ILM Booth on the Exhibition Floor

-photo by Tai-San Choo

Special Session - Creatures, Critters, and Clones: Styles and Techniques Unique to Industrial Light and Magic

by Tai-San Choo

Eager conference attendees formed a line outstretching from Ballroom 20 all the way down the hall to the Animation Theater area in anticipation for probably one of the more popular programs of the week in ILM’s special session talk. While the previous year’s ILM session was wonderfully entertaining and full of interesting behind the scenes looks at the top movie CG effects house, this year’s session was much more subdued as presenters relegated to old archived stock footage and “story-of-my-life” talks. Granted these were interesting to a degree hearing about their personal influences, the session was not especially technically engaging. Instead the focus was more on how their personal influences helped shape the personality of their animated characters.

Moderator and Special Sessions chair Jill Smolin kicked off the session with a “history of integrated animation and live-action” reel made by a colleague at DreamWorks. The reel consisted of some great old clips from some of the earliest examples of film integration such as those using matting to combine fake lightning into a scene, to King Kong, to Jason and the Argonauts breakthrough stop-animation, to Roger Rabbit’s rebirth of animation/ live action methods and Jurassic Park’s first CG dinosaurs. Together they really showed how much animation has come in the past hundred years.

The ILM representatives present were a panel of animation directors of varying experience, including Tom Bertino, Dave Andrews, Dan Taylor, and Colin Brady. Bertino began his ILM career working night crew on Howard the Duck and gradually progressed towards to his current position over the past 17 years. His several reels showed the various pieces he was a part of over the years as well as the mishmash of animations from which he drew his influence. Dave Andrews displayed the goofier non-realistic animation influences that affected his work on Mars Attacks! and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, bringing a sort of cartoonish reality to live-action films.

Dan Taylor had the most interesting reel, including footage of animation and 8mm projects he created growing up. It was interesting to see the development of his technique over time. He also spoke about the importance of being creative even on a smaller budget which helped him progress at ILM. Colin Brady’s path was similar as he started out making stop-animations with his Star Wars figures and dreamed of some day working the animatronics inside of Jabba the Hut. His emphasis on understanding the emotion of the character was quite apparent through the various clips of him acting out the scenes he created for Toy Story and how he stresses to his animators on the importance of acting out the movements of their characters. His influence on Ang Lee for the direction of The Hulk, was evident from a few behind-the-scenes clips of Lee swinging around sticks and acting out rage in his motion capture suit that transferred directly to the finished Hulk animations.

Although the session lacked in technical wonders and behind-the-scenes footage, the ILM crew show how their number one priority is to make characters that connect with the audience on a personal level by drawing from their own experience and genuine passion for being animators.




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Last updated 7/30/03.

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All photos courtesy of Cybershot digital cameras generously loaned by SONY.