SUPINFOCOM Finds Super Success at SIGGRAPH

Each year, SIGGRAPH highlights some of the best animated films created with computer graphics at its annual festival, and each year, the students from one school are always among the top contenders. That school is SUPINFOCOM, a collection of three schools: the founding school in Valenciennes, France; a second in Arles, France; and a third in Pune, India.

This year, Anima, one of four films by SUPINFOCOM students to win acceptance in the Computer Animation Festival, is a nominee ‘ not for a student prize, but for the prestigious jury award, competing against Dix by The Mill, a live-action film with CG effects, and Love Child, an animation visualization from National Taiwan University of Science and Technology, Taiwan. In Anima, we see an elephant escaping from a city that seems constructed from the shapes of animals. The jury described the film as verging on the experimental, with graphics and lighting making the film particularly compelling. Yankee Gal, a second film showing at SIGGRAPH, won the E-Magiciens competition last fall. The other two SIGGRAPH selections from SUPINFOCOM students are Facteur Mineur and Ed.

Why does this one school breed so much success? The answer is two-fold, and unfolding. First, SUPINFOCOM traces its history to a decision by the Valenciennes area government to encourage digital media by establishing schools and by incubating fledgling digital media companies. SUPINFOCOM and a sister school for industrial design were early products of that decision. Their success spawned a third school in Valenciennes, SUPINFOGAME, which targets game development, and the branches in Arles and India.

Although graduates of these schools can and do find work in France, throughout Europe, and in the United States, the chamber of commerce’s incubation programs, which attract companies to northern France and nurture homegrown efforts, help ensure jobs are available near Valenciennes and nearby Lille, which has emerged as a transportation center for high speed trains to and from Brussels, Paris and London. And that, in turn, helps the school provide the students with training from instructors working in the field.

Second, SUPINFOCOM’s founder Marie-Anne Fontenier decided from the beginning to focus on 3-D computer graphics rather than broadcast television, even though 20 years ago, broadcast television might have seemed like a better choice to some. The SUPINFOCOM program evolved into a unique blend of creativity and practicality. Students must pass an entrance exam that focuses on their talent as artists to be accepted. Once accepted, they spend the first two years studying the fundamentals of art and animation. During the third year they begin working in 3-D. Then, for their final year, they work as part of a team to produce an animated film, much as they would in a studio; all the students submit ideas to the instructors who choose a small number. The films at SIGGRAPH are a product of this last, graduation year effort. SUPINFOGAME adopted a similar program.

More recently, though, and this is part of the unfolding, the school has decided to change from a four-year to a five-year program. The fourth year, rather than working as a team to create a three to five-minute (or so) film, the students now will create individual, one-minute films. Then in the fifth year, as before, they work on teams to create a longer production. Anne Brotot, deputy director, at SUPINFOCOM Valenciennes, who is replacing the retiring Fontenier, notes that the extra year gives the students a personal film to show prospective employers, and more time to work with 3-D animation.

SUPINFOGAME also changed its program. The school for prospective game developers still extends over four years, with fundamentals occupying the first two years, but students can now choose whether to concentrate on game design (and level design) during the final two years, or on visual creation.

Meanwhile, the chamber of commerce has beefed up its support and its determination to increase the number of jobs in the area. Each year, for the past 10 years, the chamber and SUPINFOCOM have held E-Magiciens, a conference and film festival. Last year, the chamber sponsored a new, separate conference called E-Creators, a combination trade show and job fair for game developers, animation studios and others focusing on digital media creation.

Through the chamber’s incubation program, fledgling studios continue to receive financial assistance, marketing support, consulting services, and low rent. But in addition, the French government designated this area of France as a ‘region of excellence.’ With the Valenciennes chamber leading the effort, serious games developers have exciting new possibilities: The designation opened the doors to large grants for game developers who want to prototype and develop applications in transportation, health, and civic law, especially.

It’s likely that one result of the serious game effort might be a third school concentrating specifically on serious games. Given SUPINFOCOM’s success, it will definitely be a school to watch.

SIGGRAPH announces the Jury Award winners Monday night, but with four films from students accepted by the jury for the festival, SUPINFOCOM is already a winner.