Correction to This Article
This article about Gigacon, a convention of media arts and animation held at the National Building Museum, incorrectly said that the animated television show "The Boondocks" airs on Comedy Central. It is on Cartoon Network.

Art Institute of Washington holds first Gigacon, an animation convention

By Michael Cavna
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 11, 2010

It's a video game that's a little unsettling and a lot reassuring if you're a Washingtonian. Here's how it begins:

"At approximately 11:20 this morning, a terrorist evidently detonated a powerful bomb inside a crowded Metrobus. The scene is just horrible. [Some] appear to be dead; many more appear to be injured.

"Ambulances have already arrived to take the most critically injured to waiting hospitals," the newscaster continues with baritone gravitas, reporting for WOMG-TV (as in "W-Oh-My-God!"). "Elsewhere in the city, at least three other buses have been similarly attacked. I have here a witness to the explosion, Mr. Ted Smith from Rockville, Maryland."

The report is the opening sequence to "Code Orange 2," a 3-D simulation that is part video game and part training tool for medical personnel responding to a mass-casualty event.

"Code Orange 2," being developed by the District-based company SiTEL, was one of the creations featured Friday and Saturday at Gigacon, which bills itself as D.C.'s first media arts and animation convention. The event at the National Building Museum, sponsored by Arlington's Art Institute of Washington, drew more than a dozen presenters, including creators who have worked for Disney, Pixar, Lucasfilm, Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network and Fox TV.

Among them were two recent Art Institute of Washington graduates, Hilda Torres and Bakia Parker, two of the four core artists on "Code Orange 2." Both studied new media and animation and are now using their 3-D modeling expertise to digitally re-create the Washington Hospital Center in Northwest D.C. and scores of bloodied and bandaged "patients."

"We've got triage, we've got people coming up in cars, some people in ambulances," explains Parker, 27, a native of Trinidad who started at SiTEL in January 2008 while still in school.

The player signs up for roles such as doctor, nurse, transporter or clerk; then "your job is to diagnose all the patients as efficiently as possible," says Torres, from Fairfax. "You've got to determine who needs what treatment and who needs to be rushed into triage."

As you enter the virtual hospital, you encounter an array of scenarios and, using a PDA that aids in making quick assessments, determine which casualties should get first priority. "If you don't do it correctly, the people can actually fall over and die," Parker says.

"We're still working out the scoring system, like how many points do you lose if someone dies on you."

Parker says he expects SiTEL to market the finished version to hospitals by year's end.

SiTEL -- short for Simulation and Training Environment Lab -- is located at Washington Hospital Center, which Parker says plans to use "Code Orange 2."

Parker and Torres are in-the-flesh success stories for the dozens of Art Institute students milling about the convention. Sometimes graduates aren't sure how to pursue their art career, says convention director Bryan "Kaiser" Tillman, an artist who heads the institute's new media and animation department. So he told them: "Let me bring some of the top professionals to you." Thus, Gigacon.

The event, which was open to the public, is an outgrowth of the institute's past two years of animation forums, in which professionals gave demonstrations and reviewed student portfolios. The dream is to grow Gigacon into a larger convention for all of Washington to embrace.

"This test run seems successful, and this event is just going to get bigger," says Art Institute student Rafael Karganilla, 20, of Fort Meade.

Unlike many major cities, including Baltimore, Washington lacks a true comics convention (the closest thing perhaps being the annual Small Press Expo in Rockville). Tillman, who last year hosted a panel at the granddaddy animation event, San Diego Comic-Con, thinks the time is ripe for Washington. "We've got so many animators and so many other artists and so much talent in the area, there's no reason Washington shouldn't have its own big convention."

As for the professional presenters sharing their expertise with students, they say they get something from the event, too. One presenter was character illustrator David Colman, whose résumé includes Fox TV's "The Cleveland Show," Comedy Central's "The Boondocks" and the feature film "Open Season." "I've been in their position," he says. "I know just what it's like, so that's why I want to give back and help them."

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