Reporter at Large:
The View from Torino,
Italy: A Conference Fantastico
By Barbara Robertson
I’ve been to many conferences during my
years with Computer Graphics World, but recently, I
attended one of the best CG conferences ever: Torino’s
“View.” What a wonderful surprise! Torino (or
Turin), Italy, is reinventing itself from a manufacturing center into a
mecca for digital entertainment, and View, directed by Maria Elena
Gutierrez, is a centerpiece of that revolution.
“It’s part of our
DNA,” says Mayor Sergio Chiamparino. “Cinema in
Italy was born here.”
The ancient city in
northwest Italy’s Po river valley provides a grand setting
for what has become the most important computer graphics conference in
Italy. Torino traces its history to 28 BC; you can still see a typical
Roman street grid in the modern city. In the 15th century, the Counts
of Savoy built gardens and palaces, and founded the University of
Turin. Arched arcades over pedestrian walkways, many built in the 18th
century, now shelter computer stores as well as cafés, but you
can still drink espresso at the same cafe that once served Mark Twain.
For a short time beginning in 1861, Torino was the
capital of Italy--the first capital of unified Italy. Now,
it’s a city of a million people, the fourth largest in Italy,
famous for its Fiat factory, chocolate, the slow food movement, and the
Museum of the Cinema in the soaring 19th-century Mole Antonelliana
building. The building was the symbol of the 2006 winter Olympics,
which Torino hosted. When you look toward the west or north, down
narrow streets lined with buildings as ornate as antique picture
frames, you see startling views of the snow-capped Alps.
But even though Torino’s
history and beauty surrounded us, the 10,000 or so people at View,
professionals, vendors, students, and me, chose instead to immerse our
bodies and brains in five days of what I discovered to be a masters
class in computer graphics--the technology, history, application, and
influence--taught by some of the most accomplished people in the
In fact, for Torino student Marco Vettore, who
must have an enlightened instructor, it was his
first week of school. “At school, we are always
inside,” he says, referring to more than his
bricks-and-mortar classroom. “It is good to see the world
outside.” Like many students attending the conference,
Vettore hopes to work in the entertainment industry when he graduates.
View showed students like him the world they hope
to enter, and provided recruiters eager to open the doors. But, it also
provided resources for professionals. The presentations and workshops
ranged from nuts-and-bolts practicalities and case studies to
futuristic predictions, from personal histories to industry histories,
from the theoretical to the inspirational. The conference covered
animation, visual effects, game development, and broadcast. You could
pick your passion.
Some examples of the
Sharon Callahan, lighting director at Pixar for the
Oscar-winning feature animation Ratatouille
amazing tutorial in lighting design that I will never forget; they used
still images from feature films to explain such concepts as directing
the eye, supporting the emotion in the story, maintaining continuity,
and adding beauty. “Be clear who or what the shot is
about,” she said, for example. “Create pathways for
the eye to move.”
Lucia Modesto, character TD supervisor at
PDI/DreamWorks, who was the third person hired at PDI, explained, in
fabulous detail, how PDI/DreamWorks created rigs provided dynamic
simulations under artistic control for Santa’s beard in
Shrek the Halls,
and to enable the animals in Madagascar 2 to easily
transition between walking on two legs or four.
Stephane Deverly, pipeline supervisor
at Framestore, provided a granular explanation of how Framestore
managed The Tale of Despereaux’s
production, including information on asset management, shot management,
and render wrangling.
Paul Topolos, a storyboard artist at Pixar, walked
an eager audience of aspiring artists through his personal history as a
storyboard artist for Star Wars: Episode I, a previs
artist for Star Wars Episode II, and matte painter
for Ratatouille, before taking us on a journey from concept art to
final images in Wall-E.
Pam Hogarth, director of advancement at
Gnomon’s School of Visual Effects, along with instructors
from Torino’s National Film School and other schools, offered
roundtables and presentations on CG training and education. And,
Nvidia, Softimage, and Google gave separate classes targeted toward
gamers, programmers, and artists.
Brenda Bakker Harger, professor of
entertainment technology at Carnegie Mellon University, taught a more
unusual class: improvisational acting, showing us how improv rules
apply to life and animation as well as theater.
“Saying ‘Yes, and’
is essential to moving forward,” Bakker Harger explained, and
then demonstrated using volunteers from the audience. “Be fun
to play with, serve the narrative, and make your partner look
For game developers, Ubisoft presenters traveled
inside Prince of Persia, provided anecdotes from the
development team, and brought Elika to life. Hiroyuki Kobayashi, a
Capcom producer, talked about the cinematic challenges in creating the
upcoming film Resident Evil: Degeneration Project.
And, the irrepressible raconteur Chris Taylor, CEO and creative
director of Gas Powered Game, inspired and entertained the audience
with his experiences as an independent developer trying to deliver new
games that defy standard conventions.
But, perhaps most exciting for gamers
in the audience (other than meeting the recruiters working the crowds),
was the keynote address by Will Wright, legendary creator of
The Sims and Spore
address, Wright held the audience captive by describing the grammar of
game design. In the early days, he explained, games had an equal number
of verbs (the internal code) and nouns (the data). Then, when CD-ROMs
became available, data became king, and that led to this conclusion:
“Hiring teams to fill a CD with data is not
sustainable,” he said.
With Spore, in which users
build characters and vehicles that the game brings to life, players
create the “nouns.”
“Spore removes the wall between consumers
and producers,” Wright said. “In the first two
months--63 days--people created 45 million unique assets in
Spore. That’s 715,000 a day. 30,000 an
automatically animates the characters, now, the Holy Grail, Wright
added, would be if the players could give those characters
Among those in the audience listening to
Wright’s keynote address was Ken Perlin, a legend in computer
graphics--he received SIGGRAPH’s Computer Graphics
Achievement Award in 2008, one of many awards he’s received.
Perlin, a professor in the media research
laboratory at New York University, was scheduled to speak about
NYU’s new Games for Learning Institute, which he did,
unveiling during the process NYU’s patented
“unmouse pad.” Developed
in the media lab’s SPIRAL group (Science, Playful Interface
Research, and Learning), the UnMousePad is a paper-thin, flexible
multi-touch device that senses varying levels of pressure for many
touches, with resolution high enough to detect individual fingertips.
But during his talk, Perlin also took
up Wright’s challenge--to create a game in which the players
not only built characters, but also programmed behaviors. While on
stage, Perlin operated a computer game that he wrote, sending little
critters around a game board to play sequences of musical notes. In
doing so, he also created loops and conditionals, and set variables. In
other words, even though it seemed like he was only playing music, he
was actually writing a computer program. While playing the game; he was
Then, Glenn Entis continued to push the ideas
further in his talk-- something I have rarely seen happen at a computer
graphics conference, and something, I think, that happens only at
events like this in which the speakers also attend all the talks.
Noting that both Perlin and Wright demonstrated that while people
consumed information in the past, they’re now producing it.
He observed, “All the world is a user interface, and all the
men and women are players.” And then he explained why that
Entis, a consultant now after serving
as former senior vice president and chief visual and technology officer
of Electronic Arts (and before that, co-founder of PDI), believes that
game designers have more to offer than game design: “Game
design makes navigation through complexity simple and fun.”
But, he notes, “The world has to ask.”
And, he reminds us that we have to ask ourselves a
few questions, too: How do we talk to technology, and how do machines
talk back? What does it means to be a human? What does it mean to be a
machine? How do we define ourselves? What do we want?
Brad Lewis, the other keynote speaker,
didn’t provide the answers, but he did offer cogent advice.
In his wind-up-the-conference speech, the former
Ratatouille producer and current Cars 2 director
introduced us to his colorful personal history as an 18-wheeler truck
driver, Sesame Street dancer (he played Oscar the grouch), and busboy,
before being hired by Entis at PDI and then moving on to Pixar.
“Success and failure are simultaneous,” he said.
“It’s how you view it. I spend a great deal of time
imagining and preparing for both success and
Referring back to Brenda Bakker
Harger’s talk, Lewis noted, “At Pixar, we always go
from ‘Yes, and’ as we build our story. It keeps the
There were other speakers, other amazing speakers,
who kept the energy going at View.
Mark Osborne, director of DreamWorks’
Kung Fu Panda, showed us his path from independent
filmmaker working with stop-motion animation to DreamWorks. In a
foretaste of Lewis’s advice, Osborne shared his motto,
borrowed from Yoda: “Try not? Do or do not. There is no
Try.” “I would rather have a film that’s
horrible but finished than one never started,” he said.
Michael Rubin dug into the archives
from his recent book, Droidmaker: George Lucas and the Digital
, to give the audience the fascinating history of
computer graphics innovation driven by Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola.
Bruce Grenville, curator for the Vancouver Art
Gallery, offered a view into the future of visual culture through his
museum’s groundbreaking exhibition of art from anime, comics,
and video games.
Larry Bafia, an independent
his transformation from stop-motion animator to digital artist. Graham
Jack from Double Negative provided a Hellboy 2
history. That isn’t all, of course. And, I haven’t
even touched on the exhibition area for vendors, the separate Peach
conference on virtual reality, held simultaneously in the same
building, or ViewFest, the festival that precedes View.
line: I learned. I was inspired. My only regret in having attended View
is that I didn’t discover it earlier. I hope I can return
next year. I hope you can go, too: November 4 through 7, 2009. (http://www.viewconference.it/