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SIGGRAPH 98 Online.


Bubba, Bingo and Geri Develop Cult Following at SIGGRAPH '98

by Danialle Weaver

It's a scene you won't soon forget: It's the Winter Olympics in 2098. Two 900-pound Sumo wrestlers on ice skates are hurtling toward one another at supersonic speeds. When they collide, a white dwarf is formed, followed by a black hole that swallows the entire planet.

That's the premise of "Machsumo: Flaming Fat Men On Skates," a 2.5 minute animation created by Bill Sheffler, a student at Texas A&M's visualization laboratory. It features two characters: Ryden, named after a famous Sumo wrestler in real life, and Bubba Elvis Conrad, America's hometown favorite.

"It was very late at night in the lab, and I'd had a lot of caffeine," recalls Sheffler. "Bubba is a Texas name that I thought people would have fun with, and Conrad is my mother's maiden name."

People did indeed have fun with the name. After "Machsumo's" SIGGRAPH 98 premiere, groups of attendees have been wandering the concourse, shouting, "Bubba!" in a their best Japanese accents.

"I'm very excited that people liked the piece. I was worried about it for a time," says Sheffler, who appeared genuinely surprised at the buzz his class project has created at SIGGRAPH.

Another SIGGRAPH contribution generating lots of buzz is "Bingo," a project created by Chris Landreth and dozens of other folks from Alias Wavefront in Toronto. "I'm very gratified that people are paying as much attention to it as they are," he says, sincerely.

"Bingo" features five characters that range from very "realistic looking to much more fantastic," Landreth explains. They include a realistic man that is mistaken for Bingo the Clown by a Harlequin and a monster masquerading as a little girl. They also include a character with 17 arms and cartoon gestures that swings on an invisible trapeze. Pinhead the Clown, who has a cameo role in "Bingo," also has very realistic-looking skin and grease-paint.

Landreth says he got the idea for the short animation film while watching a play, "Disregard This Play," by Chicago's Neofuturist Theater Co. "I was watching a theater performance where they do an unusual type of dramatic theater -- 30 plays in 60 minutes," he recalls. Two to four minutes, he says, is a "perfect length" for a play, not to mention the perfect length for an animation.

Bingo was actually a project designed to put Alias Wavefront's new software, Maya, through its paces. "We wanted to make Bingo as ambitious as we could," Landreth says. The end result left him exhausted.

"I couldn't begin to count the zeroes in the hours we spent on this project," echoes Dave Baas, "Bingo's lead animator, says he still can't get over the feeling that "Bingo" is still a "basement project," and says the response to the result has been "a little overwhelming."

Of the 46 animation films shown in S98's Electronic Theater, the one receiving the most applause on Tuesday evening was "Geri's Game," an Academy Award Winner in 1997 for Best Animated Short Film. "Geri's Game" is the sixth short film from Pixar Animation Studios to win an Oscar.

Written and directed by Jan Pinkava and produced by Karen Dufilho, "Geri's Game" is about an old man who plays chess in the park, mostly against himself. And he always wins, even if he has to cheat to do it.

"It was hard to make it only five minutes," says Karen Dufilho, who spoke to SIGGRAPH Online by telephone from Richmond, California. Like "Bingo," "Geri's Game" was a big research project, this one designed to show more realistic-looking clothing and skin. Pinkava and Dufilho also were ordered by studio executives to include a human being in the film, which was a first for Pixar, which has traditionally kept to animating non-human figures, such as lamps and balls, Dufilho explains.

"'Geri's Game' took the biggest brains in the studio. I've never worked with so many Ph.D.'s in my life," Dufilho says. Still, she notes, "I was the only one who could set the clock on the VCR."

When "Geri's Game" won the Oscar, Dufilho says, "It was almost as thrilling as the morning we heard we were nominated."