Confab touts the power of talk over tech

BOSTON — Good storytelling breeds good synergies.

That was the message of Disney Imagineering VP and executive designer Joe Rohde on Monday as he kicked off the 33rd annual Siggraph computer graphics conference in Boston.

Rohde, longtime designer of the Disney Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World Resort, said thatentertainment storytellers define not only the details of stories but their business choices and alliances as well.

“The thing that drives story is ‘why.’ Why speak at all? If you answer that question and return to it each time you speak, your stories will have tremendous holistic integrity,” he said.

Rohde cited the design and construction of the “Everest Expedition” attraction at Disney Animal Kingdom.

He noted that the Animal Kingdom park has a theme of “intrinsic value of nature” but that the theme conflicted with the park’s need for an exciting, man-made roller coaster.

The solution: Turn the roller coaster into a story about a train journey across the Himalayas to Mount Everest — a route that encroaches on sacred spaces guarded by the legendary Yeti, aka the Abominable Snowman.

The first part of the ride is a leisurely nature tour, while the second races through an onslaught by yetis.

“I want to encourage people to use deep, deep resonant themes,” Rohde told Daily Variety prior to his talk, “both to create stories that can be experienced without resorting to linear storytelling processes, and also because there are interesting spinoff opportunities that arise when you use these deep narrative structures for storytelling.”

He stressed that the deep-seated themes he’s championing can be used in any storytelling form, from theme parks and videogames to standard film and television.

The entire project eventually inspired a Discovery Channel special.

Siggraph, the annual conference and trade show for computer graphics and interactive techniques, is being held in Boston for the first time in 17 years. Show includes a Computer Animation Festival, exhibition floor and numerous research presentations.

There have been rumblings in the Hollywood visual effects and animation community that the Siggraph conference has lost some luster in recent years. Some companies that have had booths at the tradeshow are attending but not exhibiting this year.

Nonetheless, prior to Rohde’s keynote, Siggraph 2006 conference chair John Finnegan proclaimed, “75 new companies have joined us here in Boston.”

Exhibitors this year include Lucasfilm and Sony Pictures Imageworks, as well as many software and hardware vendors. DreamWorks, the Orphanage and Tippett Studios are attending without exhibiting.

Filed Under:

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more