How CGI can Save the Sea Lions

Activists and artists are coming together at the Gnomon School of Visual effects for a weekend-long event and art exhibit to raise funds for the California Wildlife Center.

Maurice the Orangutan almost looked like real flesh and blood in the new Planet of the Apes films. But the reality is that of the two species of orangutan on earth, one is endangered, the other is critically endangered. No matter how amazingly real that CGI orangutan looked, it will never be able to fully mimic the actual animal.

Animal is a gallery show and weekend event featuring top visual effects and CGI artists from the film and video games industries from May 1-3 at Gnomon School of Visual Effects in Hollywood, California.

The Gnomon School is partnering with Art Explorers, a collective of artists who have worked in both industries who came together about two years ago to blend art, nature and conservation. The upcoming three-day event features presentations, talks and demonstrations by artists and a few members of Art Explorers in hopes of raising funds for the California Wildlife Center’s conservation efforts. The event is free, so donations are PWYC.

Dan Beaulieu
Dan Beaulieu

Five hundred sea lion pups have been admitted to rehabilitation centres in California since Jan. 1. The past three winters have seen many starving pups wash ashore on California’s beaches. Numbers suggest that 2015 will be the worst so far.

Travis Bourbeau is the director of industry relations at Gnomon and joined Art Explorers last month. He decided to join after having a conversation with AE member and concept artist David Levy. Bourbeau told Levy about a time he saw a stranded sea lion who was surrounded by seven of her dead offspring on the beach. He was shocked at the way other onlookers reacted, taking selfies and continuing to play Frisbee with their dog while the sea lion struggled in the sand. Finally, when rescuers came to deal with the situation, Bourbeau spoke to them and found out they were swamped with similar calls and only had the resources to rescue three sea lions per day.

This event and later conversation prompted Levy and Bourbeau to shoot a mini-documentary.

“Once we started doing research, we found that all the mammal rescue really needed were funds to build more pens to handle more rescues,” said Bourbeau in an e-mail interview with CGM. “Raising just a little money could double their rescue efforts. This is when we decided to organize the Animal event - to help give the story a happy ending.”

Jaw Cooper
Jaw Cooper

Manuel Carrasco is an animator and concept artist who co-founded Art Explorers alongside Levy. Carrasco, Levy and two other members of Art Explorers own a studio together and all have a passion for the outdoors, although different ones.

Carrasco is a Master Falconer and spends almost the entire winter in the forest flying his hawks.

“The outdoors, nature, animals. They inspire my creativity. They’re the reason I am where I am today,” Carrasco told CG.

Naturally, the partnership between The Gnomon School and Art Explorers brings together digital art and conservation activism to help make a difference and prevent the threats many animals face each day.

Bourbeau said that visual effects artists not only create beautiful art, images and characters, but they generally have a part in creating and bringing to visual light traditional fictional heroes. He used Master Chief, Lara Croft and Nathan Drake as examples of traditional heroes in video games that have a huge audience worldwide.

 Jerad Marantz
Jerad Marantz

Since the artists involved in creating these icons and heroes generally have a massive audience and a lot of followers, professionally and personally, they could influence the conception of the traditional hero. They could design a character based on the very real elephant guards of Zakouma, who were killed in Chad in 2012 by poachers, for protecting some of the last living herds of elephants between the Sahara and the Congo forest, Bourbeau said.

“It could become a trend almost instantly, traveling across the planet in hours on forums like ZBrushCentral or in 3D magazines. Even just a poster could influence the younger generation to root for a different kind of hero,” said Bourbeau.

While Animal isn’t quite taking these giant leaps of influence, it’s a step towards using a creative medium to raise awareness about serious issues and help aid the people and organizations who work to protect the delicate and fragile state of many of earth’s species.

To register for the free artist presentations, click here.

The exhibition in the Gnomon Gallery will be on display from May 1 to June 12.

 

Top image by Thierry Doizon