The University of Saskatchewan’s main campus is situated on Treaty 6 Territory and the Homeland of the Métis.

Pixar artists coming to the U of S to offer free lecture, seminar

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One year ago, Brij Verma clipped an article out of the Sheaf that he still keeps in his office.

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

The animation “masterclass” costs $450, but only $250 for students. Verma says 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,” said Verma.

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 and changed its focus, it started producing feature films, including 1995’s Toy Story, which was the first ever film made entirely with CGI.

Since then, the company has churned out hit after hit, until it was finally purchased by Disney in a deal worth $7.4 billion — 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 that people are too busy producing the animation to tell you how to do it,” said Neufeld, adding that 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 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 takes place Sept. 16 and 17 at Convocation Hall. Register at www.cs.usask.ca/masterclass. The free public lecture takes place Sept. 17 at 7 p.m. at the Broadway Theatre. Tickets are available from the U of S Department of Computer Science.


image: Disney/Pixar

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