Labour of love wins international animation acclaim for Cunningham

Youtube VideoTwo New Zealand soldiers are trapped behind enemy lines in western France during World War I. They find a crying baby in a ditch, lying under its dead parents. What happens when one man wants to save it and the other doesn’t? Not only is this based on a startling true story, but the CG animated short film version, Poppy, has won two top awards at the SIGGRAPH 2010 Computer Animation Festivals.

Directed by Media Design School 3D course leader James Cunningham, Poppy won the Jury Award at SIGGRAPH in Los Angeles  in July and also took out Best in Show at SIGGRAPH Asia in Seoul last week.

David Coyle wrote the story about his great-grandfather and Cunningham spent most of 2008 making it. After directing real actors in a motion capture shoot at Weta Digital’s sound stage in Wellington, he worked on it at home in Auckland and lead a small team of CG artists, taking inspiration from the moody monochromatic look of Letters from Iwa Jima to develop the sets and lighting. His labour of love, encompassing 4500 hours of work, has found unprecedented international recognition.

“SIGGRAPH Asia is a world-renowned platform for showcasing the best in animation and digital media,” says Cunningham. “I think Poppy really shows audiences that computer animation can successfully portray strong emotional stories. It doesn’t have to be only used for spectacle and comedy. I’ve had feedback from people of all ages and backgrounds who say they’ve been moved by the film.”

Poppy is Cunningham’s fourth CG short film. His last film, Infection, screened at Cannes International Film Festival 2000, Sundance Film Festival 2001 and 20 other international film festivals. Before joining Media Design School, he was head of 3D at Digital Post and technical director on The Fellowship of the Ring at Weta Digital.

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