Monday, September 25, 2006

Joe Letteri on Digital Art: King Kong at The Tate Modern

Part of my reason for going into the office over the weekend was so I wouldn't feel too guilty about having to leave early today to attend a lecture at the Tate Modern. They are running a short series called "Digital Art", and tonight's talk (the second in the series) was given by three times Visual FX oscar winner Joe Letteri from Weta Digital

Joe has a long experience in the industry, having worked at Industrial Light and Magic (where one of his many projects was Jurassic Park) before joining Weta for the second of the Lord of the Rings movies, and then working on the final Return of the King movie before moving on to Peter Jackson's King Kong remake.

Personally I didn't like King Kong at all: Much too long, too self-indulgent, too many plot holes, too much rushed CGI work (the brontosaurs chase) and far too many missing plot strands. It smacked of the usual Jackson problem that has plagued all his movies - a movie that's running late, running at twice the length anybody wants, with the editing process left far too late in the whole process to deliver anything resembling coherence in terms of plot, dialogue and resolution of stories that have been started. But nobody could deny the visual effects were incredible, and I've yet to hear anybody from Weta who hasn't given a great presentation and bowled you over with their passion and enthusiasm.

The big worry with this talk was that it was aimed at 3D artists, and advertised mainly through a CGI magazine, Digit, so I was worried I'd get a bit lost with a lot of talk about 'polygraphic splines' (or whatever it is 3D modellers usually talk about) and the like. As it turned out this was a presentation that would have been better delivered to the typical Comic Con crowd or convention audience, which was great for me, if not for the CGI professionals in the audience, several of whom I heard complaining as they left about how "content free", "basic", or "only for beginners" it was.

There was some fascinating stuff shown, and I particularly enjoyed the "here's what we shot with the green screen" stuff that was then morphed into the digital stuff that was then added to totally transform scenes for the movie. We don't get enough of this stuff on the 'Making of' DVDs, in my view. But the talk did feel rather 'thin', and I have some sympathy with those who I overheard complaining as they left that it was much too short given the ticket price of a tenner. The whole thing, including a rambling, content-free intro from the organiser, an AutoDesk advertising showreel and an audience Q & A lasted an hour, even with a surprise 'second speaker' to help pad things out.

That surprise second speaker was Andy Serkis looking very different from when I last saw him with his new 'skinhead' cut. Andy was good value as always, but in all honesty, I think any fans of the movie will have heard most of what we heard about digital thespians, observing gorillas, working with actors so they can act naturally instead of working with a tennis ball on a pole etc in countless other interviews that have been given over the last three years.

All-in-all it was an entertaining way to spend an hour, particularly given that The Tate Modern is almost on my doorstep, and I'm glad I went. But I did think the promoters had mis-represented the talk somewhat, and that it was a missed opportunity given that most of the audience appeared to be professionals already working with 3D graphics tools (there was, of course, the obligatory audience question about 'How do I get a job at Weta?')

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I will always love you