The Art of Storytelling
By Karen Moltenbrey
Issue: Volume: 29 Issue: 8 (Aug 2006)

The Art of Storytelling

Chief Editor
Karen Moltenbrey
Just a few years ago, SIGGRAPH attendees were awed by waves of realistic water, the appearance and movement of realistic hair and fur, and the gentle folds and wrinkles of realistic cloth simulations. This year, showgoers once again illustrated their enthusiasm for novel digital techniques as they crowded into the conference halls to listen to the current rock stars of the visual effects world explain how they accomplished Hollywood’s latest and greatest CGI— Rhythm & Hues talking about Aslan the lion and the creature crowds it created for The Chronicles of Narnia, Blue Sky discussing its fur raytracing for Ice Age: The Meltdown, Weta detailing its grooming and rendering techniques for the lead character in King Kong, and DreamWorks explaining its creative seeds for the foliage in Over the Hedge. Meanwhile, on the show floor, enthusiastic digital artists flocked to various studio booths—particularly those of LucasFilm and Sony Imageworks—in hopes of coming away with an informational nugget about Pirates of the Caribbean or Monster House, or snagging a position on the next blockbuster.

There is far more to filmmaking than just creating amazing new effects, however. According to Yas Takata, director of large-format films at Blur, rich imagery synchronized with motion offers a great theme-park ride-film experience. But to take that experience to the next level, there must be a story—an actual tale that goes far beyond the pre-show snippet that simply provides a basic context so the ride makes sense to the audience. As he points out in the location-based entertainment feature “Time Riders” on page 26, the basic structure of a movie has not changed for quite some time, and yet audiences never seem to tire of a film that has a really good story. The audience needs to connect emotionally with the characters and care about their plight, he says. This was especially evident in the animated short film “One Rat Short,” which received the Best in Show award at the SIGGRAPH 2006 Computer Animation Festival. Audiences at the Electronic Theater witnessed firsthand how director Alex Weil told a compelling, emotional story through rich imagery and powerful character performances, without the use of a single word.
Telling a compelling story through dynamic visuals was also the theme of this year’s SIGGRAPH keynote, delivered by Disney Imagineering’s Joe Rohde, who led the development and production of Expedition Everest, a new thrill attraction at Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom. His lecture focused on the importance of a consistent narrative when telling a story, whether it is for a park ride, a novel, or a Hollywood film. For his team, this meant traveling to the far corners of the Himalayas to uncover as much information as it could about the region, and then integrating those details into a story, which eventually became Expedition Everest. More than a roller-coaster, the ride embraces a consistent visual theme—from the entrance of the queue line, to the staging area, to the actual roller-coaster—that pulls together the diverse stories of the Yeti, as told by those living in the shadow of the infamous mountain.
We need to create a structure for organizing massive amounts of disorganized data in order to express an idea, Rohde says. And storytelling—more specifically, the underlying thematic of storytelling—allows us to accomplish that, no matter the genre.