Wellington Scoop

AnimfxNZ – all about digital culture


by Adam James Ring
The AnimfxNZ conference was held in Wellington’s Embassy Theatre over the weekend, bringing together a wide variety of animation, VFX and game industry specialists.

The event, organised by Grow Wellington (with the support of the GAV Trust, Weta Digital and PikPok games), incorporated talks and panel discussions from some of the best and brightest in their respective fields, as well as providing valuable industry networking, in between the showcase presentations and behind-the-scenes reveal alls.

Among the guest speakers was futurist and science fiction writer Neal Stephenson (USA), who discussed the future of technology and its possible effects on society at large. When asked to reflect on our current relationship with technology, he predicted that our overuse of social media would be seen as ‘the signature of this decade’. He went on to suggest that in the near future, the use of virtual and artificial reality could signal a new frontier of connectedness and sense of shared community.

Asked from the floor to describe his creative process and how he decides what to write about next – and which new technologies to include in the storytelling – he played down any suggestion of gifted foresight, saying that he just ‘sits alone in a little room making stuff up’, to which the moderator added, sparking a round of laughter, ‘like everyone else in this room’.

Founder of Atomic Fiction, Kevin Baillie (USA), spoke of how his company is making use of cloud technology for video rendering, greatly reducing costs and operating at a profit – ‘a difficult task for digital effects companies these days’ he added. He showed scenes from the Robert Zemeckis film, The Walk (which depicts the true story of Philippe Petit’s high-wire walk between the tops of the two World Trade buildings in New York, as covered earlier by the documentary Man on Wire), and discussed the difficulties of computer generating the now non-existent buildings as well as the whole of downtown Manhattan on a relatively small budget.

Rob Cavaleri (USA), who has led the animation on films such as Ice Age and Horton Hears a Who, spoke in depth about the making of the new Peanuts movie, and the challenges they faced matching the animation perfectly to the original Charles M. Schulz comic strip. He discussed the use of a comprehensive training programme, developed for the almost 100 animators, to ensure uniform animation across the board.

John Sanders (USA) from Sony spoke on game development, highlighting tips for indie developers, and Rob Hoegee (USA) joined David Scott (NZ) to discuss the making of Thunderbirds Are Go, a kids’ animation show based on the 1960s British sci-fi series.

Adding some European flavour, Michel Nicolas (France) discussed the bustling animation scene in France and provided insights into the activities of his animation company Folimage. The opening night had featured a premiere of their recent feature production Phantom Boy, directed by Academy Award-nominated filmmakers Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol

The day also included animation, story and gaming panels, with a collection of guests including New Zealanders Martin Baynton (Pukeko Pictures), Andrew Lamb (Camshaft) and Brent Chambers (Flux) and Lisa Shulz (TellTale), Grant Moran and Rob Hoegee from the US.

The Minister for Economic Development, Steven Joyce, opened the event, joined by Chris Whelan (CEO of Wellington Regional Economic Development Agency) and Jos Ruffel (Co-founder of Garage Project). The day was rounded off with networking drinks, hosted by Mechanic Animation, and an afterparty at Red Square, hosted by PikPok games. Saturday’s programme was centered around Weta Digital and their recent achievements with The Hobbit trilogy and Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials, as well as some exploration of their latest developments in video FX.

For more information see the AnimfxNZ website.