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Thursday, August 04, 2005

SIGGRAPH Electronic Theater

OvertimeOne of the great treats of SIGGRAPH is seeing the "Electronic Theater". I don't know why it's an especially "electronic" theater. It is digitally projected, but that can only have been fairly a recent development. Before digital projection, it was merely a...well...a...a theater, that happened to specialize in projecting films whose elements had originally been created using some sort of electronical computer graphics basis. I'm counting on one of my helpful readers to sort me out about this.

At SIGGRAPH's Electronic Theater, which I attended this afternoon, one is treated to the magnificent fx demos of the major animation studios and visual effects companies and these are impressive--in the way that the B-2 bomber is impressive or a top-notch pro basketball team or the population of China. It's the size and scale of the resources and what those allow that bowls one over. Hire enough experts, wield enough cutting-edge technology, squeeze out enough man-hours, and some mighty impressive results are sure, sooner or later, to develop.

However, I couldn't help but chuckle--then sigh wistfully--at Industrial Light & Magic's reel for "Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith", which featured a montage of visual effects shots from this final Star Wars installment and the steps in achieving those shots. The montage was set to some thrilling music cues--cues which stirred my emotions, and brought back powerful memories of the heroics and derring-do of a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. The first of these music cues was the "Tie Fighter Attack" music from the original "Star Wars" ("Episode IV: A New Hope", if you insist), a cue so good that it was repurposed to prop up the final battle seen in the nauseating "Return Of The Jedi". The other half dozen cues were also from the original "Ep. IV: A New Hope" score and "The Empire Strikes Back", with perhaps one "sinister Emperor" cue which had its origins in "Return Of The Jedi". Not a single music cue from any of the three prequels was in evidence. Like a hideous Space Vampire, the unholy Star Wars Prequels continue, to the very last, to suck every bit of their vital energy from the original three classics. They are a fungus, a parasite on our beloved Star Warses. And forever they will draw what power they can, in whatever way they can, from the originals, like baby spiders consuming their own mother! O, truly are not these Prequels themselves a most potent and undeniable manifestation of the Dark Side of the Force!?

Anyway, the Electronic Theater...

So, at the Electronic Theater, they show these gigantic, megabucks, knockout showreels, like the afformentioned ILM Star Wars reel. But then there are the short films and animations--sometimes just samples thereof--by smaller companies, often by individual artists and their comrades, and it is these that cause one's crotch to become bruised from continuous jaw-dropping.

Particularly remarkable was the Electronic Theater's "pre-show" provided by John "J. Walt" Adamczyk, doing a live performance called "Autocosm: Gardens of Thuban"--a visual concert, a live "Fantasia", and something Walt Disney would have been over the moon about. The effect was like watching a Deity paint, in real time, with an invisible cosmic brush, the long stalks and coiled branches, the madly-textured rainbow flora, of an alien world truly in a galaxy far, far away. It was mesmerizing, hypnotic, and it magnificently illustrated how 3D graphics software, aided by a powerful NVIDIA processor, can become a fine instrument--like a musical instrument--for visual expression. Despite the long streaks of computer generated textures and forms, certainly produced within strict mathematical parameters, the tools of Wacom Tablet & stylus and a joystick that allowed minute control of various settings, allowed Adamczyk The Human to clearly manifest himself in the images created. There was an undeniable organic intelligence guiding the strange visual symphony and I felt a similar kind of enjoyment that one might get from watching, though on an epic scale, an accomplished draftsman conjure images out of a blank piece of paper, combined with the rhythms and moment-to-moment choices of a dancer. Delightful.

Every film or segment shown at the Electronic Theater was created digitally, yet most of them sought to produce images that evoked concrete, mundane realities, antithetical to most ideas of digital art. There were repeated references to mechanics and gear-based engineering, and non-digital media like projected film, paint and ink on paper, and the cathode-ray tube tv screen.

The following three shorts impressed me especially, and were among the best movies I've seen in a few years:

"La Migration Bigoudenn" - A nocturnal cabal of grannies, gathered on a cliff edge, seek to produce the perfect crepe. Awarded SIGGRAPH's "Jury Honors".

"9" - Shane Acker's story of a lone hero battling a monster in a benighted (possibly post-apocalyptic ?) world. Awarded SIGGRAPH's "Best Of Show".

"Overtime" - French student film in black & white. Kermit The Frog-style muppets perform a strange, moving elegy of music and dance for a motionless, presumably dead, human. Stunning.

Seek these films out. Watch them. And continue to watch out for their creators in the years to come.

By the way, I'm real sorry I slammed the Star Wars prequels so hard there before. It's just that sometimes I get so mad. Rest assured that the first stop I made on SIGGRAPH's main exhibitor floor was the Industrial Light & Magic booth, in order to procure the newest ILM/Star Wars t-shirt design for me and all my friends. It's a pretty good shirt. Not as good as the ones they've done in the past, but it's still pretty good.

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I agree with those three, and noted a few others that were cool on my website.

How did you get a t-shirt at the ILM booth? I didn't get a t-shirt! I wanted a t-shirt! Oh well.

Glad you had a good time. Great show.

- By Blogger Warren, at Thu Aug 04, 08:54:00 AM GMT+1  

You were at SIGGRAPH... o_0 ...I was too! I was working there though at a booth in the main room... I'm surprised we didn't run into each other. I ran into Dick Van Dyke!

(BTW, just saw the on your main page *wink*)

- By Anonymous Athena Stamos, at Sun Aug 07, 12:47:00 AM GMT+1  

(BTW, just saw the PICTURE on your main page *wink*) Don't now how I forgot THAT word.

Anywho, I just syndicated your blog on LiveJournal so I could keep up with you on my LiveJournal -- easy for me that way, I would have knows you were going to be at SigGraph had I done this before. *grin* (so if you know anyone on LJ, let them know about it so they can add you there)

- By Anonymous Athena007, at Sun Aug 07, 03:17:00 AM GMT+1  

Athena007, I did see you at SIGGRAPH, while I was sitting eating bad mexican food. I waved - but I am invisible.

I'm not a LiveJournal-er, but it seems like something all the kids are doing these days. Better look into it!

- By Blogger Neal Romanek, at Wed Aug 10, 09:45:00 PM GMT+1  

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