Siggraph 2010 Part 2 – The Production Sessions

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The Production Sessions at Siggraph’s 2010 Computer Animation Festival are always enlightening, entertaining and extremely educational. Besides panel discussions on the making of some of last season’s block busters like AVATAR, IRON MAN 2, ALICE IN WONDERLAND, HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON and THE LAST AIRBENDER, this year’s Siggraph also offered an inspiring session with Teddy Newton, director of Pixar’s latest short DAY & NIGHT. In addition, an exclusive 8 minute sneak peak of TRON: LEGACY was showcased, followed by a discussion with director Joseph Kosinski, Producer Jeffrey Silver, Visual Effects Supervisor Eric Barba and Animation Supervisor Steve Preeg.

To open, Teddy Newton screened his short DAY & NIGHT, a 3-D stereoscopic gem. Next came a well structured and in-depth lecture/demonstration chronicling his first ideas for the short, via pitching it to Pixar’s Chief Creative Officer John Lasseter, to working with his team on the designs as well as the logistics and production challenges of the short.

For most of their feature length productions, Pixar also produces a short film to precede the main attraction – just like in the good old days. As Pixar explains on their website: “Pixar’s shorts have helped foster and develop technologies and talent at the studio, but they are mostly made for one simple reason: love of the art form.” As an added attraction nine shorts have been nominated with an Academy Award® for Best Animated Short Film, and three actually won! 3 Pixar shorts have won Academy Awards recently? Confusing sentence construction.

DAY & NIGHT is the story of two blobby? blokes (of indistinct shape and form?): Day and Night, adorable and distinctly different, representing their titles in mood, movement and visual representation. When they first meet, they do no like each other at all, but after four action-packed minutes, they learn more about one other, start to appreciate their differences, and in the end become the best of friends. It is a short film about discovering, exploring and eventually loving the “other”.

During his lecture, Newton quoted the world-renown author and motivational speaker Dr. Wayne W. Dyer: “When you change the way you look at things – the things you look at change,” wisdom most fitting for Newton’s two characters. Newton explained that for the four minute film, he and his team had to actually produce 12 minutes of animation in three layers: the first layer included the two characters, the second Mr. Day’s internal life and the third, Mr. Night’s. All three layers were then combined with painstaking accuracy to orchestrate the correct timing needed to hit each poignant, poetic and playful narrative moment. Adding the stereoscopic effect and minimal dialogue – in the form of a radio announcement by Dr. Wayne Dyer – Newton created a sweet yet sincere piece of art that could deliver Pixar its 10th Academy Award nomination.

A totally different piece of work was the sneak peak preview of TRON LEGACY.

Remember TRON, the original 1982 science fiction feature starring Jeff Bridges with breathtaking futuristic production designs by Syd Mead and Moebius? Fast forward nearly 30 years and scores of developments in computer generated imaging, and you get TRON LEGACY, again featuring Jeff Bridges.Earlier this year, Bridges won a number of awards, including an Oscar – his first – for his performance of the washed up, down-and-out country singer Bad Blake in Scott Cooper’s CRAZY HEART. To close the year, Bridges returns in TRON LEGACY as Kevin Flynn, looking exactly as he did back in 1982.

How is that possible? Well, that is the magic of LA-based digital effects house Digital Domain. Last year they were at Siggraph Conference to present their work on David Fincher’s THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON which involved aging Brat Pitt backwards from old to young. This year they digitally rejuvenated Jeff Bridges to look just as he did in 1982. Take a look at the trailer and you can see Digital Domain’s incredible work by clicking here.

What used to be done with soft lenses and blurring, is now done with facial performance capture and full 3D reconstruction of the actor’s head. Let’s see how many actors will be asking for the same kind of work in their contracts from now on.

In addition, the TRON LEGACY trailer showcases the amazing designs first time feature film director Joseph Kosinski and his team developed. Kosinski has an engineering and design background (he studied mechanical engineering at Stanford, and architecture at Columbia University). He explained at the presentation that he engaged his dream team of designers, ranging from automobile to industrial and graphic designers, to create a world unlike anything we have ever experienced! And once the feature is released, there will be a plenty of ancillary merchandise to further explore this new and unknown world.

However, even though design and technology are essential elements in today’s film and TV productions, it was reassuring to hear from those working in digital effects that their work should only support and enhance the story and never replace it.

TRON LEGACY is scheduled for release on multiple 3D platforms this December 17, 2010.
For further news on TRON LEGACY, please click here.

For more info on DAY & NIGHT, please click here.

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Bijan Tehrani

Bijan Tehrani a film director, film critic and writer, works as editor in chief of Cinema Without Borders while teaching Language of Film and Film History at workshops nationwide. Bijan has won several awards in international film festivals and book fairs for his short films and children's books.

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