Notes From Siggraph 2010, Part 2

Ricky At SIGGRAPH 2010, Part 2

Wednesday

I knew Wednesday was going to be a great day when a young Asian woman with a big skateboard sat down next to me, whipped out a paperback copy of Thomas Pynchon's novel "V," and started reading intensely. Considering the large amount of vampire romance and military thrillers I see people reading on the subway, the fact that a young person was reading such a brilliant and anarchistic novel pleased me to no end. I was smiling for the rest of the subway trip to SIGGRAPH. Wished I could have invited her along.

I came in a bit later on Wednesday because I had put in 12 hours the day before. I wanted to spend some time at the Game Papers and Production sessions which started early, but I needed to be alert and energetic for the long day ahead.

First up was something I had circled immediately when the advanced SIGGRAPH 2010 program came out months earlier: a Computer Animation Production Session on "The Making of Day & Night," a new short film from Pixar Studios. Held in the giant theater, I sat in the back since I had to make an exit before the session was over.


Teddy Newton, director of Pixar short 'Day & Night'

What a fabulous and enjoyable session it was, too. Although I know my opinion runs against the grain, I've had some problems with Pixar's big film releases like "Up" and "Wall-E." Technically brilliant, the stories seem to lack the same originality as that of the new technology they develop for these films. Sentimental and at times cliched, I've always preferred the stories in Japanese animation master Hayao Miyazaki's films because they are so original and are filled with challenging ideas. His films don't play it safe.

However, Pixar has always made it a point to take risks with their short films, and "Day and Night" is no exception. The director, Teddy Newton, was equally surprised when his pitch for the experimental film was accepted by Pixar. He described a complex and intense production session which, because of the nature of the film, required 3 versions of the full film to be created and then composited together. The source of the film came from a drawing of a keyhole Mr. Newton drew. He began to add things that are seen inside the keyhole, eventually leading to the keyhole itself becoming a character.

Mr. Newton's candid comments about the film and the ideas behind it were inspiring. He commented that several artists for the film had to re-learn an older style of drawing since "Day & Night" harkens back to animation styles from the 50's and 60's. I was impressed with ideas behind the film which the director said came from a quote by Wayne Dyer, "When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change." By way of proving this maxim, we got a chance to watch the short film again, knowing some of the ideas/production behind the film and, indeed, it was a different experience; more complex and immersive. I'm just so glad Pixar works on these kinds of films. What a great company.

Ducking out as the Q&A started for "Day & Night," I head across the street from the LA Convention center to the Palm Restaurant for a much anticipated 2 hour media lunch with John Peddie and his panel of speakers. The Palm is a wonderful, old style restaurant with beautiful wood paneling and an elegant d├ęcor. I ran into Vicky Gray-Clark, principle at Ambient Public Relations (she does PR for MAXON and I had seen her the day before at the MAXON luncheon) and David Basulto, writer for Post Magazine, an online/print magazine devoted to computer graphics. We decided to sit together, which turned out to be a lot of fun as we had a great time together.

Sergio, our other Renderosity reporter attending SIGGRAPH, had told me the John Peddie luncheon would be good, but I had no idea the next two hours would be some of the most stimulating and enjoyable time I would have at SIGGRAPH. Not only was the conversation and panel discussion fascinating, but the food was to die for. It took a while, but the impeccably dressed waiters brought several courses which were so good you could actually hear the people sighing in the room.


John Peddie Luncheon panelists

Quick info on John Peddie: he's an ex-computer graphics pro who started John Peddie Research in 1984 to "provide comprehensive data, information and management expertise to the computer graphics industry" through his online site and bi-weekly newsletter. His SIGGRAPH luncheons have been going on for the better part of a decade and are highly regarded. BTW, read his comments on SIGGRAPH 2010 here (very insightful and interesting).

For SIGGRAPH 2010, Mr. Peddie put together a panel of five experts (see photo) to discuss "Heterogeneous Computing" and the impact on CG of the new "HPU's," CPU's with integrated graphics. Using graphs and charts, Mr. Peddie led a stimulating discussion on the future of CG with entirely new CPU/GPU "same-chip" combinations. And although the discussion was often technical, I found myself taking copious notes and getting caught up in visions of the future. Especially interesting were the speculations on using the "Cloud" (internet) as a source of rendering for CG. Each panelist had plenty of time to speak and respond to each other with Mr. Peddie's witty comments and questions keeping everyone on track.

At the end of the session, Mr. Peddie gave away some wonderful prizes. Despite all of my positive thinking I didn't win anything, but Vicky and David both won very nice prizes. I can't say enough about this event. Really a standout in my whole SIGGRAPH experience. It was with genuine gratitude that I thanked Mr. Peddie when he came to each table to say hello.


SIGGRAPH 2010 Media Room

My stomach filled with fine food and my mind awhirl with ideas, I headed back to the Media room at SIGGRAPH to go over my notes and to do research on the people and topics presented at the John Peddie luncheon. SIGGRAPH provides computers, information and interview areas for journalists, something I've always been grateful for. On this occasion though, I ended up chatting with several people about the conference and then taking a short nap, which I needed after such a full lunch.

I headed out to the show floor after an hour or so and wandered along the aisles just taking it all in. Ended up at the Focal Press booth where they were running a sale on all of their books. I've always liked Focal Press and have reviewed some of their books here at Renderosity. Their catalog of published books on 3D and Animation is impressive. After browsing (the booth was crowded) for a while, I ended up buying Roland Hess's new book Blender Foundations, How to Cheat in 3ds Max 2011 by Michele Bousquet, and Tina O'Hailey's Hybrid Animation, which I'm currently reading and enjoying very much as it's about combining 2D and 3D for animation production. I hope to review all three books at some point for Renderosity.

Lugging my big bag of books, I headed over to the impressive Vicon Motion Capture Systems booth for a short meeting with Tom Armbruster, vice-president of sales at Vicon's "House of Moves," a major motion capture facility in Los Angeles. We actually had a nice couch and table where we were able to chat about current developments with Vicon and House of Moves. Although it was hard to hear because of all of the noise on the show floor, we had a good conversation about a new short film, "Beyond the Norm," House of Moves created to promote their animation team, but also to show the kind of work they can do since so much of it is hidden in games or is proprietary and can't be shared with the public.

Vicon is at the top of the heap when it comes to motion capture software and hardware. At SIGGRAPH, they were showing off their new T160, a full 16mb motion capture camera, the latest version of Blade, their motion capture and editing software, and a documentary on the making of "Beyond the Norm," which was written by Saturday Night Live vet Norm MacDonald. The Vicon booth was very active, so I only had a short time to chat with Tom, but it was very enjoyable and informative. I hope to tour the facility at some point for Renderosity. Keep your eyes peeled.


Stills from "Chase" by Mu Jianhong

After the Vicon meeting, I had an hour or so before a dinner appointment, so I checked the small SIGGRAPH conference schedule planner that is given out for free to everyone. I discovered that a special screening of "Chinese Student Animation" was going to start soon, so I hustled over to the Electronic Theater and sat down for an hour of simply wonderful animation from China. So many excellent films were shown that it's hard to pick one that stood out. Many films used classic Chinese painting styles to tell their stories, some were intriguing mixes of 2D and 3D, but the film that is still in my imagination is "Chase" by Mu Jianhong, who is from the Communication University of China. The unique, water-color style is so perfect for the story of a man and a stray dog that you become completely immersed in the story, forgetting that it's an animated film. Delightful.

I caught up with Charles Chen and John Martin for dinner at the Pantry at the end of the day. This is the 3rd SIGGRAPH we've gotten together and I love these guys. Charles is the CEO of Reallusion, creators of CrazyTalk and the animation/machinima tool iClone, both of which I've followed and reviewed over the years. Reallusion had a small section of the Intel booth on the SIGGRAPH show floor this year and I enjoyed watching John do his thing demoing iClone to interested people. Our dinner was very enjoyable and I discovered lots of great news for the future of iClone in particular. Can't reveal it here, but iClone 5 will be a major release, no question. I'm always impressed with the enthusiasm and passion both Charles and John have for their software. It's this kind of excitement that really makes a difference in how a company succeeds. I think Reallusion has a very interesting future.


John Martin at the Reallusion/Intel booth

Thursday (final day)

The last day of SIGGRAPH is always a bit of a letdown because so many people end up leaving early, which takes some energy out of the conference, but also the show floor is pretty tired by the last day. In fact, everyone is tired. However, even though it was evident that their were fewer people in attendance, the conference didn't really lose any energy. Classes, panels, and demos were going on for most of the day. I ended up coming in a little later in the morning and missed a Game panel I wanted to sit in on, but I dropped in at several panels and talks and the conversations were focused and energetic.

After a quick lunch in the media room, I met up with Sergio (wearing a very cool hat this year) to share a demo at the Pixel Farm booth. Just before, I had sat in on a session with Dr. Sassi at the MAXON booth. Dr. Sassi is a very active participant in MAXON's Cineversity training site and had just finished a short animated film called "Jet" for which he created many, many hours of training videos. The noise level was pretty high and it was hard to hear at times, but Dr. Sassi, a lean, cheerful fellow, went over some of the techniques he used to make the film and covered a few of the tutorials he created as well. I'll be reporting more on his work in the future.


Sergio watches the PFMatchit demo

Back to Pixel Farm: Sergio and I hooked up with a very hung over staff who explained to us that there was a big birthday party the night before and they had never tried "Long Island Iced Teas" before. Having been a victim of these deceptive alcoholic drinks, I was sympathetic. We all had a big laugh and got going on a demo of their new motion tracking program, PFMatchit, which was extremely impressive. PFMatchit is a lower priced version of Pixel Farm's flagship program PFTrack. The UK based company has been in business for over 8 years and has a "strong focus on research and development" in CG. The demo was excellent and both Sergio and I are very excited about bringing you a review and perhaps an article on this interesting company.

Just had time before the show floor closed to catch Steve Cooper over at the SmithMicro Poser booth. Steve was pretty tired, having done the Comic-Con show the previous week, but graciously gave me 10 minutes to talk about Poser Pro, which I'll be reviewing here soon. The Pro version of Poser is designed more for the production professional. It's got network render capabilities, it is a 64-bit program, and features "next generation meta-data support, along with many other extras. My thanks to Steve for taking the time to talk with me. Look for the review and a possible interview in the next few months.

Closed out the day with a very pleasant dinner with Sergio, Tim and Jenifer at a nearby restaurant. Surprisingly good food and enjoyable conversation ended this SIGGRAPH nicely. We talked a bit about bringing back the well-received "Intro to Selling on Renderosity" seminar which took place in New Orleans last year. I thought it was a very successful way of teaching people the basics on selling 3D media on Renderosity. Certainly has my vote, as last year's session was jam-packed.


Me, Jenifer, Tim and Sergio share at dinner on Thursday

Final Thoughts

I like John Peddie's question in his blog on SIGGRAPH 2010 when he asked "is it a trade show, an academic conference, a big R&D lab, a screening room, a job fair, an artist's colony, or a gathering of the clan?" He goes on to say that the experience of SIGGRAPH is "literally a shared experience, a happening, chaotic, spontaneous, shocking, surprising, sometimes loud, and annoying." I don't think anyone has put it better.

In three years of attending the annual SIGGRAPH conference, each year has only gotten better and better. Perhaps it's a measure of better planning and familiarity, but I don't think so. SIGGRAPH is simply a "recharging" of your batteries. How could anyone come away from an event that features so many opportunities to learn and discover? I overheard a few older journalists in the media room complaining that this year's SIGGRAPH was "light" and that "you could see everything in an afternoon." This is nonsense for anyone coming to the conference with your mind open and a willingness to discover.

Yes, there was evidence of belt-tightening this year at SIGGRAPH. The lack of the huge "SIGGRAPH 2010" sign on the South Hall is the most obvious instance. The combining of the Art Gallery and Emerging Technologies with the Studio all in one crowded, frustrating room is a pretty clear example of a desire to save some money. There were also some odd scheduling problems that I hadn't experienced before. But, these are minor issues that happen with any event of this size. And the belt-tightening is happening all over the US, with major and minor companies. It's completely understandable.

A major theme of this year's SIGGRAPH was on real-time rendering. The move to combining the CPU and the Graphics card is coming sooner than we think. Not only does real-time rendering save time and money, but the technology is fascinating. Company after company had a focus on real-time rendering.


In the Media Room just before the Exhibit Hall opens behind me

The one regret I had for this year's SIGGRAPH was not being able to attend the major 2-hour Animation Festival. It was scheduled for slots in the evening from 6-8PM and I just couldn't get to it because of dinners and meetings. I wish SIGGRAPH would have scheduled a day-time version of the Animation Festival, as I think other people were in the same boat.

In the end, with all of the film screenings, papers, panels, software demos, interviews, tutorials and tours, the SIGGRAPH experience is really about the people you meet. The sudden spontaneous conversations that spring up while you are waiting in line, or the impromptu interview in the hallway. It all serves to re-charge your batteries and to fill you with inspiration. Unlike the cynics, I'm constantly amazed at how many smart, talented and interesting people you meet at a SIGGRAPH conference. This year was no different. And it's the reason why I'll be going to Vancouver next year for SIGGRAPH 2011, the first conference that will take place outside of the United States. You couldn't ask for a better city to host this magnificent event.

I'm already planning the trip.

PS: many thanks to Renderosity management for allowing me to attend this year's conference. And particular thanks to Jenifer for being so supportive.

Be sure to also read Notes From SIGGRAPH 2010, Part 1


Ricky Grove [gToon], Staff Columnist with the Renderosity Front Page News. Ricky Grove is a bookstore clerk at the best bookstore in Los Angeles, the Iliad Bookshop. He's also an actor and machinima filmmaker. He lives with author, Lisa Morton, and three very individual cats. Ricky is into Hong Kong films, FPS shooters, experimental anything and reading, reading, reading. You can catch his blog here.
August 9, 2010

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