Siggraph 2010 – Day 3

Day 3 started early, we arrived at the convention around 8:00 am to get in line for the exhibit hall, which opened at 9:30 am. Although we were very close to the start of the line everyone went crazy when they opened up the doors. Many attendees including myself made a mad dash to the Pixar booth, unfortunately they weren’t giving away teapots until later, but I did get a nice Toy Story 3 poster.

Going around the exhibit hall there were several booths which were demoing MOCAP equipment, there was also studio booths such as Nickelodeon, Blue Sky, and Sony ImageWorks. Naturally Autodesk, Intell, and Nvidia had the largest booths. Nvidia was also doing there drawing contest, where participants have 20 minutes to create a drawing using their logo and a specific theme. This years theme was magnetic, though I didn’t win the contest I did get a t-shirt for participating.

At 11:00 am we headed to West Hal B for the Keynote speaker. This years speaker was Jim Morris VP of Production at Pixar. His presentation provided a brief history of computer graphics and how it made an impact on his life and career.

After the Keynote we broke for lunch, made another run through of the exhibitor hall, before returning to the West Hall for a production session on “How to Train Your Dragon”. This session discussed how the producers, director, writers and designers, went through several phases of story and style before they settled on the one they chose. Although they had the rights to the book, very early on they determined that the story was too childish and not entertaining enough for a feature film. Although many characters from the book were used, the entire story ended up changing drastically from the book.

After the dragon session it was the most anticipated event of the day, “The Making of Tron Legacy”. This event was just as packed as the keynote session, and featured a panel discussion with the producer, director, and visual effects artist. Interestingly enough the director Joseph Kosinki, started graduating from architecture school with skills in CAD and 3 D rendering. After graduating he decided he wanted to do something different, but still be able to use his 3D skills, so he decided to get into the movies. Tron Legacy tries to keep the same style as the original, while maintaining a modern feel. If you’ve seen the trailer might have noticed a younger Jeff Bridges ad Clue in the movie, this character was entirely CG and the panel eluded to other CG characters in the movie. DafPunk who are huge fans of the movie provided the soundtrack, but don’t be surprised if it doesn’t sound like them. They tried a different sound for the film, that doesn’t necessarily match their usual stuff. Of course the best part was getting to see 8 minutes of the film, it was great and left you begging for more.

An interesting note is that the light suits in the film were actual light suits, they didn’t use cg for them. The reason, says Kosinki, is that they wanted to capture the light from the suits reflecting and illuminating the actors. The lights from the suits in the original film were hand animated over the film, thus producing no real light on the actors. If you also recall in the original film, the cyber world was all shot in black and white, not so for the new one. Through it makes sense computers from the 80’s only had 8 bit color today we have 32 million screen colors.

A quick round back in the exhibit hall ended the day. No Pixar teapots today, because we were in the keynote session, but there is always tomorrow.

The night ended with pizza and turning in early, still tired from the time change.

Siggraph 2010 – Day 2

Okay so day two stared with a speaking session on “Stylized Rendering in Games” this talk discussed why some game developers stray away from photo realistic style and do something out of the box. One example was the new X-box live game “Monday Night Combat”, which puts a whimsical spin on first person shooters. This game was built using the Unreal Engine and 3Ds Max. The the story takes place in the future where Monday Night Football has evolved into a full first person combat game, due to the killing aspect in the games the designers wanted to stay away from a photo realistic look because the player may not buy into the idea that people in the future play a life and death combat game for sport.

Another game that was mentioned was the “Prince of Persia” which during development looked more Miyazaki and didn’t have the unique the designers wanted, so they went through several phases before getting the look they ultimately went with.

The key to developing an effective stylized game was to stay consistent, for example if wild and wacky things happen in your game then the look of your game should be wild and wacky as well, or else the player won’t accept the game world as being real with the game.

The next event of the day was the “Photoshop Illustrations” presented by comic book artist Brain Haberlin. This talk discussed the new brush tools in Photoshop and many techniques for creating new brushes.

The “Traditional Animation in Flash” which highlighted key frame animation, was next on the agenda. It was fun to play with the Cintique monitor and animate, however I was a little let down, since I was hoping to learn something new, and yet it was all stuff I already knew and taught in my 2D animation class.

The highlight of the day was the “Lost Lectures” which was a reflection of Ed Catmull from Pixar about a course he co-taught at Berkly in 1980 and Richard Chuang from PDI who took the course through microwave feed and had the foresight of recording the lectures.

The two spoke about how many of the topics and problems discussed in the course 30 years still apply today.

I got the opportunity to speak with Mr. Catmull and asked what topics should. educators in computer animation entail. His response was that students shouldn’t be given all the answers with software. In other words, students need to learn the basics of the software, but should also be taught skills in creativity and development. They should also be given the opportunity to develop an animation from start to finish where they must workout the problems and to learn new skills on their own as needed to complete the project. He really stressed that students need to be able to problem solve and be willing to learn more on their own.

Finally the last event of the day was the animation festival. The festival featured best visual effects and animations for film and commercials, animated shorts and student animations.

Featured fx included clips from films including: “2012”, “Iron Man” and “Sherlock Holmes”.

Commercial features included a variety of themes and styles, such as “Assassin’s Creed II”, “Beetles Rock Band” and the cute “Milk Sad Princess”.

Studio and student shorts included Disney’s “Tick Tock” which is the story of a small funny looking clock in a clock shop saving other clocks, who previously taught him, from being stolen. Although the characters had a Disney style, the story seemed a little too much like Pixar’s short “Red’s Dream”.

The Jury Award went to an animation from New Zealand, entitled “Poppy”. This independent short set in WW I is the story of two soldiers who come across a baby and their joirney to take it to the nearby French mission by enemy lines. The story is somber but has some what a happy ending and was written by the great grandson of one of the soldiers.

The Best Student Project went to “The Wonder Hospital” Directed by Beomsik Shimbe Shim a student from the California Institute of the Arts. This abstract film portrays the story of a child who enters a hospital that altars the way of seeing beauty. Given the choice of before and after the child realizes that beauty is something very different from expected. This film although creative and uses different cg techniques, is rather creepy and comes off as possibly being footage from a shock rock music video. Although creepy, I find myself wanting to watch it again.

Finally the Best in Show went to “Loom” another student animation, this time from the Filmskademie Baden-Wurttemberg Institute of Animation. This film tells the story of a mouth being sucked dry from by a spider. The film at first seems like some nature documentary shot using micro photography with a few minor cg parts, however it was all cg. The story is creepy and the background music / fx as well as some of the abstract animated sequence made me almost feel like I was watching a THX commercial Still the photo realistic look and behaviors of the characters make it easy to see why it is the best in show.

It was a long day and I returned back to the hotel at 9:00 am just in time for a quick bite to eat before crashing into bed. Remember it’s a two hour time change for me so 9:00 pm is really like 12:00 am my time.

Siggraph 2010 – Day 1

Day One of Siggraph began at noon when I headed over to the Convention center to pick up my registration badge. The convention center is huge, and despite the fact that only a few exhibits opened today the place was full of people.

The main exhibit that opened today was the Studio, which was a showcase of new technology and mini workshops on certain software applications.

Although interesting many of the new technology exhibits lacked originality. However, there were a few items which provided affordable solutions to otherwise expensive equipment.

NextEngine 3D scanner, for example offers you with small, shoebox size, scanner, which scans objects and creates 3D objects with textures. The scanner itself is under three grand, while the software has several versions at different price ranges. The pro version is $995 and is ideal for producing HD quality scans for film and animation. The scanner exports objects in a variety of formats including obj, stl and vrml. []

Another affordable product was the MakerBot open source 3D printer. For $1000 you can buy this kit and put together your own table top 3D printer that prints almost anything about the size of a cupcake. The printer prints with ABS, HDPE, or PLA plastic; which can be purchased for $10 a pound. []

Photoshop CS5 Extended 3D features was the topic of the workshop I attended. This hands on workshop provided an overview of importing and editing 3D objects in Photoshop. The presenter was super fast and my teaching instincts kicked in and I was helping those around me find the features as the presenter whizzed by them. The computers provided where all random and the one I got did not have a video card capable of using the new 3D extrusion command Repousse; and ultimately crashed. Though the workshop was a bit of a bust, the presenter did mention a few interesting links such as Planet Photoshop a tutorial site and Able Pear a software site that offers Photoshop plugins.

The Space and Time student animations was the last feature of the day. This presentation featured short student animations from around the world, many came out of SCAD. Some had an abstract theme while others provided a narrative. One of the most memorable was a short entitled “CMY K”, about the colors painting the world and K (black) getting everything and body black.

That was the day in a nutshell. On a more personal note I went to Little Tokyo for dinner. We went to Oomasa and ate beef & noodles and chicken teriyaki -yum! I also tried a rice dango it was like eating paste – not good. I did go to the Anime Jungle, where I bought a Keroro Gunso (Sgt. Frog) scroll and a small stuffed Keroro and Geroro.

Now it is time for bed, more tomorrow.

AGDC Day 4

Day 4 of AGDC is career day. Today’s sessions are all sponsored by the Game Career Guide magazine and focus on getting into the industry.

The keynote speaker for the day was from Play Fish a company that makes Facebook games. They talked about how they made a free to play game in Facebook, where you create a character, and your own space and the invite your friends into the game to visit your space. They make money by selling items in the game to make your digital space more personalized. They talked about how they are selling a lip sofa in the game for $40 and are making millions. They also talked about the number of players in the game, which is close in numbers to that of mainstream games such as WOW. Personally, I don’t see why people would pay for items in a game, sounds like waste of money, but hey the game company is making money.

The next talk was on resume building. The hiring manager from Obsidian Entertainment was the presenter. He talked about the structure of resumes. For students who have little experience in games should develop a functional resume design, that includes:

  • Your letterhead, with name, address, phone number, email, and web address.
  • Objective statement (make sure it states what you do)
  • List of skills
  • Education
  • Experience

After lunch there was a HR Q&A, where three HR managers from various companies answered questions from the audience. This was probably the most beneficial talk since someone asked why you hardly ever see entry level job openings. Basically they said these openings are quickly filled by word of mouth, and really only IGDA members find out about it. Therefore one really needs to be a member to get into the industry. Another topic brought up, was if companies saw any signs of moving to the mid west. The answer, big surprise, was NO. They said most game companies want to steal the best designers and developers from each other, thus they need to be near each other, so for right now companies are going to stay on the west and east cost.

That was pretty much the end of the show, after that. All around it was a really good event and I was glad I could go!

Now, to hit the road and go home!

AGDC Day 3

Day three at AGDC started with the keynote speakers, who presented on the Blizzard work flow. The session focused on the team breakdown for the WOW franchise. They broke down how each departments are broken down into different teams. Teams have a narrow focus and typically consist of 5-8 people.

After lunch, we attended a talk presented by Autodesk. This talked covered Morion Builder, Mudbox and the new Max feature, CAT. I hadn’t heard much on CAT before this talk, so it was pretty interesting. CAT stands for Character Animation Toolset, which quickly allows for creating a rig to a character model.

The final session of the day was presented by Free Realms. They talked about branding and how to keep the overall style consistent from inside the game to marketing ads and so forth. They talked about how they had to communicate the game style to the marketing team. The marketing team then hired outside designers to create the marketing campaign. This whole talk seemed silly, why would a company outsource a graphic design team to develop a marketing materials when the original game designers are right there. Because of such an issue, the flying squirrel mascot for the game isn’t even in the game.

We’ll that’s all for now.

AGDC Day 2

Day two at AGDC started with a session on Premium Flash Games. The talked focused on developing high quality flash games for profit. They also pushed the idea of selling in game items instead of subscriptions. Good gameplay, open ended story social networking all make for good flash games.

Another talk I attended was on developing games for teens. This session described how the average teen has a little time to play games. Thus games that can be played in short intervals is key. Also teens like to socialize, so social networking in games is a must. Finally, teens don’t have money, so the games marketed to this age group should be free. However, like in the flash lecture, profit can be made with in game purchases.

Finally I spent most of the day on the exhibit floor. Several companies were hiring, such as EA sports, Bioware and Cartoon Network. I asked what they looked for in hiring game designers, especially for art, animation and modeling. All pretty much said they look for raw talent, lot of sketches and concept art, and only your best work!

That was it for today, more to come tomorrow.

AGDC Day 1

Day 1 at the Austin Game Developer Conference (AGDC).

The exhibit floor isn’t open yet, but there were some interesting lectures. Many of the talked focused on iPhone development and indie games.

Tiger style studios presented a case study on their iPhone game Spider. The developers came from AAA companies and after being laid off decided to start their own indie game. They went with the iPhone because of convenience. There game was well revived, even though they weren’t prepared to market it. They stated that possible reasons could due to players quickly posting reviews of the game.

Another talk was presented by Ninjabee studio. This indie studio had little success with iPhone and PC games. Through they have been able to make profit producing Xbox Live Arcade(XLA) games. They said they didn’t give up after several publishers turned them down. They also said asking the publishers before pitching ideas, what games they were looking to fund, helped them with their pitch. They also mentioned that publishers don’t know anything about games, that is why you have to visually show them. Producing a two to three minute trailer of the game can really help you get the deal. The trail doesn’t have to be of the gameplay, it can be of concept art, sketches and even possible interface designs. Although they’ve had little success on other platforms they are not writing them off yet. Finally on a side note, I got to speak with the speaker and asked what should students have in their portfolio, he said sketches and models of people. If they can capture people the they can capture other objects as well.

Well, those were the highlights for the day.

AGDC 2008 – Day 3

Today was the Career Guide Seminar, which is absolutely a must for a student!
If you are serious about getting into the game industry, then you need to save your pennies and attend GDC. There’s no way around it.

The Career Guide seminar, offered session on resume writing for game designers. There was a mock interview session where you’d get question by HR reps from real game companies. There was a Q&A session with HR reps from game companies. Many game designers gave lectures about the dos and don’t of getting into the industry.

There was just so much info which a lot I tell you in class… but I think it actually sinks in when a real game developer tells you.

I’ll go over more details about what I learned in class on Tuesday, but really consider asking Santa for money this year to buy your ticket to GDC it really is a foot in the door to your game design career.

AGDC 2008 – Day 2

Well day two at ACDC was another full one.

Today I was able to attend another session on storytelling. This lecture was presented by the creative art director of Tomb Raider Underworld. He discussed issues with the character Laura.
That her original storyline was designed for a single game, but there have been many games since then. To compensate the game designers decided to give Laura a back story that motivated her actions. Another issue that Tomb Raider designers face is that many players see Laura as a Hero, and just as many see her as Anti-Hero, to make both fans happy, they develop seniors where Laura acts like a hero or anti-hero given the situation. This causes some character confusion.


In the end the lecture, Tomb Raider Underworld still teases weather Laura is good or bad, because the designers can’t agree. The purpose of this lecture was really some of the pitfalls that designers make when developing characters, such as they did with Laura.
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AGDC 2008 – Day 1

Well day one at ACDC was a full one.

There are several track of lectures at AGDC one of which is writing, and since I like to write, I decided to attend a few of those.

The big talk throughout all the writing lectures was the move to interactive stories. Many lectures fantasized about the holodeck from star trek. They kept saying that the first mini version of this such technology would be out by 2010 and build into a new industry of interactive games.

Chris Crawford on of the founding members of AGDC game a lecture on “Moving Games to Interactive Stories” where he said that in most games players have a set number of phrases or behaviors that the AI characters can translate and react to. But the future of storytelling will be that any thing you are capable of doing the AI characters will understand and be able to react to, thus changing the outcome of the story.
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