Italy’s leading CG conference is not to be missed
Now that 2010 is under way and everyone is thinking about their schedule for the year, I have a recommendation: Save a spot in your budget and a space in your calendar for the View in Torino, Italy, in early November. I attended this conference for the first time in 2008 and was so excited about it that I returned in 2009. And, I’m glad I did.
The View is the leading computer graphics conference in Italy and one of the best in Europe. Located in the fourth largest city in Italy, in the foothills of the Alps, it’s small enough to provide quality interaction among the speakers and attendees, yet large enough to attract some of the top names in computer graphics animation, games, and visual effects. It’s exactly the right size. And director Maria Elena Guiterrez has a genius for selecting the right participants.
“This conference is one of the engines driving the future of the city,” said Alessandro Barberis, president of Turin’s Chamber of Commerce, a conference supporter. “And, Maria Elena is the soul of the conference.”
Among those giving presentations and leading workshops this year: Glenn Entis, co-founder of PDI, former chief visual and technical officer at Electronic Arts, and founding general partner in Vanedge Capital; Michael Giacchino, who composed the music for Star Trek and Up; Rob Bredow, CTO and VFX supervisor at Sony Pictures Imageworks; Henry LaBounta, chief visual officer for Electronic Arts; ILM’s Roger Guyett, visual effects supervisor for Star Trek; ILM’s Jeff White, associate VFX supervisor for Transformers; Rob Whitehill stereo supervisor at Pixar; Jayme Wilkinson, stereoscopic supervisor at Blue Sky Studios; and many more during the three-day event. Paul Debevec, legendary computer graphics scientist and associate director of graphics research at USC/ICT graphics lab, gave a one-day seminar leading into the conference.
This year, the themes were digital convergence and stereo 3D, and, as before, the speakers gave the audience visionary, imaginative, timely, and practical information.
As I relived the conference recently through my notes and images, I realized once again why the experience at View is so deep, why people lined up for a seat in the auditorium and conference rooms, even early in the morning, and continued their conversations well into the evening.
“This conference is inspiring for the speakers and the attendees,” said Travis Hathaway, a Pixar animator, who led two animation workshops and gave an hour-long presentation that, much to the audience’s enjoyment, included images of animators at work in their uniquely decorated offices – including the famous “Love Lounge” and “Lucky 7.” You had to be there.
In fact, if you had attended the various sessions offered by people from Pixar alone, you would have received a rich education in design, layout, animation, rendering, and stereo 3D (S3D) from some of the best CG artists on the planet.
Bob Whitehill, Pixar
Bob Whitehill, stereoscopic supervisor at Pixar, opened the conference by dipping deeply into layout design – the camera – for Up. I knew that the production and character designers at Pixar had centered their designs on a circle (Ellie) and a square (Carl). Until Whitehill’s talk, I didn’t realize that Patrick Lin, director of photography for the camera, had embraced that idea, too.
Whitehill explained that he took the idea of the square (the past, old, rigid, pessimistic, static) and the circle (future, new, flexible, optimistic, dynamic), and graphed the camera moves and lenses through the movie. “If you have a plan, you can make smarter decisions than if you let the movie lead you on,” he said.
For example, the camera was static when Carl lost Ellie, and dynamic for the action scenes. Lin used a narrow depth of field for “square” scenes, and a deeper and wider lens for “circle” scenes; one lens length, a simple truck, and down angles for “square” moments, and contrasting lens lengths, pan tile and zooms, full 3D camera moves, and up angles for “circle” times. He would box Carl, in his most square moments, in a frame within a frame.
Danny Dimian, Imageworks
So, when Whitehill designed the S3D moves, he, too, used the square and circle metaphor, creating moderate divergence and little convergence to trap Carl and make him flat in low moments, then aggressive divergence and moderate convergence to bring Carl forward and make him round in happier moments.
When Carl loses Ellie, about the only circle left in his world is the top of the fence post near the mailbox. After Carl hits the construction worker, though, a real estate agent places his hand on the post and covers the circle. Ellie’s color, pink, disappears from the light, and Carl retreats into the flat part of life. “We shot this with a 40mm lens, frame within frame,” Whitehill said. “Carl is flattened, stuck behind elements, cut off. The first camera move happens as the balloons emerge and that gets a tremendous [stereo] 3D hit. As Carl’s life is reawakening, the camera moves up and to the right.”
But later, when Carl reaches his end goal, and has sacrificed his friend to do so, he is back in a frame within a frame. “As he starts reading the adventure book and reawakens,” Whitehill said, “the lighting becomes pink, the lens widens, the [stereo] 3D gets progressively rounded and deep, and then it’s no holds barred.”
In addition to Hathaway and Whitehill, Dylan Sisson of Pixar’s RenderMan team gave eight (!) detailed sessions in increasingly technical sophistication through the conference. In one, for example, he explained that to paint the house, the Up team built brush strokes into the UVs of the geometry, and used geometry to direct the shaders. By working with layered and surface and displacement shaders within Slim, they could tell the shader how many coats of paint to apply on the house. “We could go from new paint to old paint with a slider,” he said.
And Michael Giacchino, who recently won a Golden Globe for the score he composed for Up (which also won best animated feature), talked, in sessions and in a keynote speech, about how he used music to enhance the story in that film and in Star Trek. During a very special event during the conference, the Associazione Filarmonica Felettese of Feletto Canavese gave a standing-room-only concert in the Teatro Collegio San Giuseppe that included Giacchino’s compositions for Up, Star Trek, Ratatouille, and The Incredibles. Giacchino introduced the event by telling about the practice session the night before. He and Guyett had driven to Feletto, a small village nearby, where the orchestra had scheduled a rehearsal. Directed by professor Bruno Lamp, the orchestra practiced for a while, and then Lamp drew back a curtain and said, “Now we eat. My mamma cooked for us.”
The concert began with the Italian national anthem and then the “Star Spangled Banner.” At the end, after the orchestra had played Giacchino’s Star Trek composition, Giacchino had the audience all give the Star Trek salute, and took a photo that he promised to send to J.J. Abrams, the director.
For his part, Guyett, Star Trek‘s visual effects supervisor and second unit director, walked an auditorium packed with students and professionals through the work that Industrial Light & Magic did on that film…how they associated particular colors with each scene to help with geography, how they lit the Narada, one of the largest models ever built at ILM, how they added details to the iconic Enterprise without violating the tradition.
And, Jeff White, associate visual effects supervisor for Transformers, detailed ILM’s intense effort on that film, and showed a short film that took the audience on location with Michael Bay. “We shot five bluescreens for the entire film,” he said. “We rotoscoped the rest.”
To help participants understand storytelling techniques, Isaac Kerlow, former director of digital production at Disney, showed examples from early Disney films, Japanese animation, and current features and shorts, including Shrek, Horton Hears a Who, various Pixar films, and “Oktapodi,” to explain classic storytelling. And Brenda Bakker Harger led workshop attendees through the art of improvisational acting, giving them a story template: Once upon a time…every day (he would)… but one day (something happens)… and, because of that (he does this)…until finally (this happens), and ever since then… and his world has changed forever.
Jonathan Knight, EA
To help game developers understand character design, Jonathan Knight, executive producer of EA’s Visceral Games Studio, offered the art of making the EA game Dante’s Inferno. “We wanted to go further than just having only old naked men,” he said as he showed images of Dante throughout history and the elaborate characters ultimately designed for the game.
Noting that View is one of his favorite conferences, EA’s chief visual officer Henry LaBounta shared with participants his “three easy steps to making photoreal images.” Among the tools he advocates are the Macbeth Color Checker and Chromoholics for correct color and calibration. If you’re creating digital images, this master encouraged: “Just do it!” “Some of the best-looking games don’t have radical new technology,” he said. “They’re done using the normal stuff really well.”
Glen Entis noted that although the economy has slowed, the rate of disruption in media and entertainment didn’t slow down, which opens the door for new companies. “All the established winners are in a defensive position,” he said. “I think this will be seen as a golden time.”
During the final keynote, Michael Giacchino shared his frustration as he tried to compose a theme for Star Trek. “I went through 30 versions,” he said. “Version 6 sounded like Star Trek, but it felt empty. Version 15 felt like I completely missed the mark. I was so frustrated, but I was afraid to go to J.J. [Abrams, the director].”
Instead, he talked to producer Damon Lindelof. “He said, ‘[Star Trek] is not about space. It’s about two guys who meet and become the best of friends,’ ” Giacchino said. “I thought, [expletive], you’re right. I went home and the first thing I wrote became the theme.”
Giacchino then reminded the audience how important it is to pay attention to the story. “Everything you do has to support the story,” he said, and ended his talk and the conference with this thought, “Whatever you do, tell a story.”
Even with all the words I’ve written above, I have only barely begun to tell the story that is the View. Mike Springer’s Google sessions. Andrea diStefano’s Urban Screen Italia. The “La Venaria Reale” immersive 3D. And, how can I forget Orek Shilon of Simbionix, Ltd’s amazing demonstration of training doctors with virtual reality? This conference is so deep. I’m already looking forward to next year. See you there?
Barbara Robertson is an award-winning writer and a contributing editor for Computer Graphics World. She can be reached at BarbaraRR@comcast.net.