"For most artists the problem is not piracy, but obscurity"
-Cory Doctorow, Keynote Speaker
Vancouver is a walker's city. The 20-minute walk I took to the SIGGRAPH convention center every morning was a way to clear my head and breathe the morning air. It was also a pleasure, since many public buildings had waterfalls or carefully cultivated flowers and trees. Not to mention that almost every other block in the Downtown area of Vancouver had a coffee house. And the closer I got to the convention center, the more I smelled the ocean and heard the myriad seagulls crying. More than once I found myself simply stopping, closing my eyes and taking a deep breath. Most of the flood of people walking with you to the conference were smiling and enjoying themselves as well. Every morning at SIGGRAPH 2011 was a pleasure.
Monday, August 8th
With Monday, my SIGGRAPH 2011 schedule began in earnest. Meetings, a panel, screenings, a computer graphics course and dinner at the end made for a very packed day. I did manage to leave a little time in for meetings and conversations that might happen by accident. One thing I've learned from attending over the years, is that you always make room for going off-schedule. Following what's interesting when you can has proven to be very rewarding for me. At the end of the day, I was to benefit from this policy as my schedule didn't quite work out the way I had planned.
My first meeting of the day was at the gorgeous Fairmont Pacific Rim hotel directly across the street from the convention center. I met with Chris Bond and his crew from Thinkbox Software, a "postproduction, visual-effects software company" that creates solutions to "network rendering and artists creation of images." The amazing glass-walled suite they rented looked over the west convention center and the harbor. It was hard at times not to gape at the view, but I enjoyed Ryan Russel's presentation of Deadline 5.1, their Network Render Management System which Thinkbox released in beta back in early August. I was also fortunate to receive an excellent demo of Krakatoa MX 2.0, the latest version of Thinkbox's highly regarded "high volume particle rendering, manipulation and management toolkit," by an obvious master of the program, Borislav "Bobo" Petrov. In addition to unveiling Krakatoa MX 2.0 at SIGGRAPH 2011, Thinkbox also added Krakatoa SR 2.0, which is a standalone volumetric particle renderer that can be integrated with packages like Maya, Nuke or Houdini. I was impressed with the presentations and came away wanting to learn more.
After the Thinkbox meeting, I hustled back to the Media room to collect my notes and check email. Then, I went to listen to the keynote address which was to be given by Cory Doctorow, a noted science fiction author, blogger/journalist (he is the co-editor of boingboing.net) and copyright activist. It was a nice touch for SIGGRAPH to invite Cory, who was born in Toronto, Canada, and who doesn't have the same kind of agenda that many previous keynote speakers at SIGGRAPH have had. He is a bit of a wild card, and his keynote did not disappoint. With an undertone of righteous indignation and anger, Cory delivered a machine-gun-style speech, basically admonishing those in attendance to "Wake Up!" and pay attention to what's being done to copyright around the world (and US & Canada, in particular). It would take too long to summarize his speech here. It's best to catch the whole thing via ACM SIGGRAPH's YouTube channel. Essentially, Cory was trying to "talk about the way that copyright can be made to work for creators in the digital age, and why it's important for everyone that we don't get it wrong."
He certainly succeeded in waking everyone up and getting us to think about what's going on. A much appreciated keynote that was a far cry from the traditional "feel good" keynotes of previous years. Thank you very much, Cory.
I grabbed a surprisingly good lunch from the convention center lunch stand and got back to the Media room for an appointment with The Foundry, a brilliant UK company that develops plug-ins and applications, like the Furnace set of plug-ins and the compositing program Nuke. Chances are, if you've seen any recent Hollywood films, you've seen their applications and plug-ins at work. I was very excited to meet with them and learn more about the newest version of an application they sell called Mari, the ultra-modern 3D texture painting application, originally used in creating the textures for the movie Avatar. I also wanted to learn about the company in general.
Andy Lomas (Katana product manager) and Jack Greasley (Mari product manager) gave me the rundown on The Foundry's background, company philosophy and their many applications and plug-ins. Both men were fun and energetic, answering all of my many questions as if The Foundry was part of their DNA. The half-hour spent with them went much too fast. I hope to write a profile of The Foundry at some point in the Fall, along with a review of Mari 1.4 (with PSD support), as I am most intrigued with that application's support of the new Ptex textures originally created by Disney Animation. What a great group of people! Be sure to check The Foundry's gorgeous website, too.
Next up was my first SIGGRAPH 2011 Course: "Storytelling with Color," taught by two professional colorists, Kathy Altieri and Dave Walvoord, both of Dreamworks Animation. SIGGRAPH offers an abundance of courses to attend that range from beginners to very advanced. This course, which primarily used Kung Fu Panda 2 and the superb How to Train Your Dragon as the films to draw examples from, was designed for an intermediate skill level, but the course was so well presented that anyone could have picked up on what Kathy and Dave were teaching.
"Color works on you like the music in a scene," Kathy said as part of her "Analysis of Color in Animated Films" section of the course. She was perfectly matched by Dave's more technical analysis of "Color Supporting the Story." They both spoke of the enormous amount of research that goes into deciding on a color scheme for their films. The audience (myself included) was literally glued to their seats with the presentation. It's my hope that the two of them will write a book on the subject. This course was easily one of the high points of SIGGRAPH 2011, and I came away filled with ideas and inspired to learn more about color and storytelling.
I decided after the Color course to skip the nVidia panel, as I was going to attend the nVidia dinner later on in the evening, so I caught me breath on one of the beautiful outdoor resting spots at the Convention center. Looking out over the harbor and watching the amphibious planes land on the harbor was most relaxing. Since I had a few hours before the dinner, I decided to go through The Studio and the Art Gallery again. Doing this produced another "accidental" meeting that I so enjoy experiencing at SIGGRAPH. Going off on a tangent is always fun and exciting at the conference, because you just never know where you will end up.
At The Studio, I watched several hands-on workshops and spent time watching the many 3D printers working away. Near the back of The Studio, I came across Michael Nikonov with his laptop and Kinect motion-capture hardware developed originally for the Xbox 360. Michael is the CEO of iPi Soft, a Russian company that created a markerless motion capture application that has had some success in the machinima world and other animation markets. I knew Michael from last year's SIGGRAPH and we both were happy to meet again.
Michael gave me an excellent demonstration of his software capture system using the Kinect. I did some tai-chi motions and he captured them and processed them in the iPi Soft application. After some refinement (it took about 10 minutes), we had a minute's worth of my motion ready to go in very usable form. Michael told me the company was doing well. They have more development to do, but I'm very interested in ipi Soft and plan on covering the software (and the company) in more detail sometime in the Fall of 2011.
Promising to stay in touch, I left Michael and headed back to the Media center to check my schedule and make some notes. The Media center is where most of the journalists hang out. SIGGRAPH does a good job of providing a comfortable atmosphere, along with an interview area and rows of computers for those who don't have laptops. We also get handouts and information from various companies that are part of the Exhibition.
Unfortunately, I forgot to change the time the nVidia dinner was taking place and missed the shuttle bus. I was disappointed that I couldn't attend the press event, as I wanted to see what the company was up to. Luckily, a good friend of mine who directs machinima, Anima Technica, was in town and he invited me to dinner with another friend, John Martin, from Reallusion, so the evening ended pleasantly. John was in town to promote the upcoming release of the 3D filmmaking tool iClone 5 at SIGGRAPH, so we had a ball talking about this excellent movie-making program, and just generally catching up. We had dinner in a loud, sports bar kind of restaurant, but it didn't make any difference as the several hours of conversation flew by.
I finally walked back to my B&B around 9 PM, but it took me several hours to fall asleep, as all of the people and ideas I had encountered kept me buzzing. But I would need my sleep, as tomorrow, Tuesday, would hold my busiest schedule for the week.
Stay tuned for Notes from SIGGRAPH 2011 (Part 3) coming soon...
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