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Galloping horses, grumpy gorillas and vomiting jackasses

The thought of going to a symposium of animators giving talks on the industry had me excited and a little apprehensive. I envisaged a room full of the chicest of the geek, funky Japanese with great clothes, Americans comparing notes, the Weta peeps strolling around commiserating about Halo. In fact, it was a far more conservative crew than I’d anticipated. Neat suits, slightly edgy and expensive-looking haircuts, good shoes—that’s the wardrobe of the Animator today.

The first session was ‘The World of Animation in the Era of the Long Tail’, presented by Sander Schwartz, the president of Warner Brothers Animation (Whoa mama! Bring in the big guns!). But his presentation was delivered on PowerPoint. PowerPoint! That’s so 2003. I expected a bit more, you know, walking the walk, so to speak. Unfortunately, there was little groundbreaking info in Schwartz’s talk. His discussion of the future of animated movies in the context of the ‘long tail’ market was little more than the concept that you should customise your marketing tools to sell your product directly to its niche audiences. Well, yeah. What he did state, emphatically, was that the best animation in the world can’t really fix bad writing. His advice to those wanting to make it in animation: concentrate on your writing. He also notes that Warners is not after any more action-hero films, thankyouverymuch, but is looking for the long-lasting comedy series.

Another highlight was the talk by Mark Sagar, the whiz kid responsible for the subtle nuances in King Kong’s eyebrows. Mostly, we all marvelled at Andy Serkis’ ability to channel a gorilla.

Mario Wynands, who runs Sidhe Interactive, the largest videogame development studio in New Zealand, is one to watch. Sidhe has just picked up the commission to make the PlayStation version of Jackass—surely a boy’s dream come true. He showed us a short vomiting extract that nearly rivaled the scene from Team America: World Police. Wynards also spoke of some of the hurdles faced when making a game for the Melbourne Cup: you can’t exactly get a horse galloping in a motion capture studio. Well, actually you can—they moved the motion capture equipment to a barn in Levin, opened the doors at both ends and galloped a horse through. Choiiiice …

There was little time to network during lunch as we just grabbed our lunchboxes and went back into the hall to watch a screening of Len Lye to Gollum. But due to technical difficulties they couldn’t get through it the whole thing which was disappointing and just a little embarrassing at a New Zealand-orchestrated festival for the who’s who in technological animation. But then, if the president of Warner's does his presso on a PowerPoint …

Other good presentations came from the Jane and the Dragon team, Martin Baynton and Trevor Brymer. Also good was director of Dreamworks Animation, Tim Johnson, on breaking down the barriers between 2D and 3D animation. Runner-up blooper of the day came when LOTR executive producer Barrie Osbourne introduced Euan Frizzell as ‘Frizzle’. Oops. However, he was out-blooped by Dylan Coburn, founder of animation company Karactaz. After giving a presentation that was basically an advertisement for his company, he then answered an audience question about the need to go overseas by stating that New Zealand’s short history means we’re “void of stories”. Ummmmm … what about that fella Maui, Dylan? Seems to be a few stories there.

Overall, the resounding point that came across is that while animation is technical stuff, good writing, good acting and good drawing are essential to making it successful. It still comes back to the creativeness of humans. And that’s nice to know.