Computer Animation and Innovation Conference in Boston, Massachusetts
Report by Mike Hogue

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the annual Siggraph conference. I was a representative of the small team on Michel Gagne’s “Insanely Twisted Shadow Puppets”. These 12 Flash Animated interstitials were accepted by the Siggraph jury, out of over 800 submissions, to be a part of the “Electronic Theater” event screening. I was the Animator on 9 of the 12 short films, which were to be the only flash animation examples in the festival.

The Siggraph Head Organizers, Terrence Masson and Dana Boadway originally contacted me at the beginning of the year. They first watched the “shadow puppets” on Michel Gagne’s website, and asked that we submit them for review by the jury. A month or so later I was contacted with the great news that all 12 original “shadow puppets” had been chosen. I was also told that the 2 hour 20 minute screening would start with our “Call of the Wild” short, and the rest would be added throughout the screening as intermissions between the longer studio clips.

The jury had also accepted the exceptional footage from “Pirates of the Caribbean 2” by ILM, “The Chronicles of Narnia” by Rhythm and Hues, “Open Season” by Sony Imageworks, Footage from Peter Jackson’s “King Kong”, as well as the latest animated short “One Man Band” by Pixar. They also chose some fantastic TV commercials, video game cinematics, and computer animated shorts by professional studios, and talented film students. A fantastic short film called “One Rat Short” was chosen as the “Best of Show” piece by the jury. It was very flattering to have our “shadow puppet” clips in such good company.

The Siggraph event took place from July 29th to August 3rd, 2006. Boston was a lively town to have the conference. Unfortunately there was a lot of traffic due to construction on the main tunnel. It made it tricky to get around on the shuttle busses, but the cabs were more than happy to take the business. Often taking the “scenic route” for short distances. I really liked the architecture of Boston and the ‘olde town’ feel to this busy city. I had a busy schedule, but I made sure to stop by the “Cheers” bar for a pint, walk through the Boston Commons Park, and I really enjoyed the Boston Museum of Fine Art.

The convention centre was a huge building. It was the size of a city block and four levels high. There were large presentations in rooms that felt like airplane hangars with ceilings hundreds of feet high, and making use of giant movie screens. There were also many classes throughout the conference in smaller rooms. Each day they had many different seminars presented by studio professionals. You could choose what appealed to your area of expertise.

Siggraph is a way for the top minds and creators in the Computer Graphics, Animation and Effects industry getting together to share ideas and learn from one another. The result is better visual content in the years that follow. It is a big chance for students to learn from the people who drive the business forward, and submit their resumes and demo reels. For many, it is also a way to make new contacts and brainstorm new ideas.

Siggraph also has other attractions like the “Teapot Gallery” and Interactive Electronic Art Gallery. The “teapot” was the first complicated computer generated model. Decades later it is still recognized by Siggraph and has become an icon for the event. The teapot gallery showcased many computer-generated images incorporating teapots into the design, and even a large origami teapot. The electronic Art Gallery showcased many interactive exhibits. Everything from very real looking holograms, to artificial intelligence, to liquid metal (Magnetic Feral Liquid) that could create a solid shape, and instantly liquefy over and over again. There were so many exhibits to mention, but each used technology in a unique way.

Many people come to siggraph for the “Expo” Exhibition room. Like many conventions, it is full of booths and demonstrations. Every main Animation and Effects Studio had a large booth showing off their best-known films and current promotions. Some of the nicer booths were by Pixar, Disney, Lucasfilm, Blue Sky, Sony Imageworks, and Adobe. There were also many Computer Animation and Design Colleges to interest the younger students at the event. As you might imagine, you come out of the Exhibition room with a lot of free stuff. I had sore shoulders from carrying all the free magazines, software and other free “Swag” around the event.

On the Monday night of the event was the first screening of the “Electronic Theater”. Right outside the event was a professional looking movie poster displaying many scenes from the screening. Our “Mad Gremlin” character was a part of the poster, shown about 6 inches tall. As a contributor to the screening, I was given advance entrance to get a seat. It was a good thing too, as half an hour later, 2500 people flooded in when they opened the doors. All the seats were filled in a couple minutes.

Before the screening, they had interactive games for the audience to play. Everyone who attended was given a foam-core wand that had a red reflector on one side, and green on the other side. This wand reflected the colour into an invisible laser scanner that was over the heads of the audience. It sent a signal to a computer of what colour was facing forward, in each seat of the audience.

The operators projected every seat on the large theatre screen. Then, they super-imposed animated beach balls bouncing around the audience. If the ball landed near your area, you had to flip your wand to the opposing colour that it was before. If enough people did it at the same time, the ball bounced to the other side of the room. Something so simple really had the audience cheering.

Terrence and Dana stood at the front of the audience, and split the sides down the middle to make two teams. Using the same wands, one half would control the left / right, and the other the up / down controls to move a character through a maze.

Then, we were challenged against the world’s largest Etch-A-Sketch, which was actually licensed by the Ohio Art Company. It was projected on the screen, and this time, our wands controlled the left and right knobs. The challenge was to trace around simple shapes as a team. First was a square, a circle and then, of course, a teapot. We pretty much failed at every shape, but it was a lot of fun. After each drawing, we all shook our wands to erase the giant Etch-A-Sketch.

The last game was my favourite. The two sides of the audience competed in a game of “Doggie Pong”. Our wands controlled the up and down movement of our Pong paddles while an animated dog ran back and forth between them. If the dog made it past your paddle, he attacked one of your four cats. It was hilarious to watch, and the audience kept franticly shouting: “Green… Red…. RED!!!”… and so on… as the dog ran faster and faster between.

After Terrence had the audience count down, 3, 2, 1… the screening began. Dana Boadway animated the opening credits in Flash, in a nice retro 60’s film intro style to lively jazz music. As soon as the credits ended, the first “Insanely Twisted Shadow Puppet” clip began. “Call of the Wild” looked incredible. I couldn’t get over the sound and image quality. These were originally designed for small televisions and computer screens, and here they were now over 20 feet high and very, very loud. Dana had told me in advance that the sound was unbelievable, but it still didn’t prepare me. When the 2nd dinosaur character leaps into the scene and growls, I could feel the sound shaking my ribs. The audience laughed and cheered.

Throughout this incredible showcase of inspiring imagery, the 12 “shadow puppet“ clips would appear as nice transitions. Terrence had planned the order of the screening so each of the clips would work with the footage before and after. After a comedy segment, he put our “Strange Couple” and “Juggler” laughing. He placed “The Other Kind” clip before another short film about the Devil trying to find the perfect woman. After the footage of Davy Jones from Pirates of the Caribbean with his many tentacles, Terrance put our “Poor Dog” clip where the dog is picked up by Alien tentacles. It worked nicely, and the “Shadow Puppets” were very well received by the audience.

During the daily events and parties of Siggraph, I had many people come up to me to say how much they loved the Shadow Puppets. Some said that they were looking forward to each one at the screening, as they were the only Two-Dimensional animation in the whole festival.

As a contributor to the event, I was invited to several VIP parties, where I was quickly introduced to everyone. It was a lot of fun to hang out with everyone else who contributed to this screening. I met people who had been a part of computer animation since it’s earliest beginnings, top animators, effects artists and directors, and even an Academy Award Winner.

On the last night of the event, I had the pleasure of sitting in on a seminar about voice acting in the animation business. I had been looking forward to this ever since I heard that it would be moderated by one of the original Jim Henson Muppeteers, David Goelz. David is best known as the puppeteer of Gonzo, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, Boober Fraggle, Uncle Travelling Matt, as well as many movie characters. I have long been a fan of his work. I made sure to introduce myself after the seminar and get a picture taken with him.

Right after this seminar, I was invited to a catered party at the trade center on the Boston waterfront. They had everything from Chinese food, to Italian dishes, Popcorn Machines, Chowder, Pretzels and Hamburgers. It was a great way to meet up with people one last time, share some laughs over a drink, and look at the city of Boston lit up at night.

On the last day, I went back to the conference before it was time to fly back. I made sure to say goodbye to each of the people who had made this all possible. I owe a big thanks to Terrence Masson, Dana Boadway, Ryan Kuba and Laurie Schall for all of their help preparing the Shadow Puppets footage and printed material over the months leading up to Siggraph. I want to attend Siggraph 2007 in San Diego next year. I’m sure I’ll have as much fun as I did this time.

Mike Hogue
August 11th, 2006


The complete list of footage in the Siggraph 2006 “Electronic Theater” Screening: