Saturday, November 17, 2012

Bradford Animation Festival

Last week I spent a few days at Bradford Animation Festival with the course. Last year we went to BAF Game, which focusses on video game art and design rather than animated films, so I was curious to see what the main festival was like. Most of my time there was spent watching short films, although to be perfectly honest I often struggle to become engaged by "artsy" short animated films so there were only a handful I could say I really liked.

One of these can be seen at the following link:
http://jefflebars.com/



The main thing that struck me about this was that it was one of the few that appears to use computer-generated 3D animation techniques. The scenery and surroundings are illustrative and 2D, and the textures of the characters themselves have a cel-shaded look, which overall gives the film a unique and charming appearance, although the mood and narrative is quite dark.

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There was also a panel discussing the importance of student films (as opposed to showreels) and how they can play a crucial part in defining the future of your career. The speakers included Tony Prosser, who established RealtimeUK, Caroline Parsons, a senior lecturer at Newport, Chris Williams, Dean of Computer Animation at Bournemouth University and Sophie Jenkins, Recruitment Manager at Double Negative.

A general opinion shared across the panel was that a short film should advertise the student's design ethic and attitude, and also demonstrate that the student has the drive, ambition and dedication to succeed within the industry. There were some differing views regarding creativity and imagination; Caroline Parsons, who values creativity above technical prowess, expressed how an ability to create characters and stories that have a real, emotional impact on an audience is key; how the student chooses to express that, whether in more simplistic animation methods or something more technical and involved, is irrelevant. Sophie Jenkins of Double Negative and Tony Prosser of RealtimeUK opposed this by saying a demonstration of excellent technical abilities was more important for their particular companies (which is expected of VFX companies - I suppose it is all dependant on where the student wishes to end up working). Another key asset is to have a specialist skill, but also a good range of generalist knowledge, and to have a broad scope of interests which feeds into your work.

Interestingly, members of the panel said that student film standards have been going down, and animation courses have been "losing their way", particularly in the UK where the courses are a couple of years shorter than those in other countries in Europe. Students are lacking creative awareness, and can even become delusional about their creative and technical abilities, because their scopes are often so narrow.

These industries are highly competitive and demand high levels of technical skill as well as creativity and intelligence. Thousands of people can apply for these positions but only the ones who demonstrate genuine talent will get jobs. It might have been seen as being fairly blunt and harsh for the panel to say this, but I appreciate their honesty - hearing this sort of advice is a really important part of developing and evolving as an artist.

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Unfortunately this year BAF Game had a handful of exciting guests that I missed as I couldn't afford to attend both sides of the festival. These included Tomek Zawade of CD Projekt Red, the studio behind The Witcher and The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, giving a presentation about choosing between the movie and games industries, Lucas Hardi of Bethesda talking about the history of art style within games, and Neil Thompson who is currently an art director at Bioware.

I ended up spending extra money on going to see Neil Thompson, given my recent love for Bioware's games. He gave a detailed overview of his career from creating artwork for Spectrum and Commodore 64 games, to working for Psygnosis at the dawn of 3D game software, through to working on the Wipeout franchise and Blur, and finally Dragon Age and Mass Effect 3. He repeated the advice of previous speakers at the festival: that an aspiring artist should take their influence from everywhere, and particularly become interested in art history. Being a game artist who only plays games means that everything you create has already been done in some way - but being inspired by history, architecture, nature, art, films, and the general world will produce fresher ideas and concepts.
(I was looking forward to hearing about his work at Bioware, but unfortunately he didn't really talk about that, or about his actual work as an illustrator and artist - but it was still very interesting).

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