Sunday, August 10, 2008

August Festival of Links

One more dollop of linky goodness, beginning with:

CG actors. Of course we've seen them in the Star Wars flicks, but Yoda, Jaba the Hut and Jar Jar Binks don't look particularly ... uh ... human. Howsoever, Viz Effx topkick Michael Fink thinks c.g. humans are close:

"We are now at a point where we can create photoreal characters, but it is hugely labor-intensive and it is really expensive," said Oscar-winning VFX supervisor Michael Fink ("The Golden Compass"), who recently was named president of VFX worldwide at Frantic Films VFX and Prime Focus Group.

"Can we do an absolutely, totally realistic Elvis Presley? Probably not. But that is because he is so well known," he said. "But if we had to create a character that nobody had ever seen before? That might be possible at this point. And in a few years it will be possible to do Elvis. A lot of people think it is possible now. I don't." ...

The Washington Post trashes George Lucas:

"The Clone Wars" was never supposed to be a feature film. It was planned as a TV show that Lucas insisted be released theatrically after he saw it. (This outing was directed by Dave Filoni and written by others; Lucas executive produced.) But one need only consider "The Clone Wars" alongside its cousin "WALL E" to grasp how far Lucas has fallen behind some of the artists and technicians he once employed. A hectic, often incoherent pastiche of plotty dialogue and frantic battle action, "The Clone Wars" is populated by stiffly animated versions of such prequel characters as Obi-Wan Kenobi, Padmé Amidala and Anakin Skywalker. But for warmth and pure heart, they're not nearly as human as the little trash compactor whose life and loves drive "WALL*E." In the latter, the stakes are high -- for the protagonist and the planet he loves. In "Clone Wars," the only thing at stake is whether Lucas will be able to take yet another bite of a thoroughly consumed apple. And viewers are left hungry.

The Post is gleeful in pointing out that Lucas started Pixar ... then sold it. (Ouch). But the London Free Press is kinder here:

The animated Clone Wars adventures clock in at about $2 million per hour, less than a twentieth the cost of the last round of Star Wars features (The Phantom Menace, Attack Of The Clones and Revenge Of The Sith), but 20 times a typical TV animation budget.

"Given enough time and money, anybody can create anything. But given a very, very restricted budget and very restricted resources, it's a challenge. We had to build studios, train people from scratch, hire artists, develop new techniques. We did not make this in the normal way you make an animated feature."

On a related note (Pixar), the New York Times has a short, interesting piece on Ed Catmull:

Edwin Catmull ... just got back from his first meditation retreat, at the Shambhala Mountain Center in northern Colorado.

“I almost flunked meditation,” he said. “When things are intense and there’s a lot at stake, I have no trouble focusing. But when they’re not intense, my brain starts popping off in all sorts of places ...”

The Jerusalem Post profiles the upcoming annual Animation, Comics and Caricatures Festival , which starts August 13th and will be graced by Eric Goldberg:

According to Goldberg, perfection isn't always what it's made out to be. "CG renders realism, but that's not art for me. There is no artist interpretation there. It's just a technical facility." Even so, Goldberg feels the best approach is to marry both worlds. "There is more crossover - CG-hand drawn - work today. Computer technology has made jobs like inking, scanning and painting much easier."

I'm a trifle late to the party with this, but Toon Disney is going to be more live-action for boys Disney ...

Disney hopes its princes will come.

The entertainment giant ... plans to relaunch Toon Disney as Disney XD, a cable channel that will target boys. The move, under wraps for more than a year, is an attempt by the company to capture a market that has long eluded it.

Starting in February, Disney XD will seek to become to young dudes what Disney Channel, with its lineup of tweeny bopper programs such as "High School Musical," "Hannah Montana" and "Camp Rock" is to girls.

... Animation, traditionally a draw for boys, has been a struggle for Disney Channel, although its newest series, "Phineas and Ferb," appears to be building a strong male following.

But so far, the network has failed to produce a blockbuster to compete with Nickelodeon's "SpongeBob SquarePants;" or match the guy-centric focus of Cartoon Network, which one ad buyer described as the ESPN of animation.

Disney will lean more toward live-action, most likely with a young, blow-dried stud muffin fighting evil doers. These things go in cycles.

The Arizona Republic takes a look at the 3-D 3-D animation boom, discovering it comes down to ... box office dollars (there's a huge surprise).

DreamWorks Animation and Pixar Animation Studios have announced that all their future animation projects will be produced in 3-D as well as 2-D ... It's a safe bet more will follow ...

"You're going to find a generation of kids going forward that expect to wear glasses when they go into a movie theater," said Jeff McNall, the cinema-products manager for Dolby Laboratories, "because everything they're going to see is 3-D.

"They're going to find it really awkward to go to a movie and not see it in 3-D. It'll be like when people started going to movies and they started seeing color movies. It was hard to see a movie that wasn't in color ..."

Which might tilt the playing field a bit more toward 3-D instead of hand-drawn animation, yes? (Although 3-D hand-drawn films could be interesting ...)

It's always good to remember that the U.S. of A. isn't the fount of all animation:

NEW DELHI: Director and producer Anil Goyal's Ice ‘n’ Spicy, the country’s first mainstream ‘non-mythological’ feature-length 3-D animation film using high–tech computer hardware, has been released across 15 screens in Mumbai and Delhi on 9 August ...

The film has cost around Rs 20 million, and though initially made in Hindi, it will also be released in English for the international market.

Anil Goyal told,"This is the first animation film made in the country which has a modern storyline and is not based on mythology or folk tales. However, it has a character, Gantoo, who is inspired by Lord Ganesha. The film is a totally Indian endeavor right from conception, characterisation, animation on the computers, audio and music ..."

Have yourself a productive and blessed Sunday. But wear sunsecreen.


Anonymous said...

why bother...
if this is the brass ring, get it over with already, the quest for realism is a pipedream

they would be better off developing the "story button"
right near the delete key

Anonymous said...

I agree . Why bother ? Where's the art and fun in that ?

Dewy-eyed CG disciples have been saying this for years . It used to be Bogart or Marilyn Monroe that they referenced. This guy talks about Elvis.

"And in a few years it will be possible to do Elvis. A lot of people think it is possible now. I don't." ..."

Yeah, whatever ... but WHY ? Elvis was Elvis and he's dead. You missed it. I really question the artistic sensibilities of people who talk like that.

Eric Goldberg nails it in one of the other quotes :

"According to Goldberg, perfection isn't always what it's made out to be. "CG renders realism, but that's not art for me. There is no artist interpretation there. It's just a technical facility."

Anonymous said...

""According to Goldberg, perfection isn't always what it's made out to be. "CG renders realism, but that's not art for me. There is no artist interpretation there. It's just a technical facility.""

Silly, and not factual. There's bad taste, and no taste, and some great taste. There is plenty of artist interpretation in the best of cg.

As far as this fellow Mike Fink, I agree--he ought to spend time creating a story buttion, or a design button.

Anonymous said...

Knowing Eric, and having worked with Eric on a CG film he directed, that's an out-of-context quote, if you're interpreting it to mean that he thinks that "there's no art in CG".

If I can speak for Eric until he logs on and comments, I'll say that he probably meant "the pursuit of photorealism as an end goal unto itself...".

Eric is the farthest thing from a luddite, and is one of the true early pioneers in CG animation.

Anonymous said...

Bruce Wright:

I agree with you. Eric Goldberg is no "Luddite" and is one of the people who actually thinks deeply enough to use CG creatively. He's not anti-CG , but I think the quote makes perfect sense :

""CG renders realism, but that's not art for me. "

Which I take to mean that "realism" for it's own sake is not a worthy goal for the artist. That in no way is an anti-CG animation sentiment. He's talking about HOW we choose to use CG imagery.

Therefore I would still say the idea that people would use CG to produce exact "realistic" CG replicas on screen of Elvis or John Wayne, or Bogart or Groucho or Marilyn Monroe, or whomever is just silly. However, I imagine the businesses that license the images of deceased performers will push for it because the big $$$$ dollar signs popping up before their eyes from the idea of being able to continue to make money from "new" performances by those great and unique performers. Hopefully saner minds will prevail. (but I wouldnt' count on it)

Anonymous said...

"Ice ‘n’ Spicy, the country’s first mainstream ‘non-mythological’ feature-length 3-D animation film using high–tech computer hardware,"

I find it amusing when someone proclaims a "first", but with about 5 or 6 qualifying adjectives to eliminate all other possible contenders.

Anonymous said...

David, You're right. When we're talking about resurrecting Marilyn or (shudder) Orville Reddenbacher, It's nothing but full-on commerce.

I think that a "can't tell the difference" cg human is attainable today. I don't see what the technical problem would be... I think all the tools are there right now.

The limitation (as usual) are budget and artistry. We're there right now for skin shaders, hair, eyes, deformers and capture systems and animation systems.

My impression? No team of sufficient artistic ability and technical backing has attempted it. Yet.

I haven't the slightest doubt that the folks at my work could achieve this within a year's worth of work. I'm serious.

Whether it would look good or look creepy would depend on if our best people were on the project for the full amount of time necessary.

Anonymous said...

"I think that a "can't tell the difference" cg human is attainable today."

I really DON'T think it is. Its a damn fools quest.Its the pursuit of a shorcut plain and simple. The very idea of attaining realism without paying for it is enough to have executives by the boatload dump money and time into this foolish pursuit.

At the most fundamental level, what we consider reality, is in actuality what our brain interprets as reality. We all look at things through a filter. They will never process that interpretation by the human brain and recreate it. Its impossible. Its why rotoscope always looks strange. Its why motion capture, with every detail concretely hinged for the computer, will always read in a cold, warbly way.

I wish more animation studios would embrace the art of animation and stop trying to make it a tool to provide something they perceive to be better; reality. The market on reality is cornered by actors and cameras. The human brain will always have more say on what we interpret as reality as a hundred thousand riggers, and lighters, and modelers and texture artists.

Its a fools quest.

Anonymous said...

You say it's a damn fool's quest, but that doesn't change the fact that it is achievable.

I see no technical hurdle left. There ARE artists out there with the talent to do this... the right team hasn't been put to the task to achieve it. And I add 'yet' because it will happen.

Maybe not this year, and maybe not next. But certainly in the next few years.

I don't know about "brains interpreting reality." I'm an effects guy. We fool the audience all the time. There are shots in 102 Dalmatians where I dare you to tell the real dogs from the CG ones. Ditto, Kangaroo Jack... tell the real boomers from the cg ones, if you can. They don't look rotoscoped or cold or warbly.

I'll submit to you that the 'uncanny valley' isn't impassable. It's merely become a convenient excuse for artistic failure at a very very hard problem.

Anonymous said...

"artistic failure"?
What percentage of art is involved in a mimic of reality?
Ever noticed why trompe l'oeil paintings are such a very small fraction of the great museum collections?

Anonymous said...

I think we're talking about different things, Anon.

You're speaking about how much "art" is achieved as an end product of photorealism.

I'm speaking about how much artistic skill is required to achieve photorealism.

In other words, two different definitions of "art". It's the fallacy of equivocation.

Instead, let's phrase without the nebulous word art and two conflicting definitions.

Here are the definitions we're employing. You're speaking of art as in

art: the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance.

I am speaking of this definition:

art:skilled workmanship, execution, or agency, as distinguished from nature.

Therefore, what I am really saying is that the "uncanny valley" is a term that embodies failure for skilled workmanship execution and agency to succeed (so far) at a very very hard problem.

"Yes, but is it ART?!?!?!" is a question for the critics.

Anonymous said...

The greatest animation on the planet can't save a rubbish story.

Moreover don't get too comfortable with advances in CGI animation. As soon as it gets easier to make things look good just using plug-ins and shortcuts or whatever, watch all the CGI jobs dissipate overseas.

Anonymous said...

so Lucas finally got to make (or a least approve of) a whole Star Wars movie after his love for CGI... looks fun though

Bob and Rob Professional American Writers said...

Uh, guys...not one comment on the best part of the article, the "lady in blue"...Just sayin'. Cheers, Bob

Anonymous said...

What uncanny valley? Where?

Anonymous said...

Wether a team can reproduce, say, James Dean with photorealistic accuracy is not very interesting.

I think the question should be, what happens after this is done? Where does cg go from here? What's the next tentpole?

And there are some clues in the past, when photography first appeared, and painters had to evolve and deliver something the camera was unaible to deliver. Impressionism was one of the results.


Steve Hulett said...

Wether a team can reproduce, say, James Dean with photorealistic accuracy is not very interesting.

It's also not commercially compelling. How many sentient humans even know who James Dean is?

Even John Wayne, who's been dead for three decades, isn't a grabber. Most people would look at this kind of thing as a stunt and either yawn or go "Eeewww."

Anonymous said...

"It's also not commercially compelling. How many sentient humans even know who James Dean is?"

Dude, he's the guy who makes the sausages.

Or is it the tractors?

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