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Animfx is digitally done and dusted

The 3-day Animfx symposium wrapped up in Wellington on Saturday night with Sidhe’s Big Night closing party, concluding a three-day programme that was both more varied and more directed than last year’s.

This year’s event hosted fewer international speakers, which was not surprising in the general belt-tightening atmosphere that has pervaded much of the year. Those that did make the trip were universally strong, but overall there was less debate as sessions at Friday’s conference day focused on presentations rather than panel discussions.

It was harder to determine threads running through the event, except perhaps for access and opportunity, with a day each of masterclasses and workshops sandwiching the main conference day.

However, none of this should detract from the event’s value and success.

The best-received sessions on the conference day were the presentations that focused on inspiration and personal reflection, which was not surprising, but – although reporting of the more technical-focused sessions such as Paul Debevec’s Digital Emily risks becoming a very dry exercise – there was, for some, too great an emphasis on the inspiration rather than the work.

Joseph Olin, president of Animfx sponsor the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences (AIAS), is paid to be a cheerleader for the games industry, but Weta’s Richard Taylor and Kung Fu Panda director John Stevenson are not.

Richard, the opening speaker, did a great job of setting an upbeat, warm and friendly tone for the day, which is arguably an important part of the job for the day’s first presenter. However, given his stature and experience, deeper insights into more technical matters or even the sheer scale of projects he works on might have been interesting for a New Zealand audience.

At the other end of the day, the very low-key style of John Stevenson focused on reflection on his personal philosophies and career. It felt like the ‘reward session’ for getting through a busy day that many conferences programme to finish up. Ten minutes into the session, there was some bum-shuffling going on in the auditorium but John was very good at working the audience, and there was a lot of praise for both speakers coming from delegates afterwards.

Given that the conference day was put together in part for people with peripheral relationships with the animation, games and VFX industries, such as advertising agencies and governmental agencies including NZ Trade and Enterprise, one shouldn’t complain. Serving a lot of masters is never easy, and the breadth of potential subject matter across the animation, games and VFX industries is immense.

Much of the real value of the conference was not immediately apparent to those who participated only in the conference day, so it would be unfair to judge its success on that day alone.

Three master classes ran on Thursday. Sander Schwartz (Fremantle Media) and Rita Street’s (Radar Cartoons) Animation Development; Trevor Brymer (Weta Productions) and Tim Murphy’s CG Animation Pipelines for TV; and the Games Master Class run by Joseph Olin (AIAS), Sean Kauppinen (IDEA), Jim Simmons (Sidhe) and Christian Svennson (Capcom) were all reported by participants as offering invaluable opportunities.

The level of access to international information, facts and figures, and insight not normally available to smaller scale and start-up companies, especially in New Zealand, not to mention the networking, were particularly appreciated. Sessions ran well past their intended finishing time, which is usually a sign that participants find them valuable are keen for more.

Similarly, Saturday’s sessions, a combination of hands-on and business-focused workshops, garnered a lot of plaudits from participants. At the cute end, John Stevenson ran a kids’ art workshop, inspiring future generations of animators; at the other end of the spectrum, Sander Schwartz and Rita Street took pitches and one on one business meetings.

The only complaint, which I wouldn’t mention if it hadn’t been repeated by a number of people, was the poor quality of the wireless service at the Museum Hotel, the venue for the workshop programme. It made some of the business of doing business harder and more time-onsuming than it need have been.

The NZ GAV Trust, which runs Animfx, strives to deliver an exciting conference programme each year, and experiments with the format each time. Moving the Sidhe-hosted party to the final night this year was a smart programming change. Last year, the morning following started very late, with most of the audience needing matchsticks and intravenous coffee.

The greater access to speakers, through the programme of masterclasses and workshops, was very popular for the core audience of people who work in the industries, even if its success can’t be measured for some time.

More panel sessions might have been interesting, for the variety of perspective and opinion they bring to bear on single questions, but that might just be journalistic instinct, hoping for some verbal fisticuffs to break out.

For another year, the conference is done. If you missed it, you missed three very good days. Even Wellington’s weather turned on a picture-perfect display, showing the American speakers what clean air looks like.

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