’s far bet­ter to go into Mae­stro so you can specif­i­cally see what is go­ing on in a vir­tual space. It has been a pow­er­ful tool for us.”

Vir­tual re­al­ity al­lows for the cre­ation of ex­pan­sive worlds such as the cloud city fea­tured in Al­lumette or the im­mer­sive ocean of Ar­den’s Wake. “Al­lumette has this cloud city and that’s not some­thing you can go to in re­al­ity,” notes Chung. “Watch­ing a pic­ture of it is dif­fer­ent than if you can be in that world. That’s what vir­tual re­al­ity un­locks for you.” Im­mer­sion with­out

Dis­trac­tions An­other huge bonus point is that view­ers do not get dis­tracted an­swer­ing text mes­sages or hear­ing oth­ers in movie the­aters. “VR ex­pe­ri­ences are so im­mer­sive that peo­ple get lost in them and time tends to shift,” Chung points out. “A great ex­am­ple is with Ar­den’s Wake. The pro­logue is over 15 min­utes long, which is al­most the same length as Al­lumette. But 90 per­cent of the peo­ple we have showed it to think that the pro­logue is be­tween five to 10 min­utes. Some peo­ple ques­tion if there’s go­ing to be this at­ten­tion apoc­a­lypse. This is an op­por­tu­nity to go back to the roots of undis­tracted sto­ry­telling.”

Chung says Pen­rose avoids call­ing it­self a VR com­pany be­cause the medium will con­tinue to evolve, and it will be a blend of AR, mixed re­al­ity and vir­tual re­al­ity. “Some peo­ple call it XR, for what­ever rea­son,” he men­tions. “We have built for mixed re­al­ity and aug­mented re­al­ity ap­pli­ca­tions. We have found that it’s a dif­fer­ent process. There are some things that don’t trans­late be­cause, as with theater and film, they are dif­fer­ent medi­ums al­to­gether.”

What is clear to Chung is that sto­ry­telling seems to be go­ing full cir­cle. “We started off in hu­man his­tory draw­ing cave paint­ings and telling sto­ries around a camp­fire,” he notes. “Then we moved onto books and lit­er­a­ture. Now we’re in­creas­ingly go­ing back to a vis­ual medium as be­ing the ba­sis of every­thing that we do to com­mu­ni­cate. There are a lot of ex­pec­ta­tions on this in­dus­try. If you look at the fun­da­men­tals, it’s healthy. It’s up to all of us to build it to­gether as a group and in­dus­try. It’s go­ing to be fas­ci­nat­ing.” To learn more, visit www.pen­ros­es­tu­dios.com.

Son of Jaguar di­rec­tor Jorge Gu­tiér­rez tapped cen­turies-old the­atri­cal tricks to guide view­ers through the story, in­spired by Mex­i­can lucha li­bre and Day of the Dead tra­di­tions.

Jorge Gu­tiér­rez

Eu­gene Chung

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