Digital Animation Discussed at the Academy

Tom Sito hosted a fascinating discussion about the  evolution of digital animation last week at the Academy’s Goldwyn Theater as part of the 18th Marc Davis  Celebration of Animation series.  Sito, author of the forthcoming The CG Story: From MIT to Andy’s Room (The University Press of Kentucky), explored early experimentation in the late ’60s and early ’70s with Rebecca Allen, Philippe Bergeron, David Em, Jeff Kleiser, and Diana Walczak. Unlike traditional animation, CG developed in a non-linear way. In fact, Allen said it was an era in which engineers wanted to be artists and artists wanted to convey emotion, and that became the path of CG. The Holy Grail was facial animation, which Kleiser and Walczak perfected with their Synthespian method of sculpting a performance. The breakthrough of Inverse Kinematics with Softimage led to Jurassic Park at ILM.

This segued nicely to a second panel comprised of Tim Johnson, Bill Kroyer, John Lasseter, and Phil Tippett, in which they delved into the  mid-’70s to early ’80s, an era when tools empowered artists to experiment further. There were many amusing and informative ah ha! moments, from Tron to Toy Story. Lasseter explained that Disney post 101 Dalmatians stagnated and did not nurture the next generation of talent, which is why he wound up at Lucasfilm’s computer graphics division with Ed Catmull and later Pixar. But Tron was a touchstone (everyday was like Christmas morning, according to Kroyer) and even at ILM Dennis Muren offered an open and collaborative environment that influenced Lasseter’s approach at Pixar. Kroyer echoed the symbiotic way in which engineers and artists came together, and the notion of surrounding yourself with people smarter than you, originating with Catmull and Muren proved to be instrumental as the craft evolved throughout the decades. Even though Tippett had to be dragged into the digital age kicking and screaming, he’s learned to adapt and make his character work a blend the best of old school and new school.

Still, Kroyer wonders if you can stay in the same magic zone in the computer, to which DreamWorks’ Johnson affirms that you can. For him, it was like being a blindfolded sculptor in the beginning of CG until Alias came along. Only now Johnson is frustrated by the industry’s embrace of photo reality. He longs for more stylization in animation as the medium proceeds along this current hybrid stage.

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Animation, Clips, Education, Events, Movies, Oscar, performance capture, previs, Shorts, stop-motion, Tech, VFX, Virtual Production

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