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CGI gets unreal

CAF showcases diverse styles

Not many years ago, any CG-animated film would have been cutting-edge simply because it was CG. And since the resources to make such films generally lay with big companies, such industry leaders as Pixar and DreamWorks defined the style of CG animation.

Judging by the films accepted for Siggraph’s Computer Animation Festival, those days are gone.

“The trend is that there is no trend — we’re able to do any kind of style we want,” declares Alex Weil, whose film “One Rat Short” earned the Best in Show award from the Siggraph CAF jury.

This year’s CAF showcases a wide range of styles — everything from 2-D and cartoony looks to the realm of the hyper-real. In other words, the trend is away from realism and toward more stylization, but in many different directions.

“People tell me the rats and city in my film look real, which I think is funny because they are not realistic any more than ‘Sin City’ is realism,” says Weil. “What I made was a stylized piece, with a limited color palette and limited detail hidden in the blacks. Very film noir, so to speak. It sort of ‘seems’ real, but isn’t real, if that makes sense.”

A similar ambiance infuses the other award-winning film at the festival this year, “458nm (458 Nanometers),” made by students from Filmakademie Baden-Wurttemberg, which captured special jury honors.

“(‘458nm’) is nonnarrative, showing two mechanical snails mating to a soundtrack, but it absolutely blows you away,” says Terrence Masson, CAF chair at Siggraph 2006. “These are biomechanical snails, glowing blue and black, very dark and moody, which is a similarity the piece shares with ‘One Rat Short.’ It’s all unrealistic, though very much 3-D.

“Other pieces in the festival have a much different aesthetic, and some look very 2-D. We have some interstitials in the Electronic Theater that were made entirely with Flash (software primarily used for 2-D Internet animation), including ‘Insanely Twisted Shadow Puppets,’ which is a monochromatic, black-and-white, high-contrast piece with green and orange highlights.

“When I became chair, I really wanted to see new styles, and I’m pleased to say we got that. Even the stuff made with 3-D is highly stylized for the most part and departs from typical feature-film CG.”

This year, the CAF jury picked 96 works out of 726 submissions from 40 countries, Masson explains. In conducting the search for those films, he demanded what he calls “new aesthetics” in submissions. He largely avoided selecting (with a few exceptions, such as the Pixar short “One Man Band”) works from high-end visual effects studios.

Masson says Siggraph attendees should keep their eyes open for such stylized works as “Brush” and “Theros” from the U.K., “Discord: Metal and Meat” from students at Northern Michigan U., “Gnap Gnap” from France and “Fog” from Spain.

“All these pieces have some kind of wow factor in terms of something we have never seen before,” Masson says. “But, collectively, they certainly show you the diversity of styles in the world of computer animation today.”

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