FITC Toronto 2011

At the beginning of May (May 2-4) I had a chance to attend the design and technology festival called FITC which was celebrating the 10th year anniversary of its Toronto installment. The event schedule, which you can see here, was loaded with panels, parties, and presentations.

I’ve heard quite a bit about the festival form my partner Bram Timmer, who has been involved with the FITC community first as a volunteer and then as the creative director and designer. While at the beginning it was centered around the Flash theme, now the conference brings together many people from the digital industry including interactive programmers, designers, 3D and motion graphics experts, videographers, and other creatives who seek to feed their imaginations with the buzz of the new media industry and stay on top of technology developments.

I could tell this was going to be right up my alley. I was craving to be inspired for a while, and FITC seemed like it would hit the spot. But first Bram and I had to register, and with that came the swag bag with some eye candy.

Before the festival began, we had a few days to walk around the city and since I had never been to Toronto, I had a chance to get a taste for its busy culture for the first time, and see if all the good things I heard about the T dot were true (separate blog post coming up!).

The “packaging” of FITC this year threw everyone back to the atmosphere of theme park/circus/vendor foods of the 1950s, which can be explained in more detail by the amazing FITC title sequence done by the creative studio MK12 (who is better known to the less informed for doing the titles for James Bond: Quantum of Solace). Here it is:

The venue was a large night club called The Guvernment, located near the lake shore downtown. It had several large spaces that were converted into separate speaker ‘rooms’ One of the rooms – The Influxis VooDoo Launge – served free drinks all day during the conference. There were hot dogs and burgers, pop corn, cotton candy during regular conference hours, and roller girls with candy trays at the award show. All in all it was an interesting setting to get inspired in.

Some of the most memorable presentations for me included ones by: Mike Creighton, Robert Hodgin, McBess, Gmunk, James White, MK12, Masashi Kawamura and Kyle Cooper. Below is a short impression of each of these presenters… For a detailed list of other speakers, check out this link.

MIKE CREIGHTON – ‘Harnessing the Abundance’

Photo By: Michael Sheedy

Mike is a traditionally trained artist, who took the act of fine art creation and channeled it into the digital domain. Mike’s digital tool set includes openFrameworks, Processing, Cinder, ActionScript and other. During his talk he demonstrated how he used the data he gathered from the energy of the strokes and hand movements during the act of drawing to display it as an abstract visualization of what is know as the “flow.” I have heard about “the flow” before, and experienced it many times during my own creative process. It mostly feels like a complete loss of connection with the surrounding world: no sense of time, or physical effort, sounds become tuned out and the only thing that completely absorbs your attention is the act of creation before you. In more scientific terms it can be explained as a total immersion into a task where demands of the action are harmoniously equalized with the resources available. I know it’s dry but it sums it up simply and to the point.

Mikes visualizations included abstract cityscapes, where the particular buildings corresponded to the concentration of repetitive data, and other interesting digital interpretations of the flow. Mike is kind enough to make his research open and available to those that are interested in exploring flow for themselves. You can look it up here. Also make sure to check out Mike’s entire blog – I’m sure I will be reading it over the next month while researching for my thesis proposal.

ROBERT HODGIN – ‘Practice Makes Perfect’

Photo By: Bram Timmer

Robert is a genius. He draws from the systems present in nature, and transforms them into digital events, beings, you name it. His Ipad App “Planetary” is a new way to visualize your music library as a star system, where the stars are artists, planets their albums, and the moons stand for the album’s songs. During his talk he also discussed how he explored 3 different forces of nature: attraction, repulsion, and that ‘something in between’ that I unfortunately no longer remember the name of! Anyways, one of the memorable points in the presentation included his magnetic sculpture experiments that echoed the atomic/molecular structure of matter, his Kinect experiments with body dysmorphia and his visualizations of natural phenomenon such as the school of fish.

What I thought was amazing is that Robert uses Processing for a lot of his experiments, which proves that you don’t need to pay big bucks in order to do great things. It’s not the tools that make you creative, its what you decide to do with them that makes or breaks you as an artist. I haven’t had a chance to get into Processing very deep yet but I will be working with it a bit more over the summer.

MCBESS – ‘Making Contrast With Details’

Photo By: Spencer Dingle

This was by far the funniest presentation throughout the entire festival. McBess presented many bar graphs and pie charts with repetitive statements about things he likes (‘tits’) and things he is good at (‘masturbation’) and how much he doesn’t give a ‘sh&t’ about criticism and client opinions. All jokes aside, the work of this illustrator and director was extremely impressive. His unique creative style matched his straight forward no-nonsense attitude. His busy, layered, black and white illustrations draw on the style of the old cartoons of Disney such as Steamboat Willie, and mix with childish, yet ‘sexed up’ characters, beautifully mangled and distorted by his imagination. McBess went as far as inventing a fictitious rock band called “Dead Pirates” for which he created music videos, and merchandise in the form of t-shirt designs and custom decorated guitars… eventually he decided to materialize a real, flesh-and-blood band, choosing members among friends and acquaintances. It seems as though it was always meant to be a hit. Check out this video and you’ll be convinced:

GMUNK (Bradley Munkowitz) – ‘Tron GFX’

This presentation was a hit with the audience as many FITC attendees were nerdy Tron fans. Gmunk talked about the process behind the creation and production of opening titles and motion graphics for Tron (constituting for about 10 minutes of movie time), mentioning the team of creatives that he led (Jake Sargeant, David Lewandowski, Adam Swaab, Josh Nimoy, Joseph Chan) and which parts each of the members was responsible for. He also showed the custom built applications that were used to create the graphics and animations. I found it interesting that the source of inspiration for some of the graphics were the drawings of the German biologist Ernst Haeckel. Again here, the digital world is not exclusive, but draws on seemingly unrelated areas to produce organic, breathing visuals.

After the session I had the pleasure of meeting Gmunk, as Bram knows him quite well. Too bad we didn’t snap any pictures!

The process videos that Gmunk showed during his presentation can be viewed on David Lewandowski’s site (he was one of  the animators in the team).

JAMES WHITE – ‘Back to the Future: Part II’

James’ presentation hit home because he talked about how nostalgia towards childhood memories made him inspired to design the way he does. Although I am not from James’s time, I share a similar history with my drawing and painting experiences. I wont go into too much detail here, but art has been my pass time, my passion, and my companion since a very early age. James’ 1970s/1980s inspired flashy and spiky ‘awesomeness’ is deeply engraved into his medium of choice: the poster. An expert in Adobe Illustrator, still fascinated with superhero figures, he saturates his work with colorful childhood enthusiasm, but with a grown-up finish. James was also kind and approachable at the final FITC afterparty, where I had a chance to say hello. Good work James!

MK 12 – ‘How Do You Turn This Thing On?’

MK 12 – a ‘full-service lateral hyperthreaded tactical design and research bureau’ from Kansas City – showed their work, discussed their creative practices, and presented their FITC title sequence (which still gives me a bit of a chill). The team specializes in both static and dynamic work, an example of which you can see in the James Bond: Quantum of Solace opening credits and the graphic user interfaces within the film. The team consists of friends that met at the Kansas City Art Institute, which makes for an open, non-centralized and non-pretentious atmosphere that fosters unique creativity.  I will be keeping an eye out for more unique work coming out of that studio!

Here is their reel:


Masashi is an art/creative/film director working in New York. He’s behind the music videos of the band Sour – many of you are probably familiar with them already. No budget forced Masashi to be creative within the limits imposed on him. He showed two videos he directed, first involved using hand shadows that were further animated and the second webcam images from volunteering fans. He explained the process, the prototypes, and the production of his impressive, original ideas.

Here is a sample:

KYLE COOPER – ‘Others’

The work of Kyle Cooper, the founder of Imaginary Forces and Prologue creative studios is in almost EVERY major movie title sequence out there. I’m sure you are familiar with these: Seven, Ironman 1/2, Sherlock Holmes, Spiderman 2/3, Tropic Thunder, Across the Universe, Dawn of the Dead, Immortal Beloved, Braveheart, Tron Legacy (closing titles) and many more. The guy studied under Paul Rand at the Yale School of Art for heaven’s sake!

Kyle discussed how he started with analogue methods, and how he later began using the digital, and how each of these could be used depending on the purpose. He also mentioned how in many of the title sequences he liked using the actual movie footage, sometimes shot specifically just for the title sequence, as in his own words he believes that the beginning titles often stand as a ‘prologue’ for the film, setting the stage or the mood for the events about to happen. The main theme of his talk was that ‘others’ or the audience and the ones that you work with, are of highest importance. Your worth is measured by how much you give away to people around you. It was a truly inspiring presentation!

If you want to get a better feel of what went on at FITC Toronto 2011, check out the FITC Flickr sets from the conference and the award show. Other blogs discussing FITC can be found here.

Thanks to Shawn Pucknell and his team for organizing such a great event. Till next year!

Photo by: Richard Budman

Here is the highlight reel:

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