Monday, November 22, 2010

"It gets better" - love, Pixar

Hello friends,
 
My friends and colleagues prepared a message that I found touching, and would like to pass on.
 

 
I hope you like it, because these are some of my best friends and some of the best, real people I had the honour of working with in my life.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Cars 2 first peek

 

First peek at the next movie my friends are working on. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Journey to the Center of America

Following the trend I started for myself last year, I made Siggraph be a part of a larger trip. I have been together with an American girl, Cynthia, for almost a year now, and in that period she spent a couple of months in Costa Rica. That was the chance I had been waiting for to visit!

Also, I found interesting that a tiny country like the central American republic had a wealth of six visual effects and animation companies representing it at Siggraph. Italy, with a population larger by one order of magnitude, had none. Needless to say, that tickled my curiosity.

If you expect a warm country to be a sunny country, without consulting when the rainy season happens, you'd be sorely disappointed. It rained every single day of the two weeks I spent there. Still, the Sun managed to poke through the clouds most mornings making sure I woke up early most days to enjoy the beautiful landscapes and fun action that was awaiting me.



Costa Rica truly is a beautiful place. Most of it is covered by verdant jungles and green hills, and the coasts can boast some fantastic beaches, where sea turtles seasonally lay their eggs. Small and medium coastal towns flourished (according to some got spoiled) because of western tourists and surfers, attracted by a stable democracy, awesome waves, and a cheap currency. 

I suppose we blended right into that category, although we were no surfers. We tried to keep out of the most beaten path where possible, and visited small towns. After Cynthia spent some weeks studying Spanish in a large and modern botanical research facility, we got to visit it, and learn a lot about coffee, cocoa, and the many local and unique species of plants of Costa Rica. The next stop was a long and strenuous white water rafting trip down the river towards the Pacific Ocean. Now, that was a lot of fun, even though Cynthia fell off the our boat and we had to fish her back into it. We did more snorkeling and saw fascinating mangrove forests, as well as whales and dolphins. But before I left, I had a chance, before heading back home, to visit a charming coffee farm up on the cliffs of Monteverde.

 Food is usually simple and filling. Rice and beans are omnipresent, as well as fried platanos and tropical, delicious fruits. Portions are huge and it is easy to get used to eat a lot. Perhaps unsurprisingly, obesity is a problem in Costa Rica too. 

Although the population of the country is relatively small, people are very different from place to place. Most people are devoted catholics and we arrived right in the middle of a great, huge pilgrimage. People from all over the country walked to Cartago, where a relic was being shown to people. Traffic in the only large city, San Jose, reminded me of the worst driving practices of us Italians, while the coastal regions are a true pleasure to cruise and the people there are way more laid back.

As I think with pretty much everywhere I go, I wish I had more time to spend and explore this place. Unfortunately I have a limited amount of time to spend away from home. Fortunately, I love what I do at home, just as much as I love traveling.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Done, and done


Thanks to all who came to visit me at the Pixar booth. In such a short time it has been really hard to catch up with everyone I meant to, and I predictably failed to do so. Still, it has been great to see you all, even if only for such a short chat.

Being at the Pixar booth you get to meet all sorts of people. Other than old friends coming to say hi, most people came to ask about the giveaway of teapots and Toy Story 3 posters. There were many students who were trying to show their reels, and a few people interested in purchasing licenses of Renderman. Then again there were people that were just creepy. A recruiter told me there was a guy standing a few feet away, not approaching but never ceasing to stare at her. Another guy, which I will call "The Creep", came just to complain about the teapot design this year, and to interrogate me on my culture on the teapots. The Creep was easy to spot: fairly old, crazy Einstein-like hair, Toy Story shirt over a fake tattooed skin colored shirt. The Creep was at every party I was at and probably many more. He pretended to be a bouncer at The Foundry party, randomly attempting to reject people, including me, before disappearing. He also tried to crash the Renderman User Group. He did not make it because they recognized him for being the one escorted out the previous year for harassing the ladies attending the user group.

It also was a very productive session this year. This is perhaps the first year my primary purpose is not to find a job or to see the cool new papers and courses. I was there to address specific issues related to 3d painting, which is what I am working on now, and I was successful.

For a few years now there has been the feeling that Siggraph talks are getting less and less interesting. Or at least, less groundbreaking, addressing problems that have been already solved and improving on current techniques. I loved last year's keynote by Rob Cook, in which he said that while research on computer graphics for motion pictures might have slowed down, there are a lot of unexplored challenges that fall straight in the original definition of what Siggraph was born for: Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques. Fields such as augmented reality, mobile gaming, social networks, are still in their infancy, and other fields we haven't even started to explore are waiting ahead. I am looking forward to see what research will bring us in these terms. Still, this year was very focused on improving current computer graphics solutions, so not as exciting as it could have been.

Parties were pretty good. I got invitations and joined the ones from Lucas (thanks Diego), Pixar Renderman, Siggraph Vancouver Chapter, Blur (thanks Alessandro), The Foundry (thanks Rob). It was interesting to see how different companies spent differently their party budgets. Pixar spent it on nice food and wine and a huge, quiet, conference room. Lucas hired a very nice club right next to the conference, with open bar and lovely ambiance. The Vancouver Chapter party coincided with the opening night of Blizzard Starcraft II, so both parties were held in that location, not far from the conference either, but the location was a lot less nice. Blur instead decided to limit invitations, hire a much smaller location, right in the middle of fashionable Hollywood, and enhance the show with gogo dancers and flaming shows and two open bars that required an hour of wait. Parking in Hollywood, however, was difficult and expensive, and the staff was surprisingly unfriendly. The Foundry, finally, were pretty smart and hired a very cool theatre near the convention and used most of the evening showing their technology and, when they were done, they put on a locally known DJ that prevented any further discussion with the volume of the music. A quieter upper floor with a separate bar was provided for those who wanted a productive business talk.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

It is that time again


It is Siggraph time! And this time it happens to be close to home too! Los Angeles, one of the most populous metropolitan conglomerates, and one of the most loved and hated cities in the world. I feel like I belong more to the second group, since I love compact, walkable cities such as San Francisco, but still, Los Angeles has so much to offer, and I am not going to miss out.

I will be around, checking out some of the events, I will attend the Renderman User Group and, on Tuesday afternoon, I will be helping out at the Pixar booth, so if you have a minute, please come say hi!

Cars Toons

A week after coming back to the US, a lot of things have happened. I have learnt that the paper I submitted, together with Michael Kass, to the Siggraph committee fell just short of being accepted, although it will be adjusted and published on ACM Transactions on Graphics. 

I changed project, and started working on three shorts. Two of them are related to cars, and the series is called called Cars-Toons. They will not be released in the theatre, they will rather be available on DVD and on Disney Channel.

Some of them are actually already available on the net! Check them out:




Look forward to seeing the next ones!



Saturday, April 17, 2010

Adiós

Its been a few weeks now, and I had time to think back on my week in Brazil. It has been great in many ways. I have met some really warm locals, I have caught up with some of my best friends, who gathered in Salvador from all over the world (Italy, UK, New Zealand, United States) to share this happy event with Alessandro and Taise. I tried as much as possible to make time to see the place too. And Salvador is certainly a place to see. In many ways.


The city has many faces. A pretty historical district, dotted by colorful houses, a high city and a low city connected by an enormous elevator. There are some touristy and pricey areas near the beach, those areas that host one of the craziest Carnival parades in the world. The city population is mostly black, although it is not hard to spot some beautiful mixture of races.

Poverty is a big issue. If I thought San Francisco had a lot of homeless people, Salvador definitely beat it it its richer city districts. Then there are the poorer city districts. We walked near one by chance, while trying to reach a local market. Taise refers to it as favela. And definitely, it met the expectations I had to see unsafe, old buildings, dirt roads, people sitting around. The city council did not seem to care, since they built a structurally questionable viaduct right above it.

As one might expect in a poor city, crime rate is high. Especially in the richer areas. Everyday I spent at the hostel I had a chance to hear about people being pick pocketed, or mugged, not just in the dark alleys we would tend to avoid anyway. That worried me a bit, since I already had lost my luggage, and easily stood out as a tourist despite my attempts at buying local clothes.

The beach was so beautiful though, and every morning you could see people of all ages working out there. Kids playing football, youngsters playing Frisbee or foot volleyball (which is amazing to see), adults jogging and seniors doing pushups, right there by the sea. I have to say, coming from the US, watching these people bodies felt like seeing the next step in human evolution. Although it was probably more like the previous step in human involution.


Reading the press (yes, I found that I can read Portuguese), and watching news on TV, I got the feeling that Brazil is a country full of great people, proud of their country and of how quickly it is becoming a world power. I was saddened by the little sustainable it is though. People were boasting about finding some new oil reserves, and despite the widespread usage of biofuels, the origins of it can be partly connected to the destruction of the rainforest around the country. More in general, there seems to be little respect of an environment they have for so long taken for granted. Then again, as a westerner, who am I to throw the first stone.

 What about the food? The local cuisine of Bahia derives its roots from Africa, more than from the rest of South America. Muqueca is definitely something to try. It is something between a Spanish paella and an mild Thai curry, made with African spices and coconut milk. It looks like a seafood soup, served with flour and rice separately. Something common to the rest of the country, they love their meat. Things as a churrasco are visible in many places, although they seem to be very much of a luxury meal, more for the tourists than for the locals. More in the everyday menu is the carne ao sol (meat dried of a day or two in the Sun), served with a delicious manioc and cheese puree. My drinks of choice, good for rehydrating from the burning sun, was almost always a raw coconut, which I recommend to try with the local liqueur, Cachasa.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Biem-Vindo

About a year ago my good friend Alessandro mentioned the fact that he was going to get married. And gave me about a year notice. So no excuses, although I´m pretty good at missing these important occasions, I was not going to do it this time.

There are really no good flights between San Francisco and Salvador - Bahia. All require at least two connections. To be safe, I planned extra time for the each and did not put anything too important in the checked-in backpack - with the notable exception of the suit I am supposed to wear at the wedding.

And of course, things went wrong. After an excruciating eight hours wait in Atlanta, the delay was long enough that I missed my connection in Brazilia. Besides, they also lost my luggage, and I still do not know its location at this time. The replacement flight from Brazilia to Salvador was also late. But it´s ok because I waited for my ride (which I am grateful for) for another hour at the airport. So overall, the trip took about 35 hours. And without my stuff.

It wasn´t all bad though. I had plenty of time to peruse my portuguese lesson podcast and to catch up with the world news. And once I got there, starving like a velocyraptor, I had two dinners. One italian, and one Brazilian.
  
So here I am, in Bahia, stuffed with carne ao sol, enjoying the sound of the waves and the comfortable couch of one of my best friends.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Circkus Animation

Ever wondered what on the world it is exactly that I do? CirkusProductions recently posted this cute video on Youtube which makes computer animation a bit more understandable for those who do not live with it every day.



Easy, isn't it?

Monday, March 8, 2010

Congratulations to the Up crew!

The Oscar night was fun! I was glad to see UP win the Best Animated Feature Award. It is so rewarding to see the hard work and incredible talent of all my friends and colleagues be recognized yet again. Congratulations as well for the Best original score. I really love and am moved by the soundtrack, written by Michael Giacchino.



I would like to take a minute to congratulate Mauro Fiore, for his Best Cinematography Award with Avatar, and thank him for representing with pride us immigrated Italian artists in the world. All the talented artists and technical directors at Weta in New Zealand did an amazing job with the movie, and greatly deserved the Best Visual Effects Award too.

I was a bit sad to see neither shorts "French Roast" or "Lady and the Reaper"  - the first Oscar nominated animated work from Spain - or the new Wallace and Gromit be rewarded for their fantastic job.

Finally, I think "Il Divo", my favourite Italian picture in the last few years, should have been in the short list for Best Foreign Movie Award, rather than for the Best Makeup Award, where it found itself unrealistically competing with sci-fi flicks like Star Trek.

What did you think?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Waiting for Oscar night - Legend of the Guardians

Friday night at Pixar I had a chance to see Alice in Wonderland. Other than being a very visually appealing movie, I was looking forward to that because before of the movie, I knew they would show the first trailer of "Legend of the Guardians" in 3D.

Only 6 months away from the due release, this movie from Zack Snyder and Animal Logic changed its name from "The Guardians of Ga'Hoole", the original books title, to avoid conflicting with the current release name of the new Dreamworks movie "The Guardians of Childhood". I had a very minor part while working at Animal Logic on this new release, and I am looking forward to seeing it in theaters. It will probably be contending for the next year's Academy Awards.

So here is the new trailer! Look forward to it!

Enjoy the Oscar Night!

Friday, February 12, 2010

New Toy Story 3 trailer

Here it is!



My first movie here at Pixar is getting closer to be finished, and a new HD trailer is now out.

A lot of story and new characters are revealed, so be warned!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Say cheese...




Ever wondered how mozzarellas are made? Lately a friend of mine wanted to find out, so we got together and tried. Several sets of instructions can be found online and the do not always agree on amounts. They do, however, agree that the heating temperatures must be precise if you want it to work. Which is especially hard if you have an electric stove. That is why we had to get a thermometer for food. Ours in particular was designed for frying and for candies (not sure what those two have in common other than being tasty and unhealthy).


At our first batch we tried an easier version of the instructions found online. Add the citric acid, then the rennet, heat, separate, swirl, separate more, drip the whey and keep the curd and so on. Once it seems separated enough you can work the cheese like a pizza dough. That's the fun part, because, depending on how much water you took out of it, it can be worked into fun shapes. 

So how did it turn out? Well... we forgot the salt. And a couple of hours after making it, it was incredibly squeaky on the teeth, like Haloumi. The next day it still did not look like mozzarella, but both taste and texture got surprisingly close to a nice Scamorza cheese. 

At our second batch we felt confident enough to try a trickier verision of the instructions, that required more time at each step. We hoped to get much closer to a proper mozzarella. But the curd never did set and we ended up making just a lot of Ricotta. It was not all bad though, because the ricotta that we did not devour immediately with honey and fruit, ended up going into a delicious Rigatoni al Forno, with homemade ragu and bechamel. No, I did not take a picture of the Rigatoni. We just ate them.

So, all right, the cheese never turned up the way we wanted it, but it still tasted good. And a significant part of that "good" was because it tasted like something we had made from scratch. It tasted like we earned it. Still, I have to try that mozzarella recipe again, then you'll see the amazing pizzas I will make with it!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Up nominated for 5 Academy Awards


Congratulations to everyone at Pixar for the five Academy Award nominations on Up. In particular for Best Animated Picture and, hear hear, Best Picture! Wish us good luck for the Night of the Oscars!

Here is a little thought that Pete Docter shared.

Also congratulations for, in my opinion, the most visually experimental and undoubtedly charming Animated Picture of the year: The Secret of Kells.


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Le delizie del Piemonte - part 2

I spent a good portion of the rest of my holidays going out to local osterias, where I had a chance to refresh my memory of what is available around Torino.

One of the things I had forgotten is how common it is to find meats that are sometimes very hard hard to find elsewhere: roe deer, boar (real boar, not "wildened" hogs like here in California), guinea fowls, hare, chamois, donkey, rabbit or horse. Yes, horse, do not cringe my friend, it is relatively common to eat them in Italy.

Another thing that I noticed is how few ingredients are needed sometimes to make the most exquisite and flavorful recipes. And how the same ingredients sometimes taste so much better, being grown under the sun, with little or no use of pesticide or petrochemical fertilizers, with no need to boast how everything is organic on the menu, when that is the norm.

Well... at least until recently. Unfortunately industrial agricultural methods have been creeping into Italian farms too. There are more McDonald's in Torino than in San Francisco for example. Some crops are discarded in favor of a bigger, uniformed, more resistant or more productive ones, sometimes genetically modified, drenched in chemicals and often almost obliterating the production of some others. Farro for example, nowadays is hard to find even in Tuscany. I remember going to visit some small farms a couple of years ago during Christmastime. To be able to survive and to maintain their traditional, healthy ways of growing their food, they had to convert their business. It is called Agritourism. Basically they make a touristic attraction of their own life, work and food preparation. Their big country homes become charming guesthouses and the visitors can enjoy an idillic landscape and maybe even try to help on the farm, or simply hike, relax and enjoy delicious meals.

Have you ever heard of Slow Food? It is a movement born as a reaction of the spreading of industrial food production (represented easily by fast foods), who serve overprocessed food, sometimes containing toxic, unregulated compounds and, willingly or unknowingly, promoting social injustices and environmental degradation. Founded in 1989 by Carlo Petrini, and counting over 100.000 active members in 132 countries, the Slow Food movements acts to promote education and preservation of local traditions and recipes, ecodiversity and social justice. "Slow Food brings together pleasure and responsibility, and makes them inseparable". 

Why do I bring this up? Because there are a few restaurants here in the Bay Area that belong to the Slow Food movement (notoriously, Alice Waters' "Chez Panisse"). And because Torino hosts the first Slow Food center in the world, a hybrid between a food retailer, a series of restaurants and a cooking school, called Eataly. I have been there a few times before and every time it is great fun. This time I brought my parents for a steak, but the highlight of the day was definitely the fountain of molten Gianduia Chocolate. At the first taste I melted like a smiling block of butter.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Le delizie del Piemonte

Christmastime came and went quickly this year. I managed to get a late flight, due to an unexpected change in my holiday plans, and decided to go back home, to the usually icy Torino after a short visit to the unusually frozen London, instead of celebrating in the warm Californian Winter. While I was at it, I also determined to find out more about my own regional culture and food, and asked my friends to help me with that.

So I volunteered to help out my sister with Christmas lunch, making some appetizers. I made a few, looking for information online and for ingredients in the local markets where possible - unfortunately not as often as I would have liked.

So, my first creation was perhaps the easiest: hard boiled eggs, chopped in half and stuffed with their own yolk mixed with fresh parsley, mayonnaise, olives and capers. I had to give up to the hand made mayonnaise after trying with little success to beat it with a fork until past midnight the previous night. Next I prepared a simple baby squid salad, marinated in lemon overnight and garnished in a mountain of parsley.



Another thing I always wanted to try was the peperoni in bagnacauda. The first thing that needs to be done is the sauce: the bagnacauda. If you live in San Francisco, you may have heard of it when passing by or dining at the Stinking Rose. Don't go for it, it is a rip off and nothing like what it is meant to be. Get your crushed mountain of garlic, oil, butter and milk and cook the anchovies until it all becomes a cream. Then you may roast some colorful pepper sliced in long quarters in this sauce and finally pour more creamy and steamy bagnacauda on top of it all. It will look amazing. If you also remember to wash the anchovies (in case they were preserved in salt) it will also taste fantastic, unlike mine.



Next is a classic: I cooked for a long time a pot of polenta and then poured it into a tray. After letting it cool I cut it into cookie-like pieces and baked it for 20 minutes. When it started to get crispy on the surface I poured some gorgonzola on top, for a touch of stinky heaven.



Finally, I took inspiration from a recipe a good friend of mine uses, and made something entirely NOT from Piedmont. Pit some dates, fill them with scamorza (also known as smoked mozzarella in the US) and wrap them in some thick slice of prosciutto, and bake for a few minutes.

So, other than a couple of minor accidents, most things turned out good and we drowned it all with Bonarda, Barbaresco and Nebbiolo wines from our cold and beautiful lands.