Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Elemental Magic Workshop at PennDesign

A couple of weeks ago, I went to the University of Pennsylvania to conduct my 'Elemental Magic' workshop at the PennDesign department of the school. It was an absolutely wonderful experience, and I can't say enough good things about the quality of the students and faculty and the warm welcome that they gave me! This was my first time conducting my workshop in an American University. I have previously given the workshop in Canada, Europe and Asia, and this was a great opportunity for me to bring my workshop stateside.

My workshop focuses on what I call, 'an ORGANIC approach' to visual effects animation. The premise of my workshop is that, like character animation, visual effects as well should be approached from a traditional, or 'classical' point of view, when a student of animation is first starting out. It has been well accepted in the discipline of character animation, that to become a quality 3D or 'digital' character animator, one must first learn the basic fundamental principles of classical animation. But when it comes to visual effects animation, the long history of special effects animation and the hands-on study of what makes effects elements tick, is most often completely left out of the equation.

Visual effects today is treated like a fully 'digital' discipline, and students of visual effects are taught a kind of techno worshipping, 100% computer dependent approach to creating special effects of all kinds. And from my perspective, this is why the vast majority of special effects being created today look like crap!

Of course there are so called 'digital' effects artists creating utterly amazing special effects these days. But I guarantee you, they are few and far between, and the ones who do create compelling effects know exactly what I am talking about! To create truly wonderful special effects, any artist must approach his art with a great deal of feeling, and an imagination filled with a deep understanding of the elements that he or she is attempting to recreate! The way to do this, is through the imaginative study of 'ORGANIC' elements. And that is the primary focus of my workshops. To bring the participant's imagination and attention, to a universe of visual effects information that is not found somewhere inside of a computer, but exists all around us, in the infinitely creative universe of natural phenomena all around us!

The students at PennDesign were wonderful, and dug into what I was saying! Over a period of three days, as we shared ideas and observations, each student had a chance to explore visual effects from a natural viewpoint. Each student chose a specific effects element to tackle, everything from water running from a tap, to a character punching a brick wall, to an airplane crash landing on a runway. One student did a fascinating study of 'caustic' effects, the wonderful patterns of dancing light rays that we see when we look through a body of moving water....

It was a fantastic workshop for me. I hope that the students at PennDesign feel the same way I do. It was fun and exciting. And that is a big part of what I am proposing when I give this workshop. The most exciting part of being a visual effects artist is the 'organic' approach. Playing with the elements, shooting reference videos, recreating bizarre circumstances in which specific effects might occur, burning stuff, breaking stuff and seeing what happens....this is the really FUN stuff that is a much bigger part of understanding visual effects than learning software!

Kudos to the folks at PennDesign for having me, and kudos to the students there, for really hearing me out and 'seeing what I mean', and for coming up with some killer presentations when it was their turn to show me their stuff! You guys were awesome!

And remember...We are not ‘digital’ artists, any of us. We are organic beings using digital tools. I pray that the academic as well as the professional world of animation will come to understand this fully, and change the creative language that we use to describe what it is that we actually do as animation artists. Must we put the word ‘digital’ in front of everything creative that we do, just because of the tools that we use? Me thinks not.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Coming to a city near you this year!
(email joegilland@shaw.ca for more details)

I will be bringing my Elemental Magic workshop to the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia on the 14th of January, and then on the 20th it's off to Harbin, in Northern China, where I will be doing another. And February looks like it will be busy as well! I'll keep you posted. I am aiming at eventually putting together workshops in larger venues where the general public and all interested parties can attend. If you have any ideas or leads on places, institutions or festivals that might like to host my workshops, please contact me directly at joegilland@shaw.ca or (250) 650-6686