Color It Outstanding
Barbara Robertson
January 24, 2011

Color It Outstanding

The View Conference celebrates its 11th edition with an eclectic group of inspiring and practical speakers and workshop leaders

The colors of Turin

It just keeps getting better. The View Conference in Turin, that is. Once again, Italy’s largest computer graphics conference sparked four days of education, collaboration, and networking with feature-film directors, visual effects supervisors, game developers, and other experts.

The conference always takes place in late fall. The air is crisp and sometimes rainy, but stone arches – arcades – protect 15 kilometers of the pedestrian walkways, some leading from the center of town to the river Po. In autumn, gelato-colored trees, strawberry, orange, and lemon, line the river’s banks, and at night, music pours out from caves dug into the banks. Snuggled up against the Alps in northwestern Italy, Turin is the capital of the Piedmont region, the center of Italy’s unification in the 1800s, and a former capital of Italy. Inside cozy caffe cioccolaterias and at umbrellaed tables outside convivial coffeehouses, people sip bicerin, Turin’s rich drink of coffee, chocolate, and cream.

Inside the city’s conference center, students and professionals buzzed with anticipation and espresso as director Maria Elena Gutierrez, the conference’s heart and mind, warmly welcomed the attendees, supporters, and her hand-picked cast of speakers to the 11th edition of the confab.

In particular, Gutierrez singled out Tim Johnson, executive producer for DreamWorks’ award-winning feature animation How to Train Your Dragon and director of Over the Hedge, Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas, and Antz, for “incarnating the spirit of the conference.” In addition to delivering the keynote speech, Johnson would give a special presentation for Turin’s children and review the history of animation for View Conference attendees.

And Marco Chiriotti, who manages Piedmont’s department of culture’s entertainment division, noted the importance of the conference to the evolution of the city and region: “In the past 10 years, we have undergone a deep transformation from industrial to digital,” he says. “This conference represents an explosion of color within the city.”

Bruce Holcomb

The first speaker, Pixar’s Kim White, director of photography for lighting Toy Story 3, epitomized that thought by showing how the artists at Pixar used lighting and color to affect the emotion of audiences and support the story in that blockbuster feature. One example from her talk: In Andy’s room, the walls are blue and light always streams from the windows, so Bonnie, the little girl who will inherit Andy’s toys, has a blue light in her room. By contrast, sickly yellow lights shine on nasty Lotso’s world and the dangerous trash dump. But when a claw lowers down to rescue the toys from the dump, a blue light shines down.

The speakers following White on the first day illustrated the range and quality of information available to those attendees following the main track. Adam Avitabile, visual effects supervisor at LOOK Effects, walked eager listeners through the making of Lost, even showing his “horrible storyboards and really bad animatics.” In January, Avitabile received a VES nomination for his work on Lost.

David Schaub

The subject matter moved from Lost to stereo 3D, with first, chief scientist and co-founder of The Foundry, Simon Robinson, detailing the Foundry’s development of Nuke and Ocula to support the stereo-3D postproduction on the landmark film Avatar. Sony Pictures Imageworks’ Parag Halvadar, software R&D supervisor, described the decision-making process and techniques used to create Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. Later in the week, Pixar’s Sandy Karpman showed the audience how she and her team designed stereo 3D for the innovative short film “Day & Night.”

Then, switching gears, senior software engineer Michael Shantzis from Pixar explained how to build a real Wall-E robot in six months; Pam Hogarth, director of marketing at Look Effects, brought the reality of careers in visual effects production to the stage; and Craig Caldwell, USTAR senior research professor in digital media at the University of Utah, revealed 10 secrets of animation – and storytelling. One suggestion from Caldwell: Create what he calls “gaps”; that is, unexpected results: The police stop a car . . . filled with aliens, make a rat a chef, toys that think they are real, or have a cowboy herd cats.

So, animation, storytelling, lighting, photography, visual effects, stereo 3D, robotics, and career advice on the center stage, all on the first day. In smaller rooms elsewhere in the conference center, people could choose among advanced training workshops for Pixar’s RenderMan, Google’s SketchUp, Next Limit’s RealFlow, Pixologic’s ZBrush, and other products. What’s missing? Games. But not for long.

Henry Labounta

In the days following, lead animator Luisa Reviglio della Veneria and producer Gian Marco Zanna presented Motionsports; Northeastern University’s Terrence Masson, the 2010 SIGGRAPH chair, talked about the convergence of games and film; Adolf Lachman from Amanita Design presented his award-winning Machinarium, a point and click adventure game; Luca Morena and Alessio Morena from iCoolhunt showed us iPhone apps – not a game, but fun; and, spectacularly, Electronic Arts’ Henry LaBounta presented the art direction from Need for Speed Hot Pursuit. In addition, separately, a group of artists presented a series of sessions on creating comic books.

LaBounta, who began his career in visual effects and feature animation at Industrial Light & Magic and at PDI/DreamWorks, showed imagery from Need for Speed Hot Pursuit, explaining what he designed and why. The real-time scenes take advantage of image-based lighting, cached shadows, and other typical CG techniques used in visual effects to give the game an artistic and often cinematic look that varies with location, weather, player status, and dynamic time of day.

Another computer graphics luminary, Ken Perlin, professor of computer science at the NYU Media Research Lab, who had worked on the first TRON and had received a technical achievement award from the Academy and a computer graphics achievement award from SIGGRAPH, opened a curtain into the future of computing.

Parag Havaldar

Then, bringing the topics back to visual effects and animation was Double Negative co-founder Paul Franklin, who led the outstanding work on Inception. Bruce Holcomb, digital modeling supervisor at ILM, helped attendees understand the methods used to create hard-surface characters, vehicles, props, and environments, from concept to final production, at that studio. David Schaub, animation director at Sony Pictures Imageworks, provided an inside look at the trippy animation in Alice in Wonderland. Daniele Bigi broke down visual effects shots from Robin Hood. And, Bruno Mahe described the pipeline at MacGuff used for Despicable Me.

For me, though, as wonderful as all these and the other presentations were – and they definitely were – the standouts remain David Schaub’s “The Art and Science of Animating Expressive Eyes,” and Tim Johnson’s keynote address, “Creating a Hero,” for the combination of uniqueness and usefulness in each.

Among the fascinating details in Schaub’s hour-long presentation is this tidbit: Eyes always move, always scan because that stimulates the rods and cones, and that, in turn, ignites our brains. I learned that people blink to signal thought changes, and so should animated characters. “Blinks are the punctuation marks of cognition,” Schaub says. “They match the rhythm of thought.” I discovered that when people look left, they’re recalling something. When people look right, they are constructing. And these are but a few of the insights Schaub offered.

Tim Johnson

For his part, Johnson provided a workbook for storytellers who want to create animated films – or novels, for that matter – driven by a principal character, a hero. “What the character wants drives the plot,” Johnson says. “And heroes never quit. But, they have a conflict between what they want or say they want, and what they need. What they need is usually the opposite.” Then, Johnson explained to the audience how to drive a character from wants to needs, and create a compelling story.

After Johnson’s keynote, which ended the conference, we all walked through the night-lit streets of Turin to see the world premiere of Kung Fu Panda Holiday Special, which Johnson directed, in stereo 3D. When several of us got lost, the hero of the moment, Adam Avitabile, used GPS to get us there. We arrived in time and discovered that the film, shown in a theater near Turin’s Museum of the Cinema, was in Italian without English subtitles. I couldn’t understand a word, but I didn’t need to. It was still hilarious and definitely a colorful conclusion to a wonderful time in Turin.

For the View Conference, though, the hero was Gutierrez, who once again organized exactly the right mix of hands-on workshops, technical tips from the trenches, and inspiration from luminaries. This year, Gutierrez plans to incorporate information on medical imaging and automotive design. So, mark your calendars now: The 12th annual View Conference happens this coming October 25 to 28. Hopefully I’ll see you there.

Barbara Robertson is an award-winning writer and a contributing editor for Computer Graphics World. She can be reached at