Sending toons to cyberspace

The last time the Los Angeles Intl. Animation Celebration (the precursor to the current World Animation Celebration) was held, back in 1991, Windows 3.1 had not been released, the World Wide Web was not operational, barely anyone had heard of America Online and the Internet was still a well-kept secret, used primarily by universities and nerds.

But in six years, all that has changed, as the emergence of digital technology has completely transformed the animation workplace, with most artists today as likely to pick up a computer mouse as a pencil. Recognizing the need for the World Animation Celebration to address the constantly changing technical landscape, WAC founder Terry Thoren decided to approach magazine publisher and tradeshow organizer Miller Freeman — whose stable of print titles includes six magazines that focus on digital technology — to ask them to take charge of the festival’s high-tech coverage.

“It made sense to approach Miller Freeman,” Thoren says. “They publish digital technology magazines and are in the business of creating tradeshows, so it was a perfect synergy for them to run the high-tech portion of the event. We expect these events to become part of something big and be a regular part of the World Animation Celebration each year.”

The Miller Freeman people responded by organizing a series of events to run throughout WAC week. From interactive demonstrations of how to create Internet animation to the Intensive Internet Colloquium — focusing on how the Internet and cyberspace have affected the industry — to the inclusion of three new high-tech categories in the event’s centerpiece film festival, high-tech topics will abound during the event.

But the central focus of WAC’s high-tech coverage is the New Animation Technology Exposition (NATE), a combined tradeshow and seminar package spanning three days. Starting with a keynote address from ground-breaking film effects animator John Van Vliet, NATE offers showgoers dozens of training sessions, all conducted by animation industry professionals. Despite the event’s name, NATE’s course offerings are not all for computer wizards. They will cover a wide range of animation topics, both high- and low-tech, ranging from basics of character animation to highly technical instruction about how to use some of today’s powerful animation software tools. The overall point, organizers say, is to emphasize that computers, and digital technology in general, should be utilized as tools by animators, without sacrificing the crucial creative elements that make quality animation special.

This even-handedness in the NATE curriculum pleasesVan Vliet, who appreciates the strengths of the digital tools, but also emphasizes the need to retain appreciation for more traditional animation techniques.

“Artists should be using computers as tools, instead of the computers using the artists as tools,” Van Vliet says. “For character animators, wielding a pencil is still a fundamental skill.”

To computer animator Alec Lindsay, one of this year’s seminar presenters, these types of gatherings are an invaluable way to gain experience and get real-life solutions to problems both common and obscure. “I don’t have a degree at all. … Nearly all of my education is from conferences and seminars,” Lindsay says. “These seminars aren’t some professor’s idea about what he thinks will work; these are pros talking about what they do.”

(Michael Goldman contributed to this report.)

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