H’wood wrangling new ideas, talent in Texas

Computer-generates water will be among hot topics

Siggraph travels to Texas this year, but Hollywood’s influence goes with it. Big-ticket CG characters will be on display — from “Star Wars: Episode II’s” digital Yoda to the pixel menageries in the sequels of “Stuart Little” and “Men in Black.” “Spider-Man’s” synthetic Manhattan will represent the latest in virtual environments, while the all-CG “Ice Age” will focus attention on advanced lighting techniques like ray tracing and global illumination. And because filmmakers are always striving for photo-realism, software that efficiently simulates water, fire, plants and clothing will be widely discussed.

“We’ll be focusing on digital water at Siggraph,” says Cinesite’s Dan Lombardo.

“We’re moving towards … CG water that’s driven by the dynamics of software rather than any ‘cheats.’ ”

Fire, on the other hand, will be a focus for Disney and PDI/DreamWorks. The latter will present advances in techniques used for “Shrek,” explains Nick Foster. “We (will be) demonstrating how we pulled together ideas about making things that look and move like flames, and creating tools we can use whenever we want fire.”

While hit movies will loom large at Siggraph, film animators will be sharing some of the spotlight with game animators this year. “Oddworld Inhabitants” designer Lorne Lanning, a veteran of Rhythm & Hues, will present the perspective that “games are doing what traditional CG does, but we’re rendering it in real time, at 30 frames per second. We’re bringing a different sensibility that changes fundamentally how you build CG worlds and characters.”

Another panel, provocatively titled “Games: The Dominant Medium of the Future,” also promises to spark lively debate. Panel participant Glenn Entis of Electronic Arts hopes that “we’ll attract people who are interested in the changing dynamics of the entertainment industry. Game platforms have exploded in power. We now have great lighting, camera movement and visual effects. I hope people will see game animation as a viable place to apply their talents.”

Across the board, the perennial buzz at Siggraph is about recruitable talent. Imageworks will scout talent for its first all-CG feature, Blue Sky Studios will recruit for “Robots,” while Mill Film is coming from England in search of staff for new “Tomb Raider” and “Harry Potter” assignments.

DreamWorks also will be scouting animation and CG talent for 150 positions that need to be filled on “Sinbad,” “Shrek II,” “Sharkslayer” and “Madagascar” over the next year.

“As a company we are in one of our greatest growth spurts because we have so many movies that are about ready to go into production,” says Ann Daly, head of DreamWorks animation. “The biggest focus right now at Siggraph is recruiting. We’re looking for people in technology, artistic talent, people with character animation experience and character technical directors.”

And Industrial Light & Magic’s Ken Maruyama admits, “We always have to recruit. There’s lots more studios doing CG today, with people going to Pixar for animated features, or New Zealand for ‘Lord of the Rings.’ So it’s a good market for CG artists.”

The end-of-the-day buzz among attendees undoubtedly will be about the 36 selections screened nightly in the conference’s Electronic Theater. Chosen from 640 submissions this year, these premier pieces say the most about the state of today’s CG — they’re the pictures that speak a thousand words or more.

(Additional reporting by Evelyn Sheinkopf )

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