NFB Animation Studio's Eloi Champagne on Storytelling Innovations
Eloi Champagne is technical director with the National Film Board of Canada’s Animation Studio in Montreal. In that post, he wears many hats and is involved a vast array of projects. He will lead a masterclass titled “Compositing in Nuke vs. Game Engine for Linear VR Experience” on Monday, Oct. 23, beginning at 1:30 p.m. He also will be speaking at the VIEW Conference on “Leading VR Innovation at the NFB Animation Studio” on Wednesday, Oct. 25, beginning at 2:30 p.m.
Please talk about your work with the NFB Animation Studio. You're involved in such diverse projects there.
The NFB is such an incredibly creative place, a lab where creators can experiment with “content,” “form,” “containers” and “mode of diffusion” is something exceptional.
One of the most exciting aspects of my job as Technical Director at the animation studio is that every one of our projects is unique and involves a vastly different set of skills and workflows. They are all different in terms of scope, style, creative approach and techniques
Right now, I am involved in multiple projects with techniques that range from painting-on-glass, to 2D animation, stop-motion using motion-controlled rigs, animatable to-scale lighting and 3D printers, 3D animation, a VR project with an 8K HDR ACES workflow, a 2D animation/3D-game hybrid VR project in Unity, a linear cinematic VR project in Unreal, just to name a few.
The same day, I can be programming a camera move on a motion control rig, testing compositing in Nuke using a 3-meter vertical stereoscopic dome as a monitor, troubleshooting our render farm, and experimenting with AR animation tools. Every day is filled with new challenges and learning opportunities.
How are you brought into a project and at what point do you get involved?
I am usually there right at the beginning and am involved until the end, until the project’s final approval. The awesome producers I work with will often brief me about a new project very early on, when the project is still in its infancy (the investigation stage). When the project gets to the development stage, I will sit down with the producer and the creator/director to talk about ideas, concepts, the technical aspects of the project, the resources we will need, the budgets, etc. I will often suggest how some things can be done based on new (or sometimes very old) technology or techniques. And when production finally begins, I am on hand to make sure that everything is off to a good start and that the creators/animators/ programmers/etc. have what they need to do the best job possible in the best possible circumstances. During the production, my role is to find creative solutions to all the technical problems and quite often the technical solutions to the creative problems. This is probably what I enjoy most.
One of your VIEW Conference topics is VR, and two of NFB's VR Projects: "Museum of Symmetry" and "Westwind." Can give us a taste of what you have in store for attendees?
These are two game engine-based VR projects that are quite different from each other, almost opposites in terms of their development processes, their look, and their intentions. The creators behind them are also quite different. I think these projects provide us with a great opportunity to talk about how we create things at the NFB Animation Studio. Why we explore VR while still pursuing other forms of animation that we are known for. I have also decided to talk about another VR project that has just recently gone into production and will also help to illustrate what makes the NFB special and maybe explain why we are still here 78 years later.
You're also leading a masterclass on Compositing in Nuke vs. Game Engine for Linear VR Experience. What clues do you look for in deciding what approach is best for a project?
Thanks for asking. This is precisely one of the questions I will attempt to answer in the masterclass. I will try to give VR creators a set of tools that will help them decide on the best approach. But I would like to do much more than that. The title I gave this masterclass is a bit misleading. Attendees don't have to know Nuke specifically or any game engine to attend, and they will, hopefully, learn something from what I have to share. Yes, some examples involve VR compositing in Nuke/CaraVR, and some others show experiments we did using game engines. But the main goal is to actually explain the various workflows (and there are a lot more than you might imagine) that are possible for the creation of linear VR experiences. And, ultimately, I would like to demonstrate how all these workflows can collide, merge and mix to give rise to amazing VR creations! These are very exciting times, not just in VR, but especially in VR (and AR). The creative processes are multiplying; the various media and their related tools, codes and languages are merging, responding to each other like never before!
There is so much going on with immersive storytelling in VR/AR. What can we look forward to in the next 10 years? How will it change entertainment as we know it?
Over the next decade, it will change a lot of things in a very profound way. It has the potential (with AI) to have a greater impact on our life and how we create and communicate than the Internet has had. But it might not necessarily have an impact on how we tell stories in that period.
Let's go back to this whole conversation over the last 5 years about storytelling in VR. Is telling a story possible or not? Can we make cuts? Can we find the language for this new medium, etc. All this gave rise to some very important conversations. But this was also Hollywood and content creators/distributors wanting to cash-in as quickly as possible. The real question, or conversations, should have been: How will VR and AR change how we create stories, not how we tell or share them.
VR and AR are "computing platforms" for our life. Check the definition for computing platform and replace in that definition the words application, program or process with painting, illustrating, sculpting, modeling, animating, visiting, visualizing, looking at, connecting, meeting, sharing, even touching...
How we create stories will change first. Then, probably, how we tell or share them will quickly evolve from there.
What other talks are you most interested in at this year's VIEW Conference?
So many of them! I am really looking forward to "The Future of Storytelling" panel. Regarding VR, there is Eric Darnell's presentation on immersive storytelling in VR and, also from Baobab studios, the talk by Maureen Fan and Larry Cutler about Emotion in VR. All the animation related talks by Mark Osborne, Shannon Tindle, Mark Mullery, Francesco Filippi, Kris Pearn, etc. And the VFX related presentations by Paul Debevec, Vicki Dobbs Beck, Hal Hickel, Victor Perez, Joe Letteri. Honestly, I want to see everything!