Last week the Genesis digital design team had the opportunity to attend RENDR, an annual Belfast design festival celebrating the convergence of creative with emerging technology. We had an absolute blast, but more importantly, we learned a lot from the speakers and we’d love to share some of that with you!

Above: The set of Gareth Edwards’s The Creator. Image Source

Creating the World of The Creator

Charmaine Chan – Industrial Light and Magic

It was great to be able to get some insight into the production of The Creator (2023), a sci-fi film set in a near future where humanity exists alongside artificial general intelligence in the form of Robots and ‘Simulants’, a type of artificial robot designed to appear more human.

Director Gareth Edwards took a loose approach, allowing many technical aspects of the film to be informed by real, natural human performance and the insights of individual artists. By using the plates themselves as motion references and not informing extras whether they would be Robots, Simulants or Human, the action of characters who may have otherwise appeared Robotic instead gained a sense of humanity regardless of their treatment in post.

In many cases for larger landscape shots, the plate itself was directly sketched over in order to give a clear idea of the composition of CG elements within shots as opposed to shooting based on a storyboard. Taking this approach allowed the freedom required to make on-the-spot creative decisions and for the personality and beauty of the shooting locations to really shine through.

Furthermore, Edwards allowed individual artists the freedom to add their own insights to help inform the world. This approach allowed individuals to add a level of detail to the film that may otherwise have been too complex to manage without significant effort, instead giving artists a clear creative area to work within and to add their own value.</p

Our key takeaway from this talk was that even with a production with the scale and value of The Creator, taking a loose/agile approach and allowing individual members of teams to add insight can lead to a more effective end result.

Above: A still from the cinematic trailer for Magic: The Gathering, Dawn of the Phyrexian Invasion. by Axis Studios Image Source

Bringing Characters to Life

Amy Ash – Axis Studios

Similar to the previous talk on The Creator, there was an emphasis from Axis on the importance of allowing individual artists to add their own value and insights but within tighter budgetary constraints.

What this meant in practice was a need to iterate fast, sharing lo-fi ideas and kill bad ones quickly, so that time could be used to its fullest effect in creating beautiful visuals and doing it right. This approach also found its expression in Axis’ workflow, where they predict areas which are likely to be adjusted at later stages and build assets in such a way that they can be tweaked quickly and rolled out with a minimum of effort.

The takeaways: plan to fail early and often, be prepared to share your ideas and don’t take it personally if they don’t make the cut! Spend some time early on in the process setting up your work correctly so that should you need to make changes down the line it minimises headaches.

Above: ‘Oddballs’ Developed by David Sisson with the help of ‘AIdeation’. Image Source

Unlocking the Future of Digital Artistry

Dylan Sission – Pixar / Renderman

The first of several sessions where the use of Generative AI was a feature, it was interesting to hear how Dylan Sission used a custom AI workflow to augment his creative process. He spent time detailing how he was able to use AI to help test ideas before production, a process he called AIdeation, before using the references he had generated to make the assets using his existing workflow.

Using AI in a similar way to how we would use current search engines to obtain incredibly specific references is a great way to produce something new, more efficiently but also ethically.

This is a great way to integrate existing AI Technologies into workflows right now in a way which is both legally safe and does not negatively impact other creators, their IP and their livelihoods.

Above: Rupert Brehenny speaking at RENDR 2024.

The Future of Generative AI

Rupert Brehenny – AI Founder

Following on from Dylan’s talk on how he integrated AI into his workflow, the next talk from Rupert Brehenny was geared more towards contextualising Generative AI, examining some existing tools that are in use and speculating about where it’s going.

When comparing the rate at which AI has been adopted to other industry changing technologies, Rupert clearly showed that Generative AI is on an exponentially greater adoption curve and is likely to massively disrupt creative industries in the near future, especially creative industries. Even in the last year, he made a point that we are only one year ahead of the notorious ‘Will Smith Spaghetti’ clip, and now we’re looking at footage which is almost indistinguishable from reality.

Rupert was under no illusions that AI is ‘going to take jobs’, and in defence of this position offered that AI tools will take out the more repetitive manual aspects of our jobs such as motion tracking and rotoscoping and free people up to be more creative – to focus on the big picture rather than the nitty gritty technical parts of creative work.

AI is a force which is massively disrupting creative industries right now, and there are many tools out there which we can use which can massively augment or replace existing workflows. Tools like Leia Pix and Midjourney can be used as part of existing workflows to allow us to be more creative, but there are big legal and ethical questions that we need to ask ourselves about the extents to which we use AI.

Above: Still from ‘An Irish Goodbye’ by Ross White and Tom Berkeley. Image Source

Making an Oscar Winning Short

Ross White – An Irish Goodbye

This one was a great story about how to motivate yourself and do your best work while trying to improve yourself. Ross and Tom created ‘An Irish Goodbye’ as part of a planned series of 3 shorts, the purpose of which was to both develop their skills as filmmakers and build their portfolios.

Told as a linear story which took them from their first short ‘Roy’ to its culmination with ‘The Golden West’, Ross explained how they went from trying to produce films that they loved on a shoestring budget to flying out to the Oscars (a trip which cost more than it did to make the film for which they were awarded).

Often the best opportunities to learn new skills and develop as a creative are ones where you get to learn on the job. Keep an eye out for these opportunities, and instead of saying “I can’t do that”, take the chance to grow your skillset!

Above: SKALAR by Christopher Bauder. Image Source.

Space, Object, Sound, Light & Interaction

Christopher Bauder – Dark Matter

Our first talk of Day 2 was from Christopher Bauder, a German Interaction Designer and Media Artist from Berlin whose practice involves digital installations and light. He showcased some of his latest projects and gave us an insight into his experiences in working both as an artist and designer on the likes of the ABBA tour and in creating the likes of Lichtgrenze, an installation marking the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Our key takeaways here were around the integration of digital visuals with sound, and in creating physical installations using emerging technologies which marry light, sound and interaction.

Above: Still from ‘GREENPEACE – TURTLE JOURNEY’ by Gavin Strange for Aardman. Image Source

Animation, Direction & Design

Gavin Strange – Aardman

A very interesting (and at times deeply funny and relatable) talk about working at Aardman, their culture, and how Gavin Strange began as a Digital Designer and found his way into a multidisciplinary role at Aardman.

He shared his thoughts on how to stay motivated as a designer by creating things for ourselves (and our kids) in our own time when we can. He also touched on a point around Design and style, where despite designers being deliberately without style we often have what he calls a voice, because we make things that make us feel.

Being creative doesn’t stop at 5pm, we’re creative all the time and a great way to stay motivated is to create things for ourselves, vary our practice and expand our skillsets.

Above: Grogu from Disney+ Series ‘The Mandalorian’. Image Source.

Designing and Shooting Miniatures in a Modern VFX World

Hal Hickel – Industrial Light and Magic

The thought that the likes of ILM would still be using physical models for The Mandalorian and Ashoka is quite shocking. However, Hal Hickel talked through his reasons for shooting miniatures when CG seems like an easier and quicker option.

Ultimately, if there is time and budget to shoot miniatures then why not? If the process is fun and there is the budget to do so, then shooting miniatures can be just as effective as using CG. In fact, according to Hal, shooting miniatures often necessitates ‘using unique processes, which yield unique results’.

He admitted that while the models they were building and shooting might not hold up to the level of inspection that a CG asset would, sometimes for the right production with just the right level of jankiness, a physical model or animatronic like Grogu from the Mandalorian can create a nostalgic response that is arguably more effective than something designed to perfectly imitate reality.

If you have the time and inclination to go back to basics, then why not? If you don’t have to use contemporary processes and tools to do a job then using a different process can lend work a unique, fresh quality that stands out from the crowd!

Above: Promotional photograph by Chiabella James for Denis Villeneuve’s DUNE.

Capturing a Film in One Shot

Chiabella James – Stills Photographer on Dune and Saltburn

While familiar with the importance of stills and BTS photography from our own activity, it was interesting to hear the perspective of Chiabella James, who has worked as a stills photographer on a number of high-profile films.

On a busy set with deadlines looming and a hectic production schedule it is understandable that getting good stills is not at the forefront of most minds. That said, stills are vitally important when it comes to advertising films and awards submissions, so the importance is not lost on Chiabella.

It was interesting to hear the creative ways in which she was able to work around others, think on her feet and take initiative in order to get the shots she needed.

Even when you’ve been given a seemingly impossible task, if you keep your eyes peeled and take initiative there’s always room for creativity.

Above: Grogu from Disney+ Series ‘The Mandalorian’. Image Source.

Artificial Intelligence:
The New Frontier of Creativity

Rupert Breheny – AI Founder

Dylan Sisson – Pixar / Renderman

Merel van Helsdingen – NXT Museum

The final event of the festival was a panel discussion between two previous speakers we’d seen and Merel van Helsdingen from NXT Museum, an Amsterdam art museum focused on new media art and interactive installations.

The speakers discussed their thoughts around how AI was effecting creative industries and creativity more generally, sharing anecdotes from designers and artists who had been affected by recent developments. One such cautionary tale being that of an un-named popular digital artist who could no longer find their own work on google, but could easily find AI imitations of their style.

On the other hand, there was a lot of discussion on the possibilities presented to us by AI, with Merel and Rupert expressing the excitement felt by many creatives about the things they could do now which were unthinkable even just a year or two ago.

Sadly the panel did not open for questions, because the question we would have liked to pose is this: what is next for AI Driven Creativity, and what do creatives need to be doing NOW in order to keep abreast of this new industrial revolution?

Final Thoughts

If we have learned anything from RENDR 2024, it’s that creative industries are in a state of flux. Technological advancements are outstripping the rate at which governments can legislate and legal systems can create precedent. Our job as creatives (especially those in digital spaces) is to determine to what extent and how best to utilise these developments in order to do three things:

  1. To enable us to do the best work we can do without plagiarising others’ work.
  2. To enable us to use our time more effectively and devote more time to the elements of our craft that we love.
  3. To create value for our clients, giving them the best possible value for their money without sacrificing quality.

On behalf of the digital team, I’d love to say a massive thank you to Genesis for giving us this learning opportunity. We can’t wait to attend RENDR 2025!