August 7, 2007

Computer Animation Festival Wows Audiences

When Paul Debevec, computer graphics researcher with a Ph.D. in computer graphics, attended SIGGRAPH for the first time in 1994, he was amazed with virtually every aspect of the show. “All things having to do with computer graphics—the academics, art, commercial, all the different things people were doing with graphics—were under one roof,” Debevec enthuses.

The highlight of the show for Debevec, however, was the Computer Animation Festival and, in particular, the 1994 Electronic Theater. Like other Electronic Theaters before and since, the 1994 event showcased an incredible spectrum of content—eye-catching visual effects to budding research finds to beautiful works of art to amusing animated shorts—all put together and providing a snapshot of the state of the art in the field. At that moment, he knew he wanted to be involved. Soon, his own films were featured in the illustrious Electronic Theater; and now, he finds himself entrusted with the responsibility of chairing the SIGGRAPH 2007 Computer Animation Festival.

Just as Debevec’s enthusiasm is perhaps unparalled, this year’s Computer Animation Festival may prove unrivalled. “This year is marked by a number of different firsts,” Debevec explains. “In particular, we saw a huge surge of submissions. We had markedly larger numbers of submissions in the real-time, art, and commercial areas. It’s a far more representative show.”

2007 is a breakout year for video game content and visual effects reels in the Electronic Theater, which also features more than eight minutes of real-time material. “It’s an indication that computer graphics which can be rendered in real time has an unprecedented level of quality and, by virtue of being in the Electronic Theater, it’s something people need to be aware of and following to stay current in the field.”

Among the strong content in this year’s Computer Animation Festival are three entertaining, high-production-value studio shorts. “We have Pixar’s film “Lifted,” directed by Gary Rydstrom; the latest Scrat animation from Blue Sky Studios, “No Time for Nuts;” and a funny film with amazing production value, character design, and effects called “A Gentleman’s Duel” from Blur Studio,” says Debevec.

2007 also proves an impressive year for independent shorts, which garnered the top three honors at the year’s SIGGRAPH Computer Animation Festival (see “And The Winners Are…”). Moreover, this is the first year the committee has accepted high-definition material as part of the jury process. It gave the jury a chance to build an especially representative show.

Still a mystery is the interactive fun in store for Electronic Theater attendees at the start of each showing. “We’re still putting things in place,” says Debevec, “but I can reveal that it’s an interesting and fun nod to the past, and one in keeping with the real-time content and representation of the video game industry in the show.

“I am looking forward to a show that from beginning to end shows us things that we have never seen before,” admits Debevec. “Hopefully people will look back on the show and see a snapshot of the state of the art in computer graphics—the art, technology, hopes, and dreams. I hope that it gets your head spinning and makes you reevaluate what you think is possible: what artistry can envision, what research  can enable, what industry can accomplish; and that it opens up the mind to figure out what will take us into the future.”