Prix Ars Electronica


Ars Electronica Linz & ORF Oberösterreich

Dramatic, enigmatic, visually elegant …

Mark A. Z. Dippé, Sabine Hirtes, Ken Perlin, Ivan Tsupka, Boo Wong

Being a member of the Prix Ars Electronica jury is always a memorable experience. We spent three, sometimes long days looking at hundreds of entries and narrowing them down to the final set of award winners, just before the clock reached the witching hour. We reviewed, discussed, debated and argued the merits (or lack thereof) of the various pieces. However, as always, we were inspired and amazed by this collection of new, exciting and innovative works of computer animation and visual effects from around the world.

The Prix Ars Electronica always invites some of most talented, experienced and creative practitioners to be jury members, and this year was no exception. The jury consisted of Sabine Hirtes (DE), an artist currently teaching at the Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg, Ken Perlin (US), a professor at New York University, Ivan Tsupka (UA), a visual artist, Boo Wong (US), a producer at Psyop, and Mark Dippé (US), a director/producer. This year’s jury was a particularly lively group with clear opinions (which they expressed quite freely) and a rich appreciation for the possibilities of the form. The results are a testament to their diligence, commitment and love of the art. The jury was also joined by Christine Schöpf for its deliberations. Her wonderful spirit and experience in judging this category were a great help. We must also acknowledge the assistance of Andrea Strasser, whose hard work kept the show on the road.

When it was discovered that 489 works had been submitted to the Computer Animation, film and Visual Effects category, the wise and thoughtful Christine Schöpf decided it would be best if a “pre-selection” could be done before the jury arrived. And, fortunately, Ivan Tsupka agreed. So Christine and Ivan viewed all 489 submissions and whittled them down to 230. The full jury went over the pre-selection process and the full 489 submissions were consulted whenever questions arose. In the end, all agreed that the pre-selection process worked perfectly.

While it may seem self-evident, as details of the various works and the differences between them began to be discussed, issues of what exactly qualified a piece for this category naturally arose. We required that digital technology should be a fundamental and essential element of the creation of the visual aspects of the piece. While this can still be a subjective metric, we found it sufficient. After all, we are the jury.

As with years past, there was a wide variety of pieces submitted. These included narrative short films, abstract and experimental pieces, reels of amazing photo-realistic visual effects work from feature films, demonstrations of technical innovations in digital film-making, TV commercials, digital games. And the works also came from a variety of sources: big studios, small studios, universities and individual artists. The award-winning pieces reflect the great diversity of types of work as well as the types of artists creating the work.

This year’s entries had a few interesting characteristics that are worth noting. Narrative short films were by far the most common type of work. In fact, the three top prizes all went to narrative pieces. This is a clear reflection of the strength of the pieces of this type. There were also fewer abstract or experimental pieces and even fewer technically oriented pieces submitted this year – an interesting trend, since these forms are often “natural” creative arenas for digital techniques. However, there are fine examples of both types of pieces among the award winners. Lastly, it also felt as if there was an increase in graphically violent work among the entries. Like many other innovations in digital film-making, maybe computer-generated blood and guts has freed the artist from the limitations of real violence. Again, there is a fine example of this type of work among the winners.

Given the sheer number of fantastic entries submitted each year, it is always difficult to settle upon the prizewinners. And, as mentioned earlier, the three top prizewinners are all narrative works. All three of the top prizewinners have their own distinct style of storytelling and visual aesthetic. However, we felt that both the storytelling and visual style of Golden Nica winner was a great example of the kind of piece that is becoming increasingly important in the world of computer animation. While computer-animated film-making is dominated by family-oriented comedies, we feel this type of film – dramatic, enigmatic, visually elegant – is where the next generation of computer-animated film is headed. The two Awards of Distinction represent more “traditional” types of computer-animated pieces but with clearly different styles. One hails from the grand American tradition of comedy, while the other takes its cue from the existentially darker Eastern European tradition.

Golden Nica

Ben Hibon / Blinkink Productions (CH/UK)

Codehunters tells a complex but captivating story of a dystopic future. A decrepit megalopolis policed by faceless, helmeted soldiers and terrorized by vicious predatory beasts. But within this oppressive environment there are fearless individuals, rebels with a cause, who will risk everything to stop the heinous repression. At least, that’s an attempt at a cogent distillation of this enigmatic piece. You’ll just have to watch it yourself. The visual style and art direction are stunning. (Mark Dippé)

Award of Distinction

A Gentlemen’s Duel
Tim Miller / Blur Studio, Inc (US)

An epic exoskeletal duel between two aristocrats vying for the attention of a fair lady. A blistering steam-powered animation reminiscent of a clear, traditional style with a startling twist of anime. This is the type of piece that makes you forget the medium, settle back and laugh through the wonderfully acted and written tale. (Boo Wong)

Grzegorz Jonkajtys, Marcin Kobylecki (PL)

Ark is one man’s journey in a very dark world, with an unexpected and emotionally wrenching ending that gives the piece a considerable depth and psychological resonance. The look of this stylized world is very convincing and strange at the same time, and it allows the piece to contain layers of meaning that continue to reward the viewer on multiple viewings. (Ken Perlin)

Honorary Mentions

Last but not least, we have our Honorary Mentions. Again, there were many deserving entries and it was not easy to settle upon the final twelve. In fact, we found it so hard that we couldn’t reduce the number of Honorable Mentions below fourteen. After last-minute finagling proved unsuccessful, we were given special dispensation (I think the truth is that Christine Schöpf and Hannes Leopoldseder grew weary of our argumentative antics and realized that a compromise was in order if we were to meet the deadline). Let’s just hope that this doesn’t set a dangerous precedent. In any event, here are our fourteen Honorable Mentions, all of them stand-outs among an incredible group of 489 entries.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest
Hal Hickel / Industrial Light & Magic (US)

Davy Jones and his crew are a remarkable milestone in the digital creation of characters. The design is flawless and they are absolutely believable in performance, which means facial expressions as well as gesture, integration and interaction with the real actors and the set. They provide a feeling of reality that has not been achieved before. Huge compliments to all the people who were involved in creating this masterpiece of imaginative character design and digital craftsmanship. (Sabine Hirtes)

Monster Samurai
Moto Sakakibara / Sprite Animation Studios (US)

A beautifully designed and animated example of Japanese storytelling tradition. 2D Manga style transferred skillfully into 3D – pace, action and expressions just perfectly matching the storyline and drawing you irresistibly into the plot. A traditional Samurai drama with unexpected turnarounds and a dash of humor. Hopefully this teaser will become a film or a TV series – or even better, both! (Sabine Hirtes)

Dana Dorian / Axis Animation (UK)

Cartoony animation at its best! The classical principles of animation beautifully transported to a 3D environment. Reduced design that accentuates the “dead-on” animation leading to a mischievous punchline without showing too much! A great example of the importance of storyline and timing in this genre of animated short film. (Sabine Hirtes)

Claude Chabot / Autour de Minuit (FR)

Apnée conceptually rethinks the entire concept of animation in a very clever way. The entire animation takes place in just a few discrete instants of time, thereby cleverly deconstructing and illuminating the relationship between the viewer and the narrative space in which a filmed story unfolds. (Ken Perlin)

Sigg Jones
Mathieu Bessudo, Douglas Lassance, Jonathan Vuillemin / Supinfocom Arles (FR)

Speaking an utterly modern language of animation, graphic design, timing and story structure, Sigg Jones is the ultimate stylized fight sequence. What’s in a power drink, not quite a pink sneaker ad, a whole different world of soft light and graphic edges. Full on. (Boo Wong)

Happiness Factory
Kylie Matulick, Todd Mueller / PSYOP (US)

In this infectious advert, a man buys a Coca Cola from a Coke machine and is pulled into the machine, entering a wild world of singing, dancing and general fantasy, high-energy merriment. The wonderful thing about this piece is the way it pulls you seamlessly into that world, with one crazy vision following after another, building in waves, an entire joyous little universe of fantasy characters all singing and dancing along to a happy beat. (Ken Perlin)

One Rat Short
Alex Weil / Charlex Films (US)

Lab rats in love. Something we can all relate to. The boy from the streets and his sweet princess in a cage. A beautifully executed tale of doomed love. The devilish robotic laboratory is futuristic and dangerous. The rats look amazing and we can feel their pain. (Mark Dippé)

Chaos Theory
Gergely Szelei, Barna Buza, Zoltan Szabo / Conspiracy demogroup (HU)

In the early 80s it became a sport for young, talented computer hackers to modify the intro scenes of games and to label their cracks. Soon, more advanced versions, the crack-intros (“cracktros”), became fashionable, combining visual effects with music in real time to show programming skills. The demo scene was born. Since then, the visual and musical quality has improved so immensely that it has become an art form unto itself. Chaos Theory is a gorgeous 64K demo, a special form of demo that is limited to that (amazingly small) amount of initial code and data. It is a beautiful piece of code as well as a beautiful visual and musical experience. Ars Electronica in its essence. (Sabine Hirtes)

Gnarls Barkley “Crazy”
Robert Hales (UK) / HSI, Vanessa Marzaroli / Blind

Beautiful animation that fits a great song to a T. While its abstract forms, faces, patterns and Rorschach inkblots are reminiscent of traditional animation, this hypnotic piece is wonderful for its use of digital techniques to create such organic feeling visuals. (Mark Dippé)

Travelers “Snowball”
Weta Digital Ltd. (NZ)

Brides, cars, park benches, traffic cones and jelly molds have a lot in common when rolling down a hill. It’s what all us Katamari Damacy buffs have been seeing in our mind’s eye. (Boo Wong)

Nobuo Takahashi / Nagoya City University (JP)

A great example of abstract, metamorphosing 3D forms. The photo-realistic lighting integrates the 3D objects into their photographic backgrounds and illuminates the forms to their greatest advantage. A mesmerizing piece that shows this type of work is still vital. (Mark Dippé)

Silent Hill – Making Of
Stéphane Ceretti / BUF (FR)

It’s not often that horror gets to enjoy fully realized visual effects. Computer generation blows out the usual blood and gore with its limitless scale and magnitude. (Boo Wong)

Même les pigeons vont au paradis
Samuel Tourneux / BUF (FR)

A hilarious piece about mistaken identity and the Grim Reaper. The film-making style, camera angles, timing and performance is all top notch. The art direction is very charming and distinctly European. (Mark Dippé)

Lost Odyssey – Opening Cinematics
Hironobu Sakaguchi / Mistwalker, Mikitaka Kurasawa / ROBOT Communications (JP)

Lost Odyssey shows a lone hero battling an army of giant warriors. The atmosphere created by this piece is truly magnificent, with a masterful command of camera and of cinematic space. The battle itself is thrilling, expertly walking the knifeedge between realism and fantasy. (Ken Perlin)

© Ars Electronica Linz GmbH, info@aec.at