SPARK FX '08
Celebrating Innovation & Inspiration
January 30 – February 4, 2008
Featuring a selection of 9 of the most influential visual effects (VFX) films in the history of cinema, and a series of speaker events given by film industry veterans, SPARK celebrates the history of innovation in VFX, and the films which have inspired the work of the next generation of effects artists. The films have been chosen from the "VES 50", a list of the 50 most influential and inspiring VFX films as selected by the members of the Visual Effects Society.
OPENING NIGHT: PANEL
Larry Bafia hosts a panel of visual effects veterans as they talk about the films they've made, and the films that have inspired them. Ed Jones spent years at ILM - the undisputed champion of visual effects throughout the 80's and 90's - where he led the VFX teams on titles such as The Witches of Eastwick and Terminator 2: Judgement Day. He also won an Academy award for leading the Visual Effects team on Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Frank Vitz was one of the first people to ever create digital effects for film when he worked as a programmer and animator on TRON. Later he went on to develop software for Judge Dredd and to work as an visual effects supervisor on the X-Men series. George Borshukov turned the spawned dozens of imitators when we worked on The Matrix series where he developed the bullet time techniques that would become the trilogy's signature, and for which he won an Academy Technical Achievement Award. He also worked on the painterly effects seen in What Dreams May Come. Join us for an evening of discussion as these four film makers look back on the history of visual effects cinema.
Moderator: Larry Bafia (Mars Attacks, MI2, Antz...)
Saturday - February 2, 9:00 AM
Alastair will take you on the journey of how he went from working on never-to-be-seen tv pilots to working on some of the largest Visual Effects Films of our time. He will give inside knowledge of how the visual effects industry works and will be available to answer questions.
Join animators Ken Priebe and Brett Purmal for a discussion on the legacy of King Kong. This presentation will cover the history of the original 1933 film which started an entire genre of film making spectacles, and provided the inspiration for most people still working in the industry today. Come and see a limited edition replica of an actual King Kong armature re-created by the WETA Workshop, and hear about the presenters' experiences meeting Ray Harryhausen, who worked with Kong's original creator Willis O'Brien.
Saturday - February 2, 1:00 PM
It's been fifteen years since the release of Jurassic Park and in that time many of the approaches pioneered on the film have become common practice... but in 1993 they were all new. The average person was more likely to see techniques such as inverse kinematics, enveloping and 3D texture painting in a Siggraph presentation, not a feature film. Building Digital Dinosaurs the First Time will attempt to shed some light on the foils and fears faced by the effects crew as they attempted to create terrifyingly believable, digital monsters for the first time.
Saturday - February 2, 2:45 PM
Brian will be sharing some complex shot breakdowns from his recent work on Pirates of the Carribean and Transformers, two blockbuster effects films from ILM. He will also share some insights into learning to see as a compositor, and into the history of the art.
Saturday - February 2, 4:30 PM
The presentation will focus on covering the background, techniques, and challenges that brought together one of the most famous and imitated visual effects of the last decade. The talk will feature rare behind of scene imagery and videos from the presenter's personal archives.
The original and classic film from RKO studios, King Kong is the story of a film crew's journey to the south pacific where they discover, or perhaps are discovered by, a giant gorilla who takes a shine to their leading lady (Fay Wray). This film is fueled by the ground breaking stop-motion animation work by Willis O'Brien, who was a teacher and mentor of Ray Harryhausen's. We can still see his influence today in the age of computer animation, where Aardman entertainment has continued the stop-motion tradition with Wallace and Gromit, Chicken Run and their countless other short films and commercials. Come see one of the originals where it all started. Ken Priebe, author of The Art of Stop-Motion Animation, will be on hand to introduce the film.
Thursday - January 31, 9:30 PM
Ray Harryhausen's masterpiece, directed by Don Chaffey and starring Todd Armstrong as the legendary Greek hero Jason as he leads his men on a quest for the golden fleece. The stop-motion technique dubbed "Dynamation" by Harryhausen was created to allow stop-motion and live action characters to be combined in a single shot. The technique used frame by frame creation of custom mattes to block out portions of the animated character that would then appear to be behind an object from the live action shot. This technique was a precursor of what is commonly done by computer today using compositing software, but in 1963 it was being done entirely manually using film projection and printing techniques mixed with painstaking labour. The film will be introduced by Ken Priebe, author of The Art of Stop-Motion Animation.
Friday - February 1, 7:00 PM
Initially a disappointment at the box office in North America, Ridley Scott's Sci-Fi film noir set in a future Los Angeles has gone on to be an enormous cult hit. Apparently the Europeans got it the first time around, as the film did well there. Harrison Ford stars as Decker, a Blade Runner who's job it is to track down and destroy androids who have somehow escaped their own programming in an attempt to live a more human life. Blade Runner has been ranked as the second most influential effects film of all time by the members of the Visual Effects Society, beaten only by Star Wars. Syd Mead's designs were brought to life by a fabulous team of effects artists, and the resulting vision created a legacy of influence in cinema and video games alike. This film is sponsored by Radical Entertainment
Friday - February 1, 9:15 PM
Steven Spielberg's first big-budget sci-fi film - a genre he would transform later in his career. The legendary Doug Trumbull (Blade Runner, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, The Andromeda Strain) provided effects. Richard Dreyfuss, who had previously appeared in Spielberg's Jaws, plays Roy Neary, an electric company line man who becomes obsessed with images of a mysterious mountain after he has a close encounter with an unidentified flying object. His obsession is shared by dozens of other UFO spotters and, on an even larger scale by the US government which works to keep them away from the mountain they've all been searching for. We have a new print which was made to celebrate the film's 30th anniversary.
Saturday - February 2, 7:00 PM
Steven Lisberger's video game inspired sci-fi adventure was one of the first films to use computer generated effects, and certainly used them more extensively than any previous film had. The story follows Kevin Flynn, a computer hacker who gets digitized and sucked into an enormous mainframe computer, where he meets other digital beings and they band together to overthrow the evil "Master Control Program", allowing Kevin to escape back into the real world. Over 20% of the shots included at least some computer animation, and it was one of the first feature films to use 3D animation to render a completely virtual world. The technology to integrate live action with these worlds was not available at the time however, so you may notice a lot of cutting between CG and live action scenes. Frank Vitz was credited as an animator and programmer using the Abel animation system to produce some of the animation for Tron, and he will be with us to introduce the screening of the film, which is sponsored by Black Box Studios, a division of Electronic Arts.
Saturday - February 2, 9:15 PM
The first and best of Andy and Larry Wachowski's effects fuelled dystopian epic trio. The Matrix is the story of Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves), known in the hacker underworld as Neo, as he learns of the un-reality of the world around him from Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) and the legendary Morpheus (Lawrence Fishburne). All the while Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving in a scene stealing role) attempts to track them down and stop them from spreading their message. This film introduced the concept of bullet time, and pioneered some amazing environmental modelling and rendering techniques. As visually rich as any graphic novel, it's the winner of 4 Academy Awards including best visual and audio effects. George Burshukov, the technical supervisor who researched and developed the bullet time system, will be on hand to introduce the screening of the film, which is sponsored by Black Box Studios, a division of Electronic Arts.
Sunday - February 3, 7:00 PM
This film was the first collaboration between George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, and a sign of things to come. ILM provided the effects work - almost all practical and optical, Raiders was one of the last effects laden blockbuster films to be produced with little digital input. Melting heads and flying spirits were all produced using practical effects - the head was wax and melted with a heat gun, the spirits were mannequins filmed underwater as they were dragged around a swimming pool. Today's digital effects artists sometimes forget how inventive and imaginative yesteryear's magicians had to be. Reacquaint yourself with Indie (Harrison Ford) and Marion (Karen Allen) as they try to beat the Nazi's to the Ark of the Covenant and save the world. Academy Award winner Ed Jones, who worked as a lab technician on this film early in his career will be introducing the film.
Sunday - February 3, 9:30 PM
In many ways, Jurassic Park is the child prodigy of King Kong. Stop-motion animation techniques, which used metal skeletons inside plasticine models, were the direct inspiration for the computer based inverse kinematics skeletal animation system developed by Softimage and used to great effect by Steve Spielberg, Phil Tippett and ILM to bring the dinosaurs to life. Early in the film's development, the film makers had thought that they would use go-motion (Tippett's own stop-motion variation) to animate the dinosaurs, but their test shots fell short of their expectations. A couple of computer animators had gone ahead and done some run cycle tests on a computer generated dinosaur, and the success was plain for everyone to see. Tippett's team went on to build a mechanical puppet armature called the "Dinosaur Input Device". It was hooked up to a computer so that moving the puppet drove the computer model. This allowed the very talented stop-motion animators to animate the computer generated dinosaurs, and a blockbuster was born! Eric Armstrong, who animated many of the dinosaurs you'll be hiding from, will be on hand to introduce the film. This film is sponsored by Propaganda Games.
Monday - February 4, 7:00 PM
Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke's poetic masterwork, 2001: A Space Odyssey came out in the middle of the cold war space race, just one year before Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. Kubrick hired former NASA designers and futurists to help art direct the film, giving the design a realism and attention to function as well as form that stood the test of time. Many ground breaking techniques were used to produce the effects, including front projection techniques that were the precursor to modern green screening, and an invention of Douglas Trumbull's called a "Slit Scan" that was used to create the "Star Gate" at the end of the film. This powerfully visual film is well deserving of its #3 spot on the VES 50.
Eric's animation career has been split between film and video games. As well as having animated dinosaurs for Jurassic Park, Eric has worked on numerous films such as Casper, Anaconda, Stuart Little 1 & 2, Hollow Man and Harry Potter. Amongst animators, Eric is best known for his Oscar winning short, "The ChubbChubbs!" an offbeat alien invasion story. He is currently a Senior Animation Director working for Electronic Arts in Los Angeles, California.
An animator who works with numerous media, Larry started his career in stop-motion and claymation. At Will Vinton Studios, Larry was involved with commercial productions as well as television, museum projects and music videos. During his seven year tenure as Commercial Animation Director at PDI/Dreamworks, Larry directed commercials for many top clients including Coca-Cola, Sega, Intel, Kraft, Circle K, and Saturn. Also at PDI/Dreamworks, Larry was also Sequence Lead Animator on several hit films including Antz, Batman & Robin, and A Simple Wish. In addition, Larry served as Lead Animator for the Stop Motion Division on Tim Burton's feature Mars Attacks. Currently he is the Head of Animation for the Vancouver Film School.
George Borshukov holds a MS degree from UC Berkeley and was one of the creators of The Campanile movie which featured image-based modeling and rendering. He worked on various aspects the bullet time sequences in The Matrix, and received an Academy Scientific and Technical Achievement Award for the image-based environment rendering technology used in the film and other projects. George led the development of photo-real digital actors for The Matrix sequels, and received a Visual Effect Society (VES) Award for the design and application of the Universal Capture system in these films. George also contributed to What Dreams May Come, for which he helped develop optical flow tools that created the striking painterly effects. More recently at Electronic Arts he has been working on real time photo-realistic rendering and animation of human faces and their interactive applications.
Brian Connor joined Industrial Light & Magic in 2000 as a digital compositor. He has freelanced in Los Angeles and worked at various visual effects facilities including DreamQuest Images, Discreet, Disney's The Secret Lab, and Paramount's Digital Design. Connor has received many awards for his work including the prestigious Telly Award, Broadcast Design Award and was recently nominated for a VES Award for Best Compositing in a Motion Picture. Originally from Chicago, Illinois, Connor earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Broadcasting from Illinois State University, where he was awarded Mass Communication Graduate of the Year 2003. He currently resides in San Francisco where he also teaches his chosen field of endeavor at the Academy of Art University. Brian recently co-authored a book called The Encyclopedia of Visual Effects.
Paul Debevec is a research associate professor at the University of Southern California and the associate director of graphics research at USC's Institute for Creative Technologies. Debevec's Ph.D. thesis (UC Berkeley, 1996) presented Façade, an image-based modeling and rendering system for creating photoreal architectural models from photographs. Using Facade he led the creation of virtual cinematography of the Berkeley campus for his 1997 film The Campanile Movie whose techniques were used to create virtual backgrounds in the 1999 film The Matrix. Subsequently, Debevec developed techniques for illuminating computer-generated scenes with real-world lighting captured through high dynamic range photography, demonstrating new image-based lighting techniques in his films Rendering with Natural Light (1998), Fiat Lux (1999), and The Parthenon (2004); he also led the design of HDR Shop, the first widely-used high dynamic range image editing program. At USC ICT, Debevec has led the development of a series of Light Stage devices for capturing and simulating how objects and people reflect light, recently used to create realistic digital actors in films such as Spider-Man 2 and Superman Returns. He is the recipient of ACM SIGGRAPH's first Significant New Researcher Award and a co-author of the 2005 book High Dynamic Range Imaging from Morgan Kaufmann.
Ed Jones has contributed to many of the films on the VES 50, including having won an Oscar for his work on Who Framed Roger Rabbit. He also worked on Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Empire Strikes Back, Terminator 2 and Return of the Jedi, all films in the top 50, and dozens of other AAA titles with some fabulous effects work such as The Witches of Eastwick, Hunt for Red October, Cocoon and Star Trek: Wrath of Khan. He currently works at Rainmaker in Vancouver.
Alastair has combined his theatre and technology background to become an accomplished motion capture expert. His work has ranged from television titles such as Actionman and Heavy Gear, to video games such as The Hulk and Dark Angel, through to motion picture work on films such as The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions. After spending a year as the Visual Effects Mentor at Vancouver Film School, he now works independently developing his own motion capture tools for Autodesk Maya.
Ken earned a BFA from the University of Michigan School of Art & Design, where he majored in film & animation and directed several student animation shorts. He has worked as a 2D animator for several children's games and freelance projects for Hasbro Interactive and other companies. While continuing his animation studies at Vancouver Institute of Media Arts (VanArts), he developed a successful part-time course in stop-motion animation, and currently works at VanArts as a manager and instructor. He is also an independent filmmaker, writer and puppeteer, and writes movie reviews for the website HollywoodJesus.com. Ken lives near Vancouver, BC with his graphic artist wife Janet
Brett graduated from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY with a BFA in Character Animation where his professional career stared as an Animator on a stop motion short called A Buck's Worth, directed by Tatia Rosenthal that made its first debut at the Sundance Film Festival. He continued animating in NYC's commercial industry working for such company's as PSYOP, The Mill NYC and Betelgeuse Productions when he applied for an animation position at Weta Digital during the 2004 SIGGRAPH conference. Two weeks later he was in New Zealand working on Peter Jackson's 2005 Academy Award winning remake of King Kong. Brett currently works as an Animator with Electronic Arts' Worldwide Central Technology Group. He and his team are developing the future of character animation technology for EA's global next gen games. He can also be found on AnimationMentor.com; an amazing online animation school.
Frank has been involved with the creation of computer generated characters for most of his career in graphics; including the Sexy Robot created at Robert Abel and Associates, "Dozo" the first synthespian to be driven by motion capture, the Glass Dancers in the Luxor Trilogy ride film, Digital Stunt Doubles in "Judge Dredd," Mystique in the X-Men movies, and now the real time characters he helps to develop for computer games at Electronic Arts. While at Abel and Associates, Frank worked as an animator and programmer on Tron, one of the very first commercial films to incorporate computer animation.