Tom Bertino Talk Report

by malducin

On October 17, 2001 at the San Francisco Exploratorium, ILM VFX Supervisor Tom Bertino gave a talk about his career and the ILM short film "Work in Progress". ILMfan regular boneheadfx went to the event and brings us a report.

Here it is:

On Oct. 17th I attended a presentation by Tom Bertino from ILM that was put on by ASIFA at the Exploratorium in San Francisco. Before Mr. Bertino's appearance, there was a tribute to animator Billy Greene, who died recently at the age of 31. A reel of his work was shown (which featured much of his stop-motion work for "The P.J.'s"). Afterwards, his father spoke about Billy's life and his work. Check out this website which is a tribute to Billy and has samples of his terrific animations:

Mr. Bertino came on to introduce the ILM animation department's latest short, "Work in Progress". He explained that the idea of this film was to experiment with digital environments that featured a more "soft edged" look as opposed to the "hard edged" look that ILM has exceeded at for many years. Also, it was meant to explore more in the way of digital characters inserted into completely digital environments, with less emphasis on photorealism and more emphasis towards a "painterly"style.

The film features a mad scientist and a rough looking inventor in a laboratory - they are squabbling over the final look of a giant robotic gorilla which they have created. A magical young girl enters the scene and adds the "missing ingredient"-transforming the metal robot into a white, fur-covered, living and breathing ape. The characters venture forth out into a magical world with all varieties of animals and creatures-miniature deer, giant hummingbirds, huge levitating tropical fish and a really hilarious short-legged giraffe, among others. As one would expect, the texturing, lighting, shading, fur-generation, particle-generation etc. are astounding. The characters movements and timing were all wonderfully executed. The emphasis here was definitely on "bright, colorful and soft" as opposed to "hard, dark and metallic".

Mr. Bertino explained that this is working towards a new direction for the ILM animation department. Since the cancellation of the all digital "Frankenstien" project, Mr. Bertino and others have never given up on the idea of making this department into a fully self-supporting animation studio. Though the film was only 5 minutes long, the final credit list looked like one for a full 2 hour film! Mr. Bertino explained that the reason for so many credits is that many of the artists who worked on the film were ones that were coming in and out of other projects: If they had time between shows, or if they just had free time, they would donate a few hours of their time to the project. Time to make the film came in at almost one year, exactly (though this wasn't continuous labor). He also mentioned that the film will be on the ILM website in about a month or so.

He left the floor open to question-and-answering. One person asked if motion capture has been a large part of the character animation process at ILM - Mr. Bertino explained that motion capture is being used extensively-even if just as a character motion study. Also, he mentioned that they have experimented with a hybrid motion-capture/keyframe animation process. He was also asked how many people were presently employed at ILM: right around 1100.

The show ended with a presentation of Sally Cruickshank's, "Make Me Psychic", an animated short that Mr. Bertino did ink and paint on. There wasn't much mention of any other current projects though I did happen to hear him mention to someone that he currently was not just working on one project, but three-one being the Time Machine.

Thanks boneheadfx for the excellent report. Hopefully "Work in Progress" will show up soon online.