It’s CGSociety’s 10th Birthday!

CGSociety :: Special Feature

9 December 2011, by Paul Hellard


A lot has happened in the CG and VFX industry in the last ten years. We hope CGSociety has been an enjoyable companion to your career while working in movie and game productions. This article will illustrate and celebrate how far the industry has come. CGSociety is proud to be among the participating community. From the very beginning, CGSociety has been all about the artist. To be there helping this world community of talent improve in their work and further their careers by getting that dream job.

CGTalk forum manager Leigh van der Byl has been involved in the online community for the majority of her career. She’s been watching the industry evolve both from the inside and the outside. “So much has happened in the last ten years,” she says. “The way we work in visual effects has evolved considerably, as have our ways of communicating with our peers across the web”

“Software has come such a long way. Things that used to require a lot of experience and trickery to solve have become standard features in applications, but that hasn't made things any easier. Artists in the field are being tasked with pushing the envelope far further than it was pushed a decade back. “The work that we see in the big blockbusters of today would never have been dreamed of even as little as ten years ago, and having been in the field throughout this development of our craft has been really fascinating. I'm really glad to have been a part of it during this time,” van der Byl says.

“Sending a huge 'thank you' and even bigger 'congratulations' to the CGSociety for the wonderful ten years of connecting artists and ideas the world over.  You have created a rare and embracing place where people, their skills, and their dreams are shared generously, freely, and cooperatively.  I've learned a great deal from this community and am continually humbled by its many talents and their generosity and kindness that spreads throughout this global gathering.  Very much looking forward to yet another ten years of rich stimulations, inspirations, and friendships.  Thank you for all you've done and continue to do for so many of us out there who keep trying to make our dreams come true. – Much respect, Lorne Lanning.  creator of Oddworld.”



Started in a small room in Montreal by Leonard Teo, CGSociety began life as CGTalk/CGNetworks on December 9th 2001. It was a simple forum for CG artists. One of the first of its kind for the time. It wasn’t long before CGNetworks began to win prizes, sponsorships as a spotlight, the ‘go-to’ place for the industry, and those wanting to show off their talent as a digital artist.
2001 was also the year Final Fantasy: Spirits Within was released. This astonishingly real CG science-fiction story was inspired by director Hironobu Sakaguchi, who also created the original game series. The immense Lord of the Rings trilogy also debuted this year too. More and more artists wanted to know how to get involved. The CGTalk forums seemed to be the place to come to for that advice and for the inside knowledge.




It was in 2002 that 'bullet-time' John Gaeta, Warner Bros. and the Wachowski Brothers brought us impossible camera moves in Matrix Revolutions, the product of the new phenomenon of virtual cinematography. A spectacular example of these virtual visuals was the Burly Brawl sequence, but there was soon more screen lush to digest. Lord of the Rings: Two Towers brought the next segué in the biggest film story since Star Wars.
In the background of all this amazing work, the CGTalk forum and the news and features site CGNetworks gathered under a business name of Ballistic Media. The community wanted to see a compendium of digital art greatness, so the Ballistic Publishing team immediately called for entries. They were busy realizing their first EXPOSÉ Digital Art Annual. EXPOSÉ 1 marked the digital artist’s own home in glorious print.




After a couple of years staging challenges in the CGTalk forums, the first full-featured CGChallenge was staged in their own area of the forums. The first of these was an Alienware Challenge hosted by CGNetworks, attracting 1524 artists, from which 3876 images were uploaded. More followed closely after in an appreciated effort to stretch the artistic community's talents. Meanwhile, Lord of the Rings: Return of the King rolled out of Weta, Spiderman swung out of Sony Pictures Imageworks, The Hulk, Matrix: Revolutions and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl all came forth in what was another jam-packed year for cinematic releases. Many of the artists involved in these productions frequented the CGTalk forum, some calling it home since they started in the industry. Behind the scenes, pre-production began on AVATAR and Benjamin Button.

“The education sector of VFX and Computer Graphics has risen in the past years,” says Kirsty Parkin, manager of CGWorkshops, a very active part of “We would not have expected a course in CG ten years ago. Even our home town of Adelaide has them now. Mainstreaming of CG education has allowed colleges and professional studios to offer fully certified courses online. There is now more international collaboration between different production houses in many countries. Performance capture, compositing, lighting, rendering and the re-emergence of stereo in movie presentation, are all technologies that have morphed from backroom research into immensely valuable areas of the VFX and entertainment medium.”

Learning has always been central to CGSociety. Whether that comes from sharing on forums, entering challenges or doing CGWorkshops, doesn't really matter. The important thing is that artists can find a way to learn and improve from the things CGSociety offers. We hear lots of bad stuff about the Internet but when I look at the time that our Forum Leaders, CGWorkshops Instructors and more experienced artists devote to helping others I am always blown away by the spirit of generosity.” – Andrew Plumer, Ballistic Media CEO.



In 2004, two of CGSociety's CGChallenges were launched, boasting their 'MachineFlesh' and 'Grand Space Opera' titles. They went on to be released in book form as well. Ballistic Media’s publishing arm also released the first of a series of Master Class books.

The ‘d’artiste: Digital Painting’ book brought the classroom into print for digital artists. Also, The Art of Oddworld Inhabitants became the first of The Art of the Game series for Ballistic. Not content to stop there, CGNetworks produced and staged the 3DFestival conference in Copenhagen. Great to hear from the CGTalkers on the crew of The Incredibles, the Pixar movie of the Year that grossed over US$232 million in the US alone in the first two months.




In 2005, Autodesk bought Alias for $182 million in cash. This finally brought Maya and MotionBuilder under their control and brought a bunch of great minds into the team as well. The focus was quite simply to bring closer integrating workflow and interoperability between the products, and this was repeated in Autodesk’s buying of Mudbox from Skymatter two years later, and Softimage from AVID in 2008.

In April 2005, the conglomerate of websites formerly known as CGNetworks, which included,,, all merged to a single entity known as the 2005 also marked the year that George Lucas completed the Star Wars saga with Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. Other movie releases included Narnia', 'Sin City', 'King Kong' among many others.

As technology has evolved, so too has the bar for the quality of artwork. Ten years ago, a semi-realistic human head would make you a hero on the CG forums, but these days you need to be so much better than that to stand out from the crowd. So while improvements in software may have given us more accessible and intuitive toolsets to work with, we've never had the luxury of becoming complacent; on the contrary, now more than ever, artists need to work really hard to keep up with the pace. “When I came into the industry, being able to demonstrate that you could navigate a 3D viewport was sufficient to get your foot in the door, because hardly anyone could do it, but these days, artists looking to break in have to work so much harder to be noticed, while senior artists in the industry have to work hard to keep up to date with the latest tools and techniques that employers expect them to know,” van der Byl adds.



Congrats Paul! You and I met on a bus at Siggraph and it’s been great knowing you since then. All the best from me and from all of us at the SEMAFX Network!


About scottsemafx

Founder of The SEMAFX Network, 1998. Also founded the Creative Energy Alliance; originated the "Creative Energy Field" theorum. Founder of AniMichigan Showcase, and a promoter of Michigan talent from the full spectrum of creative arts.

Posted on December 15, 2011, in Animation. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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