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Animation and SFX abound in Holiday features By Stephen Schleicher
While listening to the soundtrack to the soon to be released Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone, I began to think about all of the forthcoming features that have a wealth of CG animation and special effects. Im more excited now about the plethora of films set to be released than I was about Disneys Atlantis or Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within this last summer. The reason is simple -- a diverse amount of films using CG in a variety of ways to tell the story.

Monsters, Inc. kicks off this weekend using computer animation to bring to life those creepy crawlies under our beds at night. New proprietary fur shaders and render engines are sure to make the animation in this Pixar feature look fantastic when compared with the 1995 phenom Toy Story. Pixar is quick to point out, however, that while animation improvements have been made, the movie would not have if not for a solid story.

To make this weekend even more interesting, Lucas Film Ltd. is releasing the Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones trailer that will run just prior to the Disney flick. While it is unclear at the moment how much will be shown, or if any of it will show new effects (Jar Jar Binks does not make an appearance in the trailer, Im told), it will certainly captivate the audience and tease them with a glimpse of the next installment.

Muggles will learn what kind of magic is being taught at Hogwarts when Harry Potter opens a few weeks later. Three-headed dogs, trolls and children on flying brooms will all be made believable thanks to computer-generated effects. Cheesy stop-motion maquettes and poor bluescreening will not hinder the story telling of this new Warner Bros. franchise.

The epic film genre will have a new entrant, in what many believe will be the best movie of the year. Fellowship of the Rings kicks off a three-year arc telling the journey of young Frodo Baggins on his quest to destroy the one ring. Effects wizards from Australia have created very believable environments and characters to bring the classic tale to life. Not only have they created goblin armies numbering in the hundreds of thousands, they have also performed visual trickery to shrink or grow actors to look like the humble hobbits, dwarves and elven folk that populate middle earth.

While imagery and effects in all of these movies are sure to create spectaculars we will remember for many years to come, the pretty pictures alone do not make the movie. The reason why these movies are getting made now is technology has advanced to the point where justice can be done to the story. Thats right, the effects are there to support the story. Many people often forget that and will spend hours talking about "how cool" the effects were and not give a blink about what the story was about.

The mentality a few years ago in Hollywood was, "The bigger the explosion, the better the picture." Of course we all sat through these hoping for something, but often walked away with nothing more than an increased testosterone level that quickly vanished after a few drinks at the local brewery. Fortunately, these producers have come to their senses (or most of them anyway) and are starting to focus once again on telling a good story and not on who has the biggest explosion.

In the case of the holiday movie run, story will be the primary focus. And it should be, as some of the best writers/authors are behind these works. Andrew Statton (Toy Story 1 and 2, Monsters, Inc.), J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter) and, of course, J.R.R. Tolkien have spun fantastic stories that will engage the audience and in some cases cause some people to pick up a book to find out what happens next (gasp!).

Computer-aided imagery and animation is very cool, dont get me wrong. I love it. But in order for it to work effectively, it needs to be there to support the story, not supersede it. I for one cant wait to grab a seat, enjoy my nachos and bottled water and watch some fantastic tales unfold thanks in part to CGI artists everywhere who are doing their part to tell a story.

Stephen Schleicher is the producer of Digital WebCast and Digital Animators. You can reach him at stephens@digitalmedianet.com

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Stephen Schleicher has crossed the country several times over the last couple of years going from Kansas to Atlanta , Georgia, and Southern California. In his time traveling, he has worked as an editor, graphic designer, videographer, director, and producer on a variety of video productions ranging from small internal pieces, to large multimedia
corporate events.

Currently, Stephen shares his knowledge with students at Fort Hays State University who are studying media and web development in the Information Networking and Telecommunications department. When he is not shaping the minds of university students, Stephen continues to work on video and independent projects for State and local agencies and organizations as well as his own ongoing works.

He is also a regular contributor to Digital Producer, Creative Mac, Digital Webcast, Digital Animators, and the DV Format websites, part of the Digital Media Online network of communities (www.digitalmedianet.com), where he writes about the latest technologies, and gives tips and tricks on everything from Adobe After Effects, to Appleā??s Final Cut Pro, LightWave 3D, to shooting and lighting video.

He has a Masters Degree in Communication from Fort Hays State University in Hays, Kansas. As a forward thinker, he wrote his Thesis on how Information Islands and e-commerce would play a major role in keeping smaller communities alive. This of course was when 28.8 dialup was king and people hadnā??t even invented the word e-commerce.

And, he spends what little free time he has biking, reading, traveling around the country, and contemplating the future of digital video and its impact on our culture. You can reach him at schleicher@mindspring.com

Related Keywords:Monsters Inc., Harry Potter, Animation, Star Wars, Toy Story, computer graphics, storytelling,


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