It Oughta Be in Pictures

Last Friday, i took a tour of the Bell Lightbox with a few other folks from the indie games scene. The Lightbox is a building in downtown Toronto where the industry screenings of the Toronto International Film Festival will be held. Since the place is still under construction, we donned our orange hardhats and startlingly heavy work boots to see how it was all coming together.

TIFF Toronto International Film Festival Bell Lightbox

Artist’s rendering. The area does not actually contain a gigantic car-less piazza, and Phantom left town over a decade ago.

TIFF Toronto International Film Festival Bell Lightbox

The building is basically every film fan’s fantasy. The upper floors are comprised of luxury condo suites that TIFF does not own, but the bottom few floors are a tech and film freak’s idea of a good time.

TIFF Toronto International Film Festival Bell Lightbox tour leader Markus

Our tour guide Markus was the only one among us important enough to get actual steel-toed shoes. The rest of us signed waivers and minded our piggies. That’s Shawn from ][ steeling himself for a girder to land on his foot, while Miguel from Spooky Squid Games adjusts his safety glasses in preparation for a barrage of nail gun ammo aimed directly at his face.

TIFF Toronto International Film Festival Bell Lightbox crazy machine

We were all enthused about getting a picture with this thing, because it looks like a mid-level boss from Half-Life. That’s Paul from Forest Games preparing to rip its junk out with his bare hands. Relax! i have a feeling it just smooths concrete.

TIFF Toronto International Film Festival Bell Lightbox exhibits space

This is the exhibit hall, where they’ll be displaying props and posters from movies in installations like the Tim Burton show currently at MoMA. One of the earliest events the space will hold is a sort of “best-of” festival, where the festival will screen the best and most talked-about films from years past. In the foreground, Rob from Get Set Games treads lightly.

TIFF Toronto International Film Festival Bell Lightbox tour large theatre

We were ushered (ha!) into the largest of five theatres. The variably-sized theatres are equipped to handle different film stocks, like 70mm. Our host Nick, second from the right, reminded me that Lawrence of Arabia was shot on 70mm. i nodded confidently, pretending i knew that. A short time later, i asked a Porky’s question.

One of the theatres is equipped with a roll-out piano so that live soundtracks to silent films can be performed. “Neat!” i exclaimed noiselessly, and waited for a title card to pop up telling everyone what i just said.

All of the theatres are equipped to handle digital showings. A master control centre, which we didn’t get to see because they worried our copious drooling would short the electrical equipment, can simulcast content into all five theatres at once. Master control also handles the numerous cameras embedded strategically throughout the building, which can capture star galas and other important events. There were no cameras eagerly eyeing our indie game dev tour, which i found depressingly appropriate.

TIFF Toronto International Film Festival Bell Lightbox Tessa

Tessa eyes a pile of construction ouchies in the middle of the computer lab, wondering if she can MacGuyver it into something awesome. The Lightbox will host school groups for different activities. In the room down the hall, students will be able to film and screen their own movies; the lab will have machines running editing software so that visitors can splice them together.

TIFF Toronto International Film Festival Bell Lightbox office space

i wondered if this place was the putting green, but it turns out this area will be used for offices. It’s right next to the scholars center, which will include viewing pods for screening films, and the TIFF’s collection of reels from over the years. This area was supposed to be a giant hole to let the lower-level atrium extend four floors, but cooler heads prevailed and claimed the space in favour of functionality over awesome emptiness.

TIFF Toronto International Film Festival Bell Lightbox balcony

Miguel and Paul grit their teeth, wondering what insulting caption i’m going to add to this pic once it’s published. (Uh … nice helmets, nerds? i got nothin’.) This open-air balcony has a great view of the CN Tower and the red-trimmed CBC headquarters. Nick points out that the building across the street hosts one of the event spy-cams like the others found throughout the Lightbox, to pull off some voyeur action on the roof. i wonder how the condo people feel about that?

TIFF Toronto International Film Festival Bell Lightbox screening risers

i turned right from the last picture and grabbed this shot of these risers, where guests will sit and enjoy open-air screenings of movies during summer events. (And, presumably, where guests will NOT enjoy screenings of movies during winter events, because it’s hard to enjoy yourself in -30 degree weather sitting on a slab of concrete.) In the background, the Hyatt tries to sneak in free advertising.

So why was a gaggle of game nerds invited to tour the space? TIFF is looking for ways to involve related cultural groups in the goings-on at the Lightbox, and that includes the Toronto indie game scene. Nick has been astonishingly receptive to our suggestions. If half of what’s been discussed comes to fruition, the Lightbox is going to be an absolutely incredible boon to the little guys in the game industry.

7 thoughts on “It Oughta Be in Pictures

  1. emmiemcg

    those boots WERE heavy!! didn’t notice the boss monster while we were there on the Tuesday before, but definitely got a good look at potential spaces for future TOJam Arcades (jim and i were even counting outlets at one point…HA). Nick and Shane are too cool for words.

  2. Bill thinksmartgames

    That’s awesome that they included a piano for silent films. Very forward-looking by looking backwards. And… that’s not actual grass on the “putting green,” is it? Be cool if it were.

    So will TIFF be helping out the indie game community? Offering grants in the form of a beautiful workspace, or something like that?

    ps – I might be wrong, but I live in New York (with a year-long pass to MOMA) and I’m pretty sure they pulled the Tim Burton exhibit a few weeks ago.

    1. Ryan

      Bill – the green stuff was actually an array of tiles to protect the carpeted flooring in that area. The building’s floors looked really lovely, wherever i could catch a glimpse of them between gaps in the plywood.

      TIFF definitely seems serious about helping out our community. i don’t think we’ll be able to use cheap/free office space as you might in an incubator, but it does seem like a place where we may be able to hold IGDA meetings or Hand Eye Society gatherings. i thought it would be great to do game launch parties there, and i’m REALLY interested in using the computer lab to do some teaching. i think i’ve been pretty up-front about my feelings on Flash teaching in Ontario colleges. ;)

      i think the Burton exhibit is a traveling show. i checked the MoMA website when i wrote the post, and they were still listing it. We’ve never really had a place in Toronto where that kind of show would fly, so it’s neat that we do with the new Lightbox.

  3. Bwakathaboom

    The funding bodies seem desperate to force partnerships between film, broadcast and new media and yet there’s still a hard line dividing the groups socially. I want Untold Entertainment to make a short film and I want Bruce McDonald or Atom Egoyan to make a game! The two branches of media need to interact in a more meaningful way than “We need a web game to market our film / tv show” or “There’s nothing film related going on right now, so you can host TOJam at our buildling”.

    It would be interesting if TIFF actually showcased Canadian (preferably independent) developers during the festival. Even if just a bank of showcase computers for festival attendees to play on. Swag bags of indie games, maybe?

    1. Ryan

      Bwakathaboom – these are great ideas, and you’ll be happy to know that a few of these things are already in motion.

      Of note: ain’t nobody asking Untold Entertainment to make a movie. It only goes the other way. You only ever see other industries – books, teevee, film – flowing INTO interactive. It’s not a two-way street. i get the distinct sense, at least in this town, that IDM (Interactive Digital Media) is seen as this wild, unknowable beast that traditional media must tame and bend to their will – to ASBORB into their industry as another storytelling tool. It’s not a partnership – it’s very much an acquisition mentality. Subjugation over cooperation.

  4. Bwakathaboom

    That’s a frustration I have with the industry in general. I think there’s only so far you can go modeling the old studio system where the creatives are little more than indentured servants. Developing games would be a net loss for any established filmmaker.

    Until the studios start to actually pay up for creative talent we’re stuck with mostly 38 year old man-boys designing games about jiggly boobies and guns. It doesn’t look good to share the opening night of “Slum Dog Millionaire” with some “Gun Sluts of the Third Reich” FPS shooter.

    1. Ryan

      “Gun Sluts of the Third Reich” … can i use that? When i make the same point about free-to-play Flash games, i always use “Zombie Hooker Baby-Mauler Tower Defense Extreme Part 2”. (no joke)


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.