Cooperation’s key to 5D tech drive

At FMX conference, different disciplines come together

Last week’s FMX visual effects and animation conference in Stuttgart, Germany, featured presentations on “Alice in Wonderland” and the vfx of “Avatar,” as well as a presentation by Victoria Alonso on “Producing the Marvel Experience.”

While students and pros packed into the main Koenig-Karl Hall to learn about those hits, a smaller group nearby was taking in a program with more far-reaching implications: the “5D/Europe” conference.

In the FMX program, 5D is defined as “a global community of creative thinkers committed to exploring the vital role of design in the new collaborative and multi-disciplinary process of digital creation in all narrative media.”

More briefly, 5D is an effort to bring together tools and knowledge from different disciplines — movies, games, architecture and more — for the benefit of all.

As co-founder Alex McDowell explains, the seed for 5D was planted when he was working on “Minority Report.” Steven Spielberg wanted “future reality, not science fiction,” but as McDowell tried to collaborate with designers and architects, he found “the movie industry didn’t have tools to design architecture the way architects did.”

Efforts to unify those tools and concepts brought together “think-tank type people,” the Art Directors Guild, forward-looking designers and executives and eventually spawned 5D.

In part, 5D for movie production means creating a virtual version of the production space well in advance of shooting, including not just sets and props but soundstages, virtual cameras, etc. McDowell calls it “design visualization,” d-vis for short.

McDowell sees 5D principles as a boon to the movie business — though some producers have been reluctant to adopt them . “We don’t just build virtual sets, we build them in a virtual stage with an accurate grid. We can tell you how many lights you’re going to need, the space to the back wall, can you fit in a super Technocrane, how heavy is the motion control track.”

But true 5D takes a larger view of storytelling, too. Using 5D principles, a designer would create a virtual world that extends beyond the immediate demands of the script. “We know that in reality, the script changes, the director changes, the director changes his mind,” says McDowell. “What we really have to do is build this interior, logic-driven world for any project.” That provides options for the director and fodder for sequels, games and transmedia stories.

5D has its own conference every other year — the next is skedded for October — but has found a home away from home at FMX.

Event’s panels included “Play as Life,” with Greyworld founder Andrew Shoben moderating for Disney Animation Studios chief technical officer Andy Hendrickson, Daljit Singh of digital agency Digit, senior art director Frank Vitz of Electronic Arts and performer-educator T.H. Culhane of Solar Cities; and “World-Building as Culture,” with Don Marinelli of Carnegie-Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center as moderator for “Watchmen” artist Dave Gibbons, VFX designer Kevin Tod Haug and immersive storytelling expert Tali Krakowsky. “5D tries to be absolutely agnostic about discipline,” said McDowell. “You don’t ever put two people of the same discipline on the same panel.”

Krakowsky, who is based in Los Angeles, hosted and co-curated this year’s 5D program at FMX.

She points to “Star Wars” as a franchise that embraced 5D’s world-building approach. “It wasn’t by design at all, but if we reverse-engineered “Star Wars” and understood that it could be movies and books and a television series and rides and multiple games, that would be the conceptual model.”

Among contempo pics, she says, “‘Tron’ is doing that in a very interesting way, and it’s very, very deliberate. They’re looking at it as a creative tool and as a business tool.”

Krakowsky concedes, “It’s hard to point at an ROI; it’s not one-to-one. But the design world is fundamentally changing, and you can either be a part of that or be left behind.”

Bits & Bytes: Repercussions from the poor-quality 3D version of “Clash of the Titans” were felt at FMX. The conference featured numerous presentations on 2D-to-3D conversions, and some heard complaints about “Clash” during the Q&A seshes. After a week of 3D presentations, both on conversion and shooting, attendees apparently weren’t impressed. On the last day of the conference, Marvel ‘s Victoria Alonso asked the audience if they preferred seeing “The Avengers” shot in 3D or converted. The audience overwhelmingly preferred 3D capture to conversion, even when Alonso said the extra three to four weeks required for 3D shooting would compress the post sked and perhaps result in lower-quality vfx. During Q&A, one asked why Marvel couldn’t just lengthen the schedule to accommodate it. She said they’d consider that. … Filmakademie Baden-Wurttemberg , the school that hosts FMX, announced during the conference that one of its student films, “The Night Father Christmas Died,” has been named one of five finalists for the Academy’s 2010 Honorary Foreign Film award. Pic’s helmer is Martin Schreier … Oz vfx shops expect to benefit from the Australian government’s update of its Screen Production Incentive program, which offers rebates for movie and TV production. Among the changes, the Aussie government has lowered the rebate threshold for post, digital and vfx from $5 million to $500,000, and it applies to all qualifying costs, not just labor… Chase Audio by Deluxe is expanding its offerings with Cielo FTV , a product for converting stereo and matrix-encoded movie soundtracks to 5.1 or 7.1. The service uses a cloud-based digital signal processing technology provided by Akita Blue … Shotgun Software and Rising Sun Research have integrated their workflow solutions for vfx, animation and digital production. Shotgun is a Web-based project management and collaboration system; RSR’s cineSync is a remote review and approval tool. Combination should allow teams at disparate locations to work together more efficiently. … Vfx studio Origami Digital has moved to a new 8,000-square-foot building near the Hawthorne Airport. Digs include an expanded performance-capture stage.

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