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Animex Festival 2018 Review

// Reviews (Festival)

Seething at animation festival prices is a hobby of mine, particularly when platforms like Creative Mornings exist, but as fun as it it to shake my fist at clouds and DM my friends if I can please sleep in the bath of their Annecy hotel room, I managed to get myself along to the Thursday and Friday animation talks of the very reasonably priced Animex 2018 festival.

This year the festival was divided into Games (Monday, Tuesday) and Animation (Thursday, Friday) with a Wednesday full of workshops priced at £15 each. If you go to all game talks, a full day of workshops and go to all the animation talks, the cost will be £190.

Anyway, I forked out £80 for the Animation section alone, as I don’t live in Middlesborough and getting there and back relies on a rickety old Transpennine express.

Now, i’ve only been to Teesside University once, about nine years ago, and the place has changed a lot since then, and coming from someone who didn’t go to university, I fell in love with the place.  The sound quality of the speakers was fantastic too (No ‘Can you hear me at the back’?? here)

Teesside University Campus Animex Festival

Teesside seems to focus on VFX for their animation course, and the speakers reflected this quite a bit. As a story artist I didn’t mind at all learning about VFX as it’s something I know nothing about, so found myself really intrigued.

Apart from learning what ‘Houdini’ is (Sorry VFX enthusiasts!) and making lots of notes to pass onto my Effects Animator friend, I found the sheer amount of research that goes into VFX fascinating, particularly during the opening Thursday talk from Sam Dawes and Dan Snape from ILM, who came to discuss their work on Star Wars The Last Jedi.

There’s this sequence where the main character is riding an alien creature that looks a little horse-like, but they found adding an actual horse run-cycle was a little too ‘dainty’ and what they wanted was to bring across was how massive this giant creature was, and to add a real sense of heavy weight and danger to the run-cycle. The sort of thing that if you saw it galloping towards you you’d soil your knickers. So they found adding in a bit of moose, resulted in the animal having a much heavier, clumsier, weightier feel that added to that sense of ‘Oh crap get out of the way it’s coming right at us!’

Andrew Whitehurst from Double Negative discussed VFX for creatures too, for his gorgeous looking film ‘Annihilation’ (Available now on Netflix) He talked about the importance of creating real tangible puppets and sculpts to be filmed first, and then added to, rather than to going direct to green screen.

In one shot, he explained his logic by showing us a scene of an Alligator creature model being dragged into a swap. The model was weighted to realistically reflect how an alligator would ‘ploop’ into the water, and what he pointed out was how the water ripples affected the surrounding plant-life, the light tone shifts, the unexpected air-pocket expulsion from the water after the model had slithered in – these organic little details would be hard to conjure up out of nothing. He also focused on giving the camera a motivation by having something tangible to focus on “The framing is better” He said “You take out the guess-work”

MPC Animex Talk

The most technically astonishing talk in my opinion was Axel Akesson from MPC’s talk; ‘Replicating Rachael’ – It seemed to appeal to my laymen-terms knowledge of uncanny valley; That it’s really hard to replicate the human face realistically, without making the audience feel a bit weird. The character in question, Rachael, is portrayed as she was in the original, and has to convey a very subtle set of emotions whilst blending seamlessly with a very grizzled and worn Harrison Ford.

For me, there was one stand out star of the festival and that was Louise Bagnall from Cartoon Saloon – During the screening of her Irish Film Council funded short; ’Late Afternoon’ I was chewing on my fist to stop from bawling my eyes out.

‘Late Afternoon’ is gorgeously animated, and as usual for Cartoon Saloon, the sound design is just as deserving of praise as the animation itself. Anyone who has family affected by Alzheimer’s and Dementia will be flapping at their misty eyeballs and sniffing their snot away.

There were lots of other very good speakers and talks, Sarah Beth Eisinger from Pixar for one, who charmed everyone by accidentally dipping her laptop in water halfway though her talk. And Will Becher from Aardman, who had seemingly boundless courtesy and energy at the Thursday after party, even happy to chat away with the likes of me. (Thanks Will, you’re a bit of a legend!)

On Thursday early evening, We had a chance to all have a drink with the speakers, students, and festival organisers in the Teesside Student union – The room was cosy enough to put us all in ear-shot of each other, allowing for some nice ‘Oh hello!’s’. Although the red wine had gone off and almost made me spit mouldy merlot all over the bar, alternatively the white wine was served in a glass that smelt overwhelmingly of bleach, so I gave up and was on the bottled water all night from fear of being poisoned.

Good call that actually, as one particular student had decided to get massively pissed and proceeded to loudly tell Sam Dawes that she couldn’t be bothered to go to his talk, which was very funny, but obviously very unprofessional. wincing as I watched her wobble off, I chatting to Sam later, who commented: ‘Well that’s one way to stay un-hired’ – Students, know your limits!

Speaking of limits, there was also an auction of rare signed goods from each speaker’s studio on offer for the winning bidders, i’m not sure if it was evil or genius that the auction started late into the party when the booze was flowly quite nicely – One student bid £160 for a signed notebook, It made me wonder if the poor guy would remember in the morning bidding off his train-ride home from uni.

This was my first year at Animex, and I can say with no doubt I will definitely be back next year!

Jordan J Knight
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