First of all - for those of you coming to my site to try to remember who I am (yes, I know those parties were crazy), I'm this chick:
Hopefully that helps! Haha...
Now, about SIGGRAPH!!!
It was absolutely fantastic. Every day brought something new to learn, someone new to meet, something memorable to see. I got there later than I usually arrive (this was my 5th SIGGRAPH) - well after the conference had begun, on Sunday night, after a crazy flight hiccup that left me with a very sore pair of feet! Nevertheless, it was great coming into San Diego again after four years. I love that city. And it was extra awesome getting to share a room at the most awesome W Hotel with two phenomenally fun Animation Mentor buddies, Elaine Wu and Alexiss Memmott, as well as my best friend Dorothy Snook who made the trek from San Francisco pretty much in the last minute, which was an awesome surprise!
Sunday night was pretty much spent chilling at the hotel after making acquaintances, and after a nice bite to eat and some good conversation, I was ready for bed (coming from a place that was 3 hours ahead, I was pretty darn tired at 11:30 pst)!!!
Monday was insanely fun. I got to the conference in the morning to register and immediately spent some time in the Guerilla Studios, which was very necessary since I hadn't had time to finish my reel prior to the conference. Stuff has been going crazy at home between wedding plans, family stuff, Animation Mentor, work, and then the day before my flight (which was supposed to be my catch up day) became the day to catch up with friends instead, who just returned from an Air Force base in Japan after time in Iraq and other places. It's been a mad rush kind of month and I did a mad rush job to get some kind of playblasted reel to show people my progress. Not the most professional looking thing, of course, but in terms of animation quality, this reel definitely trumps what I brought along last year. There were a couple decent acting shots, but they both could still use some polish. I tried to be brave with this reel even though it's very clearly a work in progress, even called it a QuickReel, which got Naveen to chuckle a little.
So after struggling with the Macs which kept eating my Sony DVD-R's, I managed to burn a couple reels which hopefully didn't fail on anyone's machines. I tried testing it out on a couple players and it worked, but it would have been a lot cooler if I could have tried it on more pieces of hardware. Not the most professional means, but it got the job done. All I wanted was a reel that would clearly show improvement on my 2005 reel (which I took around last year), and this one, although playblasted, is leaps and bounds better than my earlier work, thanks once again to Animation Mentor. What a brilliant program.
Speaking of which - I ran out of Guerilla Studios to arrive at the AM Graduation for graduating classes 3 & 4. What an awesome and emotional event. It really was inspiring to see everyone in person for the first time and know what they went through to get where they are today. I have Eric Stratte to thank for getting me into the event - wish I had more time to get to know him better in person, but he was kind enough to offer me one of his graduation guest tickets when I mentioned I wished I would be able to see it.
Afterwards, I met up with Dorothy again in the Guerilla Studio to see how she was doing. She made a nice big canvas print of one of her model magazine quality wedding photos. She and hubby Jeff Hatchel took great photos together, with their lovestruck eyes and the romantic, picturesque background scenery of the Sausalito harbor, north of San Francisco bay. Just stunning - I'm so glad she got to print it.
The only unfortunate thing about SIGGRAPH being so hectic and involving is that if you have to choose between catching up with a great friend and attending a session you paid a bunch of money to see, you're going to feel bad either way for missing out on something. I actually went back to registration to see if I could "buy down" (aka be refunded to a lower ticket level) so that I wouldn't have to choose, and I could just spend some time with my good friend. It wasn't possible, which I figured would be the case, but it was worth a try. Thankfully Dorothy's awesome and knows I will be seeing her up in SF shortly (upon graduation from AM in January), and she had a bit of her own agenda as well. So when we had to spend time apart, it was sad but understandable.
We made plans to meet up later at the Autodesk user group meeting and Steel Beach after party. I planned on getting there a little late because I was headed to a special session called "Happy Feet: Thawing the CG Pipeline." It was an early-evening, 2-hour presentation by Animal Logic (Australia) which talked about the evolution of the movie and the studio's workflow. Probably the most interesting concept was their use of a methodology they called "lensing" which was a specific blending of some previz techniques that allowed more flexibility than a traditional production process (that is, it enhanced the creative result and story pacing because the ongoing multiple iterations of various shots adapted constantly closer toward the director's vision). Probably the most humorous part, for me, was hearing about "calamarized" characters, in reference to segmented characters used to speed up the processing of playblasts and such. Not a new concept, but funny terminology.
It was interesting and relevant to me to hear about how the studio handled the continuous flow of creative input throughout the pipeline. I haven't made that many group films, but during the few team projects I did at Purdue University, it was always clear by the end that several visions had come to play and several un-unified results emerged. Also we had always been encouraged to stay the course despite new information merely so we could finish the project on time, whereas this company truly embraced creative input at all levels and stages and accepted the idea that iteration is exploration toward a better end product - and what was more fascinating, they were able to somehow automate the processes which were unchanged. Also, I could relate to their choosing to capture what they called "sacraficial mocap" - that is, beautiful, meticulous keyframe data collected with the intention to redo it - again for the purpose of freedom and immediacy to visualize the end result, then review the elements of the character in isolation, and then do whatever it would take to clean it up for the refined piece. Seems like such an expensive process, and rightly, a bit easier for a beginner like me to understand.
Also humorous: Ben Gunsberger (Lighting Super) took a witty stab at Justin Marshall (Story) and Aiden Sarsfield (Char Super), whose presentations ran somewhat long, saying, "Lighters are used to being handed something late and finishing on time." He got a lot of laughter and nodding of heads for that one.
I knew I was already running a bit late for the Autodesk meeting, but I really wanted to run my enormous bag back to the hotel first and avoid looking like a complete nerd baglady at the Steel Beach event. So I made the journey (roughly 15 blocks) back to the hotel, grabbed a sweater, and was about to head out the door when Dorothy came home. I was surprised to hear that although she (like myself) had a reservation, they weren't taking any more individuals into the event because they were overbooked. It was terribly unfortunate and she decided to stay in the hotel and relax while I switched gears and went downstairs to the 2nd floor of the W, where I made my way into the Animation Mentor graduation party on the protruding roof, which was covered in sand and deemed a beach party.
It was a tremendous amount of fun kicking back with these people and getting to meet friends whom I've spoken with online through AM for the past year, but first met them in person that night. I especially enjoyed catching up with Lauren Wells and Eric Baker, now with XLT, as well as Eric's brother, and some other awesome folks in Lauren's graduating class (Freddy, Matt, Brian, Ken.. there were so many, actually). Supposedly Eric was there but I don't recall seeing him, unfortunately. Would have been another great opportunity to say thanks for offering one of his tickets. Alexiss was there, and several others from her class that I got to know (I believe Jonathan and Jeff, among others), my friend Claudia who is also taking a LOA, and then of course Elaine Wu and some of her friends, and Arne... I'm searching through my fuzzy memory which was clouded by a few of Bobby's generous drink tickets! I didn't break any drinking records, but I literally did not eat anything aside from a couple granola bars the entire day, so my system was completely buzzed. It was a fantastic time, though, and I found myself talking to some really awesome people, like a guy named Rich who I found out used to work with my fiance's brother at Oddworld, and now he's at BlueSky, and his friend John (who I enjoyed talking to, and thought was only a fun-loving, very toasty surfer buddy), who ended up being an animator for Pixar. This wasn't merely networking, this was an extremely fun time with awesome people. By the time the clock hit about midnight or slightly after, I didn't mind that I wasn't headed for the Autodesk party, or the Chapters party on Broadway (which I've never missed) - I had my fun for the night!
Aside from the obligatory headache the next morning, I was psyched to get to the exhibition and see who would be there. I unfortunately never made it to Fjorg or the Women In Animation BOF Event as anticipated - instead I waited in a long line for a Ratatouille poster (duh) and hoped to make a slot to get my reel reviewed by AM founders Bobby, Shawn, and Carlos at the Animation Mentor 'Cafe' - but they were completely swamped, for good reason. I cruised briefly around the exhibition and job fair to get a feel for who was looking at animation reels, and continued on to an AM presentation upstairs. There they were holding a career symposium called "AM Presents: Animation Scene Planning, the Key to a Strong Reel." A lot of it was information I had heard throughout my time with AM, through online lectures and notes, but it made for another good opportunity to run into friends and get a little more inspired by these guys.
Unfortunately I missed out on the AM reel reviews and coffee mug giveaway, but I did spend a little more time burning some extra reels to take around the exhibition floor and job fair. I also made my way up to a room upstairs that was like a DreamWorks recruiting headquarters, where I ran into my old friend Josh Schpok (former Purdue student, now working in fluids R&D, etc), and had a wonderful time catching up with him. Then I spoke with a guy (Michael, I think) at the front of the room who eventually invited me to the DreamWorks cocktail social that evening. That was pretty spectacular in itself - I heard rumors about something going on, but I had just witnessed some random girl who had just gotten denied after walking in and simply asking for an invitation - kind of presumptuous, really, and I can see why they denied her. But it was great to talk with them about my reel and about how awesome Animation Mentor is, and anticipating the evening at a place called Stingaree.
So after making some new and awesome connections, I scurried back to yet another Animation Mentor BOF Event, which included a short but inspiring keynote by Mike Belzer (Disney), and continued with a panel discussion about reels and the animation industry, with the helpful comments of Robin (Sony Imageworks), Kim (DreamWorks), and Lori (ILM). What a great panel. They gave a lot of insight into the interviewing process and how they judge demo reels.
Afterwards they held a giveaway, and in the spirit of fun I wrote down my raffle ticket number in case I'd win anything. Seconds later, they were announcing their first raffle prize - a Pixar t-shirt - and they called my number! I was astonished. Out of the nearly 200 people in the room, they called me up to the front for this prize. They had several others, Ratatouille stuff, Shrek stuff, all kinds of nice things - but I was just shocked and delighted to have won the Pixar shirt. Perhaps it brings me hope in the pursuit of my dream. :-) I think any aspiring animator wishes they could work at Pixar. To be honest though, I'd also really love DreamWorks, or Sony, or Reel FX, or BlueSky, or pretty much anyplace where I could make a positive difference and (as my resume states) "to express my observation of life sincerely and empathetically through character animation."
(more coming tomorrow!!!)...