South Pacific Fireworks:A Report from the Inaugural AnimFXNZ 2006

New Zealand’s animation and visual effects community was abuzz with anticipation for guests arriving from around the globe for the two-day event held in the first week of November. Hosted by Positively Wellington Business in partnership with the Visual Effects Society (VES), AnimFXNZ was New Zealand’s first symposium to welcome industry leaders to Wellington. Sander Schwartz, president of Warner Bros Animation; director Tim Johnson (Antz, Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas), Shelley Page, DreamWorks SKG European representative; VES exec director Eric Roth and VES vice chair Jeff Okun joined colleagues from Weta Workshop, Weta Digital and local companies for two days of keynotes, screenings, workshops and plenary sessions, followed by studio tours and business meetings.

Day One: The Powhiri and Fireworks!

AnimFXNZ officially opened with the traditional ceremony, Powhiri. This custom from the indigenous Maori culture a performance of kapa haka (song and dance) and mihi mihi (welcoming greeting) was presented to all in attendance at Wellington’s Town Hall Ilott Theatre. Industry veteran Sander Schwartz explored The World of Animation in the Era of the Long Tail in his keynote address.

‘Animation has the opportunity to achieve longevity more so than any other medium,’ he offered. ‘In this dynamic marketplace, content needs to have a global focus rather than ‘ purely local appeal. Technological advances in the areas of distribution and viral marketing have increased accessibility for production, people [and the ability to reach worldwide] audiences’. He recommended collaboration as the key to grabbing opportunities for success in business development.

Furthermore, Schwartz emphasized the importance of developing an economic model that works for the industry. He noted that appealing to niche audiences individually may generate low revenue but collectively, may offer attractive returns. He also suggested considering new financing sources-licensed merchandise, partnering with tax credits, government resources, subsidies, incentives and co-production as well as ‘developing creative with gripping stories, stunning visuals and appealing music.’

A strength of the two-day symposium was the accessibility of speakers, participants and attendees. Delegates described the opportunity to explore and exchange key learning with industry representatives as ‘engaging, informative and inspiring.’ Jeff Okun found the experience ‘world class, an amazing talent pool’incredible networking’.as a speaker, exciting, you get so much back’.

Among the topics covered on the first day of the event were gaming and mo-cap, skills development, behind the scenes of the Weta/Nelvana show Jane and the Dragon, network connectivity and the New Zealand animation panel. That evening, Weta’s Guy Fawkes party offered attendees the chance to enjoy music and dancing while taking in the annual fireworks display on Wellington Harbor. Also attending the event was director Gabor Csupo (Rugrats, The Wild Thornberrys), who was in town completing his upcoming live-action feature, Bridge to Terabithia, at Wellington’s Park Road Post.

Day Two: From Directions in 2D/3D to More Creativity and Technology

A master of both forms, keynote speaker Tim Johnson powered into the science and artistry of animation with ‘Breaking Down The Barriers Between 2D and 3D.’ Expressing his own views, he examined the state of animation arts today, outlining the divergent artistic advantages of drawn and computer animation and the competitive strengths, weaknesses and pitfalls of the two disciplines. He offered an insightful point of view regarding art and technology convergence, ‘computer animation is here to stay and 2D has been folded into [CG].’

Highlighting the success of 3D, he pointed out that the audience has voted for computer animation at the box office. ‘Eight of the ten top grossing animated films are CG-animated,’ he added. ‘In the top 20, 15 are computer-generated.” Tim advised that while a successful merging provides a framework for animation, the fundamentals remain important ‘the key to success is to have a compelling story which is well told,’ he said.

Among the other second day events were creative and technological perspectives on animation and vfx, discussions of new media technologies, Poseidon VFX highlights, a VES Profile and tips on making visual effects work.

A traditional farewell, the Poroporoake, closed the conference for the

Delegation assembled at the Ilott Theatre. Spoken in both Maori and English, offered a ‘thank you and an invitation to all to return to Wellington and New Zealand.’

Among the many New Zealand-based speakers at the confab were Barrie Osborne (The Waterhorse, The Matrix), Martin Baynton and Trevor Brymer (Jane and the Dragon), animation studio directors, Brent Chambers (Flux Animation), Dylan Coburn (Karactaz Limited) and Cristina Casares (LaLuna), director Euan Frizzell, Weta Digital’s: Joe Letteri, Matt Aitken, Mark Sagar and Chris White, Boxrocket’s Steve Upstill and Sidhe Interactive’s Mario Wynands.

AnimFXNZ brought together nearly 200 participants, international and local speakers from New Zealand, the U.S., U.K., Argentina, Australia, Malaysia, Singapore and Turkey. Plans are in development for 2007. For more information about the symposium, visit www.animfxnz.com.

Gina E. Ross is a motion picture marketing veteran with experience working on over 250 major studio theatrical releases, including 15 animated feature properties. Based in Wellington and a member of the AnimFXNZ Steering Committee, she is producing projects with New Zealand animation and vfx companies.