Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Guy I Went to School With

Right: my high school yearbook.

Quick! Name a computer animated film!

Chances are you just named a film by Pixar: Toy Story, A Bug's Life, Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles or maybe their latest one, Cars. Fair enough. Pixar is #1 in its field, and deserves to be. But what if I say "other than Pixar?" What CGI animated film will you name them? I'm guessing the answer is Shrek, or Ice Age, or maybe Robots. I have no inside knowledge about Shrek, but as for those other two films, well, read on.

But first, name a major film of the last 15 years, Star Wars and Johnny Depp films excluded, that was a special effects blockbuster. Did you name T2? Men in Black? The Mummy? There are others, of course, lots of others. Most of them have the words, "Industrial Light and Magic" in the end credits somewhere.

If you've seen Ice Age or Robots, then you've seen a film directed by Chris Wedge, who graduated with me from Fayetteville-Manlius High School, Class of 1975. If you've seen Terminator 2, the Men in Black movies, The Mummy, Hook, Death Becomes Her, or even Star Trek VI, then you've seen the CGI wizardry of one of John's closest friends from college, John Berton.

Right: John Berton in 1997, from the website. He was scheduled to give a lecture there.

I worked on Wikipedia articles for both of these guys today. Chris Wedge already had a "stub" article, so I just added a couple of links and the fact that he went to F-M, SUNY and OSU. John Berton didn't have an article, so I wrote one. John (Blocher) thinks I should have asked Berton (John Blocher has always called Berton by his last name) if he wanted a Wikipedia article out there. He was a little shocked when I replied that Berton is a public figure, and most of the info is out there already.

Aside from their each having gone to school with someone in this house, Wedge and Berton have a number of things in common. Both are CGI wizards, of course, and they both supervise other CGI animators. Both got their Masters degrees in computer animation from Ohio State University, which was doing cutting edge stuff back when it took a supercomputer to animate a little bird figure. Both have lectured at major universities. Both have said in public that it's cheaper and easier to hire a human actor to do something (if it's not something impossible) than to make a realistic CG figure do it instead.

And oh, yes. Both seem to be completely unrepresented in the Blocher DVD collection. Odd, that.

There is one way in which these two guys are very different, at least with respect to their relationships with Blochers of Tucson, Arizona. As I said, John and John were close friends in college. Together they were two-thirds of a radio comedy troupe called Pith. We even had dinner with John and Susan a couple of years ago, at the Kon Tiki here in Tucson. But Chris Wedge...I have to admit that I don't remember the guy at all.


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