Not so long ago, in the faraway Principality of Monaco, the early pioneers of the digital age used to gather from around the world to feast their eyes on images made by ultra-powerful computers boasting an unbelievable 16 k of RAM ! And this gathering was called Imagina…
Imagina has existed for more than 20 years and was arguably the first international event of its kind. Up to year 2000, it was organized and funded by the National Audiovisual Institute (INA), a French governmental organization. It was cancelled in 2001 as INA pulled out for costs reasons, but after much outcry from the European creative community, former partner Monte Carlo Television Festival rose to the challenge. Since then, Imagina has been hard at work to regain its position as the key European event for digital image professionals.
The key event of this year’s festival was the Imagina Awards. Aron Warner (Producer — Shrek) was presiding over a jury featuring local celebrities Jean-Pierre Jeunet (director of Alien 4 and the French film hit and Academy-award nominee Amélie) and Marc Caro (his partner on films Delicatessen and City of Lost Children), along with Mike Milne (Director of Computer Animation — Framestore-CFC), Sandra Rabins (Head of Sony Animation) and Hugo Sands (Producer — Passion Pictures UK).
The jury members heaped praise on French student films. Referring to SUPINFOCOM, the leading French CGI school whose students received three well-deserved prizes out of the ten Imagina Awards, including the Grand Prix for the short Tim Tom, Mike Milne bemoaned the fact that no such school existed in England. The winning student films all displayed original visions, strong personal worlds, and a creative use of CGI where the synthetic feel disappeared to serve powerful graphic styles.
The new conference cycles (interactive television, video games, Broadband, Mobile) of Imagina brought together top professionals from Europe and the rest of the world, although there were no Asian representatives. I-Diff, the first conference exclusively devoted to digital cinema, took stock of the latest technological innovations, their applications, and the resulting economic stakes.
The video games conferences were the main focus of this year’s 1800 participants. The industry in France is less than healthy, with many firms shutting down, issues in rights management, and the search for new economic models that avoid reliance on the Big Three (Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony). French developers are feeling the pain, and so are the many computer artists looking for work in France right now. Yet everybody seemed to agree that this could be a temporary phase, with many looking at the government for CNC-like subsidies. CNC is the National Center for Cinematography, which for years has been helping the French film industry stay alive and well. CNC representatives were on hand to discuss the issue and observe the proceedings. Prime Minister Raffarin is familiar with animation and new technologies and is a strong believer in the industry’s future in France. Following his call for a boost to the French game sector, the Angoulême Pôle Image, in a special presentation, put forth a proposal to create a national high level video game school.
Of particular interest was a presentation by Jason Rubins from Naughty Dog Productions (Crash Bandicoot and others) outlining the evolution of graphics in video games. His unexpected conclusion, with graphs and figures to confirm it: better graphics no longer translate as additional sales. “The Playstation was the apex of the curve. Now, anything more is gravy.” It looks good to the player, but not necessarily enough to make him go out and buy a new version of the game… particularly when the game play doesn’t change. “We’ll have to find new ways to attract gamers to games!”
The next Imagina will be held on February 2 to 5, 2004, featuring conference cycles (3D special effects and feature films, digital cinema, video games, interactive TV, broadband Web, mobile objects), an expanded industrial exhibition, more screenings and award ceremonies. Furthermore, Imagina’s organizers intend to go all out to facilitate close contacts between creators and distributors, producers and publishers, whatever their sectors (cinema, games, interactive TV, broadband) and create a veritable marketplace for 3D programs.
If you can put up with their troublesome website, you will find excerpts of the winning films at http://www.imagina.mc/.