By Peter Plantec
One of Europe’s most important digital animation and vfx conferences, FMX is held each year in Stuttgart in early May and attracts visitors from every part of the globe. It’s organized in association with the Filmakademie Baden-W’rttemberg, headed by Professor Thomas Haegele.
FMX presentations are virtually all presented in English, but it’s the intimate feeling of the event that brings me back. Everybody seems so accessible and willing to chat, even if you have yet to make a name for yourself. It’s the best networking environment I’ve experienced. I spoke with a few of this year’s presenters to get their take on the event.
Debbie holds the remarkable title of executive VP of production infrastructure and exec producer for Sony Pictures Imageworks. I just had to ask what her responsibilities are. ‘Sure! My job at Imageworks is two-fold,’ she says. ‘The first, as exec producer, I work with the studio, the production and our team to make sure that all ends are being met: creative, scheduling and budgetary. My colleague, Jenny Fulle, and I each oversee roughly half the on-going projects. As exec VP of Pproduction Infrastructure, my goal is to make sure the facility works well as a whole. Someone has to make sure we’re all going in the same direction!’
I asked, ‘Why FMX?,’ to which she replied, ‘I heard great things from the Imageworks people who went to FMX last year, so I was happy to be invited. We live in a global village, where people telecommute, interact and work with others across the globe. I always look forward to being able to discuss new technology with people in Europe and/or wherever the artists are!’
Her talk: ‘I’ll be approaching Performance Capture with the director in mind; discussing the challenges the technology creates for creative implementation.’
I’ll be hosting the Virtual Humans Forum on Thrusday, which Debbie will be presenting at.
Kevin Geiger and Moon Hwa Seun
Geiger will deliver the opening keynote address: “Your Grassroots Are Showing: Current Trends in Independent Content Generation”. Later, with his wife Moon Hwa Seun, he’ll introduce the independent filmmaker’s Animation Co-Op that they co-founded.
Again, I asked Why FMX? ‘What motivates us to travel to FMX is the opportunity to meet with fellow artists from around the world, and to share our love of filmmaking in this medium,’ they replied. ‘FMX is a great conference, and on a scale that you can immerse yourself without drowning.
Volker Helzle has an exceptional grasp of animation technology. His specialty is face animation. Directing research projects at the Institute of Animation, Visual Effects and Digital Postproduction, Filmakademie Baden-Wuerttemberg, Volker and his team have developed an outstanding face animation system. In his talk he’ll be showing a clip of a long dead actor brought to life with such realism it’s difficult to believe it’s not live action. I’ve seen a preview of it. You won’t want to miss it.
The face animation system Volker and his team developed is available free of charge. He explained, ‘Research and Development at the Filmakademie is funded by the state of Baden-W’rttemberg. This requires us to work non-profit, thus we do not charge. Since the release of our Facial Toolset at the FMX Virtual Humans Forum, there have been more than 3300 registered downloads from all over the world. If your readers are interested, they can request a copy of the toolset at: http://research.animationsinstitut.de/.’
Chris Watts, vfx supervisor on 300, will be co-presenting with Stephan Trojansky, developer of Flowline which was used to create the stand-out water battle sequences in the film.
I asked Chris about working with Scanline, based in Munich. ‘Scanline was amazing,’ he remarks. ‘The film absolutely had to have that ocean battle, but there was no budget for it and there were no massive tanks or ancient ship builders in Canada that could have handled the job even if we did have the budget. The studio wanted to cut the scene, but I heard about Scanline and Stephan through friends and the great fluids work they did on Poseidon with MPC, so I contacted Stephan. Stephan said they could do it within our budget, and the result was stunning. If you look closely you can see amazing detail in the ships with people falling from the rigging. Stephan really got it he knew exactly what I was looking for and delivered it.’
The Aardman Gang
Aardman has a signature animation style, wonderful characters, clever humor and outrageous detail, sometimes of scatological proportions. They’ll have a solid presence at FMX. David Sproxton, Seamus Malone, Alan Short and Andrew Proctor will all be presenting, while Imke Fehrmann and Helen Brunsdon will be there as talent scouts. Aardman will be inviting the most promising talent they’ve scouted at FMX to a private, invitation only get-together in Annecy, France on Friday. Good luck.
Aardman founding director Sproxton runs the house with style, efficiency and a sense of humor. He says of his presentation, ‘I’ll be looking at how you plan, capture, hold and exploit the assets you need for secondary/ancillary rights. If my material gets sorted out in time I’ll be looking at a stop-frame project and a CG project as examples.’
Sproxton went on to discuss the new activity at Aardman. ‘Very broadly, we’re looking towards building a CG feature capability here in Bristol, so we’re starting to recruit for that team. Of course, we’re always on the look-out for exceptional talent in general, as we have plenty of opportunity to keep them exercised on our TV and commercials work. They’ve just got to be world class, of course.’
Seamus Malone wears so many hats. Let’s just think of him as an important animation guy at Aardman. He says, ‘I’ll be talking about what it’s like to go from being a stop-motion animator to a CG animator and still retain the Aardman style of animation performance. I’ll probably talk a little about Aardman’s existing style’ Wallace and Gromit, etc., and then go into how Flushed Away was conceived as a stop-motion film first. I’ll talk about the early designs and then the decision to make it in CG instead to cover the larger scope of the rat world and all the water involved. I’ll also talk about going over to DreamWorks in Glendale Calif., to work on the film and I’ll show some examples of how it turned out.’
FMX is a haven for animation recruiters. If you’re ready to put yourself out there, you’ll find studio representatives from Europe, Asia and the U.S. ready to check you out. As in the U.S., you need world-class ability to be hired by the top studios, so come with a great demo, a well-worded CV and the motivation. The doors are here, you just have to knock and present your talent.
FMX has some of the best parties I’ve been to. They’re sponsored and FMX ticket holders get invited. The three big ones this year start with the the Opening Reception sponsored by Nvidia. Next is the Echtzeit Party on Thursday, May 3. Expect gem’tlichkeit flowing freely. The closing party, sponsored by Electronic Arts, is Friday evening and you can expect lounge music and a Swabian buffet with great German beer. I’ll see you there.
I’ve only looked at the very tip of the iceberg here. Only you can answer the opening question. But with more than 300 workshops, panels, screenings and presentations of all sorts, you’re bound to find much of interest. I advise you log on to www.FMX.de and plan before you get there. Good luck and I hope to meet you there.
Peter Plantec is a writer, artist and digital designer. He is co-founder of Virtual Personalities, Inc. with Dr. Michael Mauldin (Lycos) and co-author of Virtual Humans: A Build-It-Yourself Kit, Complete With Software and Step-By-Step Instructions.