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The very mention of the name Monte-Carlo conjures up images of Mediterranean sunshine, Cotes de Provence wine, fruits-de-mer and nights at the casino. And anyone who has been to this part of the world will know that all of these images are true. However, this year the weather was not so clement, and the cold spell that engulfed Europe during the latter part of February, managed to extend its grip as far as the principality of Monaco. Nevertheless, the cold weather was the very best quality, and the chill I caught was entirely tax free!

Apart from this year's unusual weather, Monaco is still the perfect venue for any conference, and has hosted the Imagina Conference for fifteen years. The Conference organisers are the Festival de Television de Monte-Carlo and the Institut National de l'Audiovisuel (INA). The Conference is always well attended, with many conference session audiences exceeding one thousand delegates. This year was no exception, and with a conference theme of 'Cyber-Earth' one can see why delegates travelled from every part of Europe to discover the latest advances in cyber-reality. Philippe Quiau, the Imagina Programme Chairman, designed this year's 3day Conference around the themes: Intelligent Interaction; 3D Animation; Cyber-Existence; 3D Navigation; the Internet; and Special Spectacle.

Intelligent Interaction

Thomas Ray, from the ATR Human Information Processing Research Laboratories, Japan, outlined his project to 'create a very large, complex and interconnected region of cyberspace that will be inoculated with digital organisms which will be allowed to evolve freely through natural selection'. The project is to be funded through the donation of spare CPU cycles from thousands of computers connected to the Internet. Amazingly, there is no sinister reason for creating these 'digital organisms', nevertheless, I don't relish the idea of any of them growing inside my PC! I have enough troubles with DOS as it is! Other interesting papers included Las Meninas by Michael Tolson from Xaos, USA, and Internet and Graphical Multi-player Games by Brian Moriarty from Mpath Interactive, USA. Tolson developed Turing's idea of 'morphogens' which are abstract chemical reactants that diffuse through a medium to create naturally occurring patterns. Tolson's plan is to implement them in software to explore a 'geometry of thought'. Moriarty's plans were much more down-to-earth: he wants to design games that can support hundreds or thousands of users.

3D Animation

This session is always a favourite of mine, and this year's topics were excellent. John Lasseter from Pixar chaired the session and gave an opening talk on his work in the making of Toy Story, the first completely computer-generated movie. He and Bill Reeves took us behind the scenes to see why it took four years to animate the film. Perhaps the most revealing part of the presentation concerned the everyday software problems that face any computer animation facility: they showed animation sequences where the legs of models travelled in the opposite direction to their bodies, and where eyes were rendered grotesquely out of all proportion. The film clips they showed were brilliant, and I am now looking forward to seeing the entire film. Daniel Jeannette gave a presentation on the making of Casper, Steve Glenn from Walt Disney Imagineering spoke about Hollywood embracing virtual reality, and Michael Jaffrennou described the making of an animation Pierre et le loup (Peter and the wolf), which failed to impress me.


This session was dedicated to seven presentations on topics such as Networked Teleexistence, Telesurgery, Endosurgery, Wearable Computers and Virtual Reality (VR) for Planetary Exploration. Probably, these subjects will not be realised this century, but are bound to arrive in the next millennium. For me, the most professional presentation came from Richard Satava, who spoke on Telesurgery, VR and the New World of Telemedicine. Although I had seen his slides and videos before, he speaks with such conviction it is so very believable.

3D Navigation

This session was about the tools required to navigate the WWW in 3D. Fabiom Pettinati, from Apple Computer, Inc. showed how this could be achieved using QuickDraw (TM) 3D and QuickTime (TM) VR. Another system called FAST (Flow Analysis Software Toolkit) was described by Val Watson from NASA and Jean Clucas from Sterling Software. FAST overcomes the problems of low resolution and low frame rates when communicating dynamic visualizations during live video conferencing, by only sending the scientific data and viewing scripts, and letting the viewer's workstation render the image locally.

Chris Laurel, from Dimension X, spoke about Iced Java and Liquid Reality. Ice is an API developed by Laurel for Sun Microsystem's Java language, and Liquid Reality is a VRML toolkit written in Java which utilises Ice for rendering. I must admit that I do like the names being chosen by programmers today; perhaps there is a chance of extending the life of certain languages by renaming them, such as Hot FORTRAN, or Lumpy COBOL++!

There were other presentations by Tamara Munzner, from the University of Stanford, who described three products: GEOVIEW, WEBVIZ and WEBOOGL, which speak for themselves; and Jim Kent, from SGI, talked about VRML and WEBSPACE 3D as navigation tools for the WWW.


The actual title for this session was From Virtual Banks to Cyber Casinos which was very apt for a conference based in Monte-Carlo! I have already become used to the idea of not having any money - only numbers on a piece of paper sent to me in red each month by my bank manager! What virtual banks seem to promise is the ability for them to take away any money I have faster, and send any money destined for my account twice around the world picking up interest before it finds its way into my account! Nevertheless, David Chaum, from DigiCash, convinced us that we do need an electronic mechanism for handling cash transactions over the Internet. He described a product called ecash, which had been awarded the ITEA grand prize by the European Commission for best IT product for 1995. Ecash runs on DOS, MS Windows, Macintosh, and most UNIX platforms, and the client can both send and receive electronic payments.

Warren Eugene from Internet Casinos, spoke about 'Cyber-Casino', where one can play blackjack, roulette, keno, craps, poker and slot machines, without having to get out of bed! He said that some of the questions he is often asked are: 'Can we trust Internet Casinos?', and 'Has organised crime approached you yet?'. One question that I wanted to ask was 'If my DigiCash payment was lost in cyberspace, would I have a horse's head left in my bed?'. I didn't ask it! Other presentations included The Virtual Bank by Lee Stein, The Strategy of MasterCard International by Ed Hogan, and Financial Transactions and Infohighways by Pete Hill.

Special Spectacle

There are many conferences where delegates are making their way home during the last day. Not so at Imagina, for the last day is always set aside for a session on film special effects. This year we had some excellent presentations on the films Babe, Species, Apollo 13 and Judge Dredd. Did you know that over a dozen pigs were used to make the film Babe? And probably, by the time the last one was putting on his make up, the first one was on sale in Tescos! However, it was very interesting to discover how all the animals were transformed into talking beasts with the aid of computer graphics.

Robert Legato, from Digital Domain, spoke about the making of Apollo 13, which seems to have used scale models throughout. When a delegate asked a question about the role of computer animation in the film, we were rather disappointed to learn that it had only been used to create ice and smoke during launch sequences.

Jerzy Kular, from Ex Machina, France, spoke about Krakken, a short computer animation currently under development. This included some excellent animation of imaginary underwater creatures. Another piece from Ex Machina was Period. This was animated by Philippe Billion, and for me, was one of the highlights of the show. Billion described how he had created a storm at sea using a triangular mesh surface, solid textures and some excellent mists. Although the sea was exciting on its own, an unmanned airship slowly descended into the sea and sank without trace. Good stuff!

There we are - another Imagina over, and I am back in England recovering from my cold, and saving up for Imagina '97.

John Vince
Bournemouth University