Prix Ars Electronica


ORF Oberösterreich

Deeper and Richer

Barbara Robertson

The jury for the Computer Animation / Visual Effects category screened 248 entries and from those, chose the three top award winners and six Honorary Mentions. Rather than give as many Honorary Mentions as we might have, we chose to be selective to better highlight the strength of our selections.

There’s no question that our Golden Nica winner, „Monsters, Inc.“ (USA), submitted by director Pete Docter of Pixar Animation Studios, represents excellence in art and technology, which is something we’ve come to expect from Pixar. This meant, to us, that Pixar had to go beyond our expectations and we felt they did, particularly in creating Sully, a fuzzy character. The technology developed for Sully’s hair allowed the artists to cross a threshold: There’s a moment in the film, for example, when the little girl Boo touches Sully’s fur with her finger. It’s an emotional moment because it’s tactile. This is something we have not seen (or felt) in a digital image before and we believe that as artists and animators realize they can do this, too, we will see (and feel) deeper and richer computer animated films.

We were thrilled that Award of Distinction winner „Harvey“, from Australian filmmaker Peter McDonald, closed a loop left open last year when the jury searched in vain for that one piece of “takeover” work, something with raw energy, innovation, something with a spark, something that made a personal statement. „Harvey“ is that work. It has rough edges but it’s new, significant. It shouts to other artists, “Free yourself up. Take that wacky idea in the back of your brain and do something with it.”

Our second Award of Distinction winner, „Panic Room“, submitted by BUF (France), shows an absolutely invisible visual effect created solely for the camera move and it changes the vocabulary of filmmaking. BUF gave the director of „Panic Room“ freedom to move his camera without restriction through an apparently real scene – even through a coffee pot if the director chose. In its entry, BUF showed the creation of this effect in a sophisticated and subtle way and the submission points toward a direction we hope studios will take in the future with effects entries.

Here’s how the process worked. For the first round, we agreed that one “yes” vote from any of the five jurors would keep the entry in the running, but to eliminate an entry we needed a consensus vote. One “yes” would stop the tape and we’d go on to the next entry. When we were unsure how to vote, we watched the entire submission. At the end of the day, we were left with 47 entries.

On the second day, for the second round, we decided that an entry would need two “yes” votes to be kept in the running. After watching and discussing all 47 entries, we narrowed the field to 20.

Round 3: We viewed any entries the jurors wanted to see again, asked questions of each other, and then each juror voted for all the entries he or she wanted to see receive an award or honorary mention. After eliminating entries with one vote or less, we narrowed the field to 15.

At this point we began looking for our top three. By the end of the day, we had a tentative selection, but it was one without strong conviction. We believed that it would provide a starting point for discussion on the next and final day. And it did.

Day 3. It was at this time that we began discussing in earnest the criteria we were using for our selections. When we looked again at our three selections from the previous day, we realized we had chosen them based on artistic and technical excellence, but we had not considered whether the entries would have a cultural impact and it is this third criteria for excellence combined with the other two that helps set the Prix Ars Electronica apart from film festivals and other competitions.

We also faced and dealt with two dilemmas that have plagued earlier juries: how to consider work from students, small studios, and big studios within one category, and how to judge the visual effects entries.

The first dilemma – evaluating the work from students, small studios, and big studios became less of a problem last year when that jury noticed with delighted surprise, that the student work competed on an equal footing with work from the big studios. We found this to be true again this year, with the films „Mouse“ and „Kikumana“ exemplifying the stunning sophistication we saw in student work. Remarkably, the entries themselves provided the solution to the second dilemma: how to judge visual effects. Here are the problems, the points of discussion and debate: If the goal of visual effects is to serve the film in which the effects appear, can the effects be judged apart from the film? If they can’t, would we be basing our judgment on decisions made by the director of the film rather than on the quality of the effects? And if we gave an award to a visual effects entry for a film that had effects created by several studios, would all the studios share the award, or only the studio submitting its work? How could we give an award to a film, when we have seen only a small portion of the effects? These questions led to considering a visual effects entry as a complete work in itself. But if we were to judge the effects outside the film in which they appear, what criteria should we use? We can evaluate the technology and perhaps the impact on the culture of filmmaking, but how do we evaluate the art? Effects entries often look like collections of techniques, like demo reels.

We struggled with this conundrum until we realized we had the answer in front of our eyes. As we watched the entries again, it became clear that some studios had taken time to present the effects from a film in an artful way. The entries were complete works in themselves and we could judge them without regard to the film in which they appeared. We hope that everyone will take time to look at Digital Domain’s „Time Machine“ entry and BUF’s „Panic Room“ entry as examples of what we discovered.

We believe that judging visual effects entries in this way has enormous advantages. It will allow individuals in studios to submit their best work without regard to any of the other effects in a film. They can submit visual effects that might never have appeared in a theatrical release. But, it will also mean that the visual effects submissions must rise above the level of a demo reel. Commercial studios are obviously capable of creating this type of admission and, given the inexpensive digital editing tools available today, this is within the reach of students as well. As we debated and discussed the problem, we became ever more excited about this solution. We feel that it is in the spirit of Prix Ars and we all hope that in the future, the Prix Ars Electronica entry form will reflect this breakthrough.

The Honorary Mentions

Once we had picked our top three award winners, we felt compelled to focus on a few especially significant entries for our Honorary Mentions. Each Honorary Mention is a remarkable piece of work and we encourage everyone to spend time looking at them.

„Annlee, You Proposes“, submitted by Lars Magnus Holmgren (UK): An outstanding integration of graphics and audio elements. The timing, the digital editing, the mixture of characters and the energy in this abstract, largely black and white piece is excellent and fascinating.

Visual Effects from „The Time Machine“, submitted by Digital Domain (USA): The effects in the entry were familiar ideas shown in a completely new way and we admired the technical expertise that resulted in the eroding landscapes. The submission itself is exactly what we would have asked for in a visual effects submission if we had had the chance.

„Polygon Family: Episode 2“, submitted by Hiroshi Chida (Japan): We loved this perfectly executed film that used the game aesthetic to make a satirical point. We appreciated the exercise in restraint and the excellent animation.

„Kikumana“, submitted by Yasuhiro Yoshiura (Japan): We had no idea a 21-year-old student made this film using Strata 3D software until after we had chosen it. One juror called the film, “flat out beautiful.” We were delighted by surprising choices, by the seamless blend of 3D graphics and hand drawn images, and by the compelling camera moves.

„Mouse“, submitted by Wojtek Wawszczyk (Germany): This film demonstrates once again that no allowances need be made for student films and that technology is not a barrier. The excellent storytelling and character design in this film charmed the jurors.

„BMW Pool“, submitted by Jason Watts (UK): At their best, visual effects are magic and this submission has one of the best magic tricks we’ve seen.

Some final thoughts

We noticed an abundance of black and white animations, animations with stick figures or Anime’ babes, and a disturbing number of films that used bad fonts. In addition, we seemed to see no end of films with disembodied talking heads on black backgrounds. One juror wryly suggested that entries in this category must have a minimum amount of animation to be considered. We did not find an abstract work that pushed new boundaries, although we searched.

What we liked were films that experimented with new ways of telling stories, notably the Honorary Mentions, „Annlee, You Proposes“ and „Kikumana“. We found films that we wanted to watch again and again – „Polygon Family“, which was filled with perfectly timed surprises, and the wonderful Mouse which caused the jurors to start each day by chanting, “Mouse, Mouse, Mouse.” Mouse isn’t innovative, unless you consider the fact that a student could create such a work innovative; it’s just simply excellent. The film that we agreed was the most innovative was also the most disturbing – „Harvey“. Finally, an unnerving film that could not have been created without digital tools, tools that have been used create images we have never seen before, images that are essential to the story, a fascinating story told in an astonishing way. More! MORE!

© Ars Electronica Linz GmbH, info@aec.at