The University of Saskatchewan is getting animated

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Pixar is to deliver a two-day seminar at the U of S

Ishmael N. Daro
The Sheaf (University of Saskatchewan)

One year ago, Brij Verma clipped an article out of a newspaper that he still keeps in his office at the University of Saskatchewan.

The article was about an animation workshop taught in Vancouver by two Pixar employees.

“Here’s a world-class organization. Here are these world-class animators. I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be really nice to get these guys here?’” Verma said.

Luckily, as director of research in science for the College of Arts and Science, Verma was just the person to make this a reality. Over the last four months, he has spent most of his time organizing a two-day seminar at Convocation Hall and a free public lecture at the Broadway Theatre.

Verma said despite the difficulties of fundraising and organizing, which come with an event like this, he would “put on five of these a year if I could.”

The seminar costs $450, but only $250 for students. Verma said that although the focus will be on animation, anyone in any field of storytelling would benefit from the workshop.

“Computer scientists can take part, computer-science students can take part, artists can take part, novelists – you get this whole new area of people who would find [the seminar] interesting,” Verma said.

The speakers are Andrew Gordon, an animator, and Matthew Luhn, who works in storyboarding. The two have over 30 years of experience at Pixar between them and have worked on such blockbusters as Toy Story, Finding Nemo and Up.

Saskatoon will mark the first time that Gordon and Luhn have given a free public lecture in addition to the regular sessions, which will help bring their experience off campus and into the wider community.

“There’s no business like show business,” said Eric Neufeld, head of the computer science department. “People are fascinated by what goes on behind the scenes.”

In the case of Pixar, this may be especially true as the company has produced some of the most memorable films of the last two decades.

Pixar started as an animation group within George Lucas’s empire. After Apple co-founder Steve Jobs bought the company for 10-million dollars and changed its focus, it started producing feature films, including 1995’s Toy Story, which was the first ever film entirely made with computer-generated imagery.

Since then, the company has churned out hit after hit, until it was finally purchased by Disney in a deal worth 7.4-billion dollars – not a bad return on the initial investment.

Although Pixar makes the animation look effortless, there are countless hours of production that go into each frame.

Neufeld, who also teaches computer graphics, says some students will be familiar with the painstaking process of creating digital images.

One of the first exercises he used to give students was to build a virtual chest of drawers that opens and closes with a click. Later, he would ask which was harder, building a real chest or a virtual one. Almost everyone said the virtual chest of drawers was more difficult.

“It sure feels like magic when you’re sitting in the theatre, but there’s a lot of work, a lot of thought, a lot of ideas people are too busy producing the animation to tell you how to do it,” said Neufeld, adding the animation seminar would be a rare opportunity to discuss those points with world-class artists.”

Verma perhaps summed it up best: “Once you hear these guys, who work at arguably one of [the] finest animation companies on Earth, where do you go after that? Where else are you going to meet people who are at their level?”

The animation seminar is to take place Sept. 16 and 17 at Convocation Hall. Register at www.cs.usask.ca/masterclass. The free public lecture is to take place Sept. 17,  7 p.m., at the Broadway Theatre. Tickets are available from the U of S department of computer science.

FIVE: Pixar moments for back to school

You could go to the University of Saskatchewan and learn all about how Pixar does what it does, or you could just pull out your old DVDs and re-live some of the most educational moments in Pixar history.

Nemo’s first day of school
Finding Nemo

I doubt most of our parents are like Marlin anymore, holding our hands on the first day of school. But, maybe if you’re lucky, you’ll get a professor as cool as the stingray.

Andy goes to college
Toy Story 3

Just because you’re going off to college, it doesn’t mean you’re a grown-ass man. Andy played with his toys at the end of Toy Story 3 like a child. And the university-aged audience cried like a child as he did.

Remy lets a rat cook for him
Ratatouille

Linguini, instead of actually learning how to cook, lets a rat do it for him. And then he got caught. And then he gave the rat the credit he deserved. Take note, first years.

All aboard the axiom
WALL-E

Look, if you don’t go to the gym, you’re going to look like these guys. Besides, you’re paying for it anyway, so you might as well use it.

Lightning McQueen arrives in Radiator Springs
Cars

You may have been hot shit on the racetrack, Lightning McQueen, but in Radiator Springs you start at the bottom of the ladder. So drop the attitude, freshies.

– Jonathan Petrychyn, A&C Editor

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