REVIEW : Computer Graphics Winners Fall Far Short of Wide Appeal

Do the winners of the National Computer Graphics Assn. international competition live up to their billing as "the best in worldwide computer animation?" It is open to debate.

A two-hour program featuring 32 winners in 11 categories will be presented tonightat Anaheim Convention Center. Many of the films were made by computer graphics professionals to impress other computer graphics professionals. The elaborate, flashy imagery often represents a technical exercise that holds only marginal interest for a general audience.

The use of a special computer program to create the movements of clusters of fish and birds in "Breaking the Ice" by Symbiotics (U.S.A.) is an impressive achievement. But instead of a whole flock of stiffly moving automatons, wouldn't most viewers rather watch a single bird move in a way that suggests its personality?

The high point of the show is Disney's "Oil Spot and Lipstick" (U.S.A.), the only film that tells a story adequately. The artists use the principles of classic drawn animation to depict the adventures of two dogs made out of odd bits of metallic junk.

"Red's Dream" (U.S.A.) by Pixar fails to match the studio's previous effort, the Oscar-nominated "Luxo, Jr." The story of a patient father desk lamp and his rambunctious son, Luxo proved that computer animation can create genuinely sympathetic characters. The lonely unicycle's fantasies of circus stardom in "Red's Dream" are technically more sophisticated, but they lack the tight structure and emotional impact that made "Luxo" such a delight.

Ironically, some of the award-winning entries fail to showcase the techniques and effects they were designed to demonstrate. The reflected clouds and soft-edged shadows in "CG Town" by Electric Machinery Lab (Japan) are stuck off in odd corners of the frame--unless the viewer knows where to look, he is likely to miss them.

Chris Wedge's "Balloon Guy" (U.S.A.) relies on a squeaky soundtrack to get laughs: The visuals simply aren't very interesting.

It is hard to understand why the judges chose to honor some of these films. Any competent college student with a pencil and paper can do better than Toyo Links Corp.'s "Peppy" (Japan), which won second place in "Non-Commercial Films"--and at a fraction of the cost.

Over the last decade, artists and programmers have proved they can use computers to create dazzling visuals. It remains to be seen whether they can use the same tools to produce films that audiences will watch as something other than technological novelties.

The NCGA Video Showcase plays at the convention center, 800 W. Katella Ave., Anaheim, at 6:30 p.m. The $20 admission (which includes a $10 coupon toward the purchase of a videocassette of some of the winners) seems rather steep, as many of the films have been screened in Southern California within the last year. Information: (714) 490-2471.

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