A Week at the 1996 Ottawa International Animation Festival

About Computer Games

I didn't have time to reply to this message from Yoda until today, because I was at the Ottawa International Animation Festival (first show at 10am, Wednesday October 2) for most of last week. To give you a feeling of the endurance trials of going to the whole festival, I'm making this message extra long, with boring and interesting bits mixed up, just like the festival.

I purchased the ultra-violent Duke Nuke'em 3D this weekend. My computer at home barely meets the 'minimum system' requirements of the game. They would prefer that I have 16 Meg of memory. ( Which is cheap of course, at least now ) And if I want to run SVGA graphics, you have to have a Pentium.

-- Yoda

Yes, Duke Nuke'em 3D passed through the office and lasted a couple of weeks. It has a pretty good engine, and there's lots of stuff in their worlds. Still, Quake is what people play (competitive network play makes it popular, as well as a really good engine). The management even had to restrict it to after core hours; lunch time games were bogging down the network.

I purchased the game on Friday night, but I only finally figured out what I was doing wrong on Monday morning, just before work. I still had time to play one quick game. Its similar to Doom, I just die a lot quicker.

-- Yoda

That's the nice thing about game consoles. Things usually work without any problems. With the integeration of faster graphics for games in Windows 95 and NT, things should become a bit more easier for PC users too.

By the way, I picked up a 3DO mouse for $8 a week and a half ago, now I can play Shanghai a lot more easily. Pretty good price for a 3 button mouse, eh? I'll have to see if I can find 3DO Lemmings. By the way, did you ever try two player Lemmings on the Amiga? With two mice? Hmmm, maybe Artech should do a multiplayer Lemmings if Psygnosis fails to put out one.

On to the Ottawa International Animation Festival...

Well, I didn't get enough sleep this weekend, and it looks like I'll get even less tonight...

-- Yoda

That animation festival became an endurance test in the last few days, I was getting to sleep around midnight and then getting up for the 10am show the next day. I went to 21 showings, some interesting, a couple really good (Nick Park / Aardman Animation / Wallace and Gromet in A Close Shave is a worthy successor to The Wrong Trousers), some marginal and one that ended with a real snoozer film about mediaeval Russian wars.

Most of the prizes made sense, except the grand film prize which went to Bird in the Window, another film by the same guy who did that Russian one which won four years ago. Nobody knows why. However, the jury did split the grand prize into a TV and film prize (the TV part of the grand prize went to The Simpsons episode Treehouse of Horror VI: Homer 3D), rather than totally alienating the audience like they did four years ago.

The best short film was a musical number from Joe's Apartment called Funky Towel. This was a nice dirty apartment (much like Yoda's) except with intelligent cockroaches performing synchronised swimming in the scum encrusted toilet. Really good computer graphic cockroaches, I liked the way their wings spread out as a whole row of them kneeled while advancing on the camera. One good spot was when a performing cockroach, encircled by a ring of others watching and moving in time to the music, moonwalked on a bar of soap and then flipped over in the foam and spun around on its back.

The winner of the longer films award was the NFB's The End of the World in Four Seasons, a fascinating film with about 7 panels of action going on at once. Things in one panel seem isolated from the others (like Adam and Eve walking down a path and periodically tripping) until actions in another panel overflow (the snake chasing something else ends up stretching over three panels and blows the fig leaves off Adam and Eve). This film also won the award for sound (good music and nifty sound effects - for example the doorbell in one panel being pushed at the same time as the girl's alarm clock goes off in another panel and both using the same sound, or the periodic whoosh, whoosh of cars going by (until the rabbit hopped onto the road and caused a few crashes)). I liked it.

Even though it didn't win, the Bell Atlantic - Big Deal commercial for phone services got mentioned for its great animation giving life to your standard silver satin phone wire with a modular plug. It started with the wire moving around and forming the letters of something like "It's a Great Deal" in handwriting (nothing special here). It really came alive when it got to describing the phone features: call waiting (wire taps a loop of itself impatiently against the ground), conference calling (wire splits into a 3 headed cable that talks to itself), call blocking (runs into an invisible wall and falls off screen). That made the wire really come alive, and made me and the jury remember this ad (hard to do for something that lasts 30 seconds, when the films shown around it are much longer).

After receiving lots of publicity, Priit Pärn's 1895 film won only the special prize for design. I found it one of the funnier films, a half hour of historical references gone wrong (this guy meets the important people in history in various odd ways). If you don't know much history then it won't be quite as funny. Priit Pärn is an Estonian animatior who has made the transition from Communism to Capitalism - there was a retrospective showing his films, so you could see the difference between the two systems.

Mysteriously to me, Hilary was the favorite film of one of my animator friends. I thought that The End of the World in Four Seasons was the best one for that particular night's showing. Nope, he was right, it won the public prize and the best student film and the best story prize too. It's a simple animation of a certain style (seen in a couple of other films, like Balance of a few years ago) of humanoid figurine 3D stop action model. It was the story that did it. The animation was just a father telling a bedtime story to his son (the scenes reflecting the story a bit (like father and son being on Mars or sitting in a truck cab), but all containing the father telling the story to the son).

The story was about a woman who lived an ordinary life, nothing special, kind of sad in a wasted way ("not the fast lane, not the slow lane, more like idling at a red light waiting for the fuel gauge to reach empty" as the story teller put it). The woman's run-away father, deaf and useless grandfather, shrill mother (her mother told her to trust nobody, so did, including her mother) and eventually a dreary husband (because she got pregnant) are depressingly ordinary. Maybe that's why people like the story, because it reminds them of life?

I'll have to ask some of the animators at work who also saw it why they like it. Hopefully it isn't because it reminds them of their own lives.

There's more interesting stuff that I don't have time to write about or that you have time to read about. Stuff like a look at Disney's work in progress (Fantasia '99, Hercules, and a couple of others that look good if a bit stereotypical), Warner Brother's Space Jam (Bugs and company help save the Earth with Michael Jordan), exerpts from all of Nelvana's TV series, a collection of Hockey cartoons, and retrospectives of famous animators.

BeBox Plans

I thought you had stopped entertaining the idea of purchasing a BeBox. I guess once you've got more free time, you need more toys to keep yourself busy?

-- Yoda

I still plan to get a BeBox (Be's Web Site) after I've finished the virtual file system for the Amiga. That project is still going on.

Well, this report / story / letter is getting way too long and it's getting late, so I'll stop here.

- Alex

Copyright © 1996 by Alexander G. M. Smith.