"Do we have to have more computing power to make a better image or do we need to add more pixels?"
-Question posed at Jon Peddie Press Luncheon
Wednesday is a peak day for any journalist attending this vast and exciting trade show. My own schedule is packed from early morning to late at night. And despite some groaning when the alarm went off at dawn, I was smiling as I reviewed my schedule for the day. One good thing about my 45 minute subway ride to the Convention Center in downtown Los Angeles is that it gives me time to get mentally oriented to the products and people I'll be seeing throughout the day. By the time I roll into the South Hall at SIGGRAPH, I'm eagerly anticipating my first meeting and looking forward to the rest of the day.
I was delighted that Andrew Plumer, CEO of Ballistic Publishing, could make time for an early morning meeting with me. Ballistic Publishing is a major publisher of high-quality CG/digital art books and have been for many years. I've been reviewing their books for several years now, but this is my first sit-down chat with anyone from the publishing house. Andrew and I grabbed a seat in the sunny lunch area at the center of South Hall and settled in for a nice chat.
Andrew tells me that EXPOSÉ 10 has just shipped and pulls out a copy to show me. He adds that "EXPOSÉ 10 is the largest EXPOSÉ to date with 288 pages, and features a record-smashing 548 images by 380 artists." He also mentions that Ballistic had over 10,000 entries for the anniversary issue. Master artists Syd Mead, Chris Perna, Stephan Martiniere, Chris Sloan and Alex Morris judged the accepted entries into Master and Excellence classes. It's an extraordinary book that clearly shows the kind of painstaking effort Ballistic puts into book production, especially when it comes to re-creating the colors of each piece.
Alas, our discussion was much too brief. Look for my review of EXPOSÉ 10 here at renderosity.com in the next few weeks.
After a brief stopover at the press room to catch up on the SIGGRAPH news of the day, I hustled over to the massive Autodesk booth where they ushered me into a secret (and blessedly quiet) tiny meeting room they ingeniously fitted into the Autodesk booth design. There I met up with Bruno Sargeant, virtual production senior product manager, who walked me through Autodesk's plan for creating "an end to end digital pipeline for virtual production."
Autodesk's recent release of their incredible Entertainment Creation Suites includes virtual production tools integrated into Maya 2013 and Motion Builder 2013. "Avatar was the defining point," Bruno told me, "and we are now crossing the threshold from novelty to [virtual production] being practical and usable. Autodesk is focused on developing virtual production so that a director can explore the story before he commits to it."
Virtual production was certainly a theme of this year's SIGGRAPH. Autodesk is at the forefront of bringing this technology to the masses. LightWave 3D, Cinema 4D, Mari, FaceWear and many other companies are also contributing to growing the virtual production pipeline. Being able to combine pre-production with actual production will not only make complex scenes easier, but will also change the way we create movies in the future. I was intrigued with Bruno's comment that "anyone can start creating a virtual stage with an Xbox Kinect." It may be that we are on the verge of a major shift in digital film production, not only for professionals, but for the passionate hobbyist as well. And Autodesk seems to have their finger on the pulse of this exciting technology.
After the Autodesk meeting, I went over to the AMD booth and met with the reps from TeamUP, a Montreal-based company founded by Thiago Costa (creator of Lagoa Multiphysics). TeamUP was founded on the principle that "3D should be accessible to everyone, everywhere." To that end, they've developed a collaborative 3D rendering platform in the cloud. "We bridge the gap between assembling a 3D project and visualizing the final look with our high-quality physically based render."
Currently in beta, TeamUP uses a "Multi-Optics" render platform that will "work with just about any 3D file created in just about any 3D software package on the market." The idea here is that you don't have to install anything on your computer or graphics tablet, just log into the cloud, "drag and drop the model on the viewport and it renders in the cloud."
TeamUP is a cross platform tool accessible from your web browser, you can get more information here. TeamUP will be available in Autumn 2012 as a monthly subscription.
After a bit of schedule juggling, I met up with John Moseley at the 3DConnexion booth. 3DConnexion creates seriously cool hardware for navigating in 3D space: the 3D mouse. Using a "controller cap," you can pan, rotate, and zoom your 3D object or camera "as if you were holding it your hand." You have to try it to understand how much easier it is to use a 3D mouse. I've been intrigued by 3DConnexion products for some years now, but this was my first opportunity to actually use one.
From the entry level SpaceNavigator and SpaceNavigator for Notebooks, to the top of the line SpacePilot Pro (my God, what a wonderful mouse!), their products are well-designed and affordable. I was also pleased to see that even software/virtual worlds like CryEngine and Second Life are being supported by 3DConnexion products. You can get more information at their main website here. I'll be reviewing the SpacePilot Pro (if I can ever stop using it enough to write) at renderosity.com in September. My thanks to John for taking the time to meet with me.
By this time (1 pm), I had worked up a serious appetite and was very pleased to make the short walk over to the Marriott for the Jon Peddie Research Press Luncheon, one of my favorite SIGGRAPH events.
Jon Peddie is "one of the pioneers of the graphics industry." He formed Jon Peddie Research to provide specialized consulting and marketing forecast services. I've been fortunate to attend his annual SIGGRAPH press luncheons for the last 5 years. He always picks an intriguing topic related to his current research in the CG industry and then finds interesting panelists to debate with.
This year, Jon chose to debate "the different aspects of putting multiple GPU's and CPU's to work" in a session titled "Doing More With Multicore." Panelists included: Phillip Miller from NVIDIA; David Forester, CEO of Lightworks; James McCombe, founder of Caustic Graphics; Rob Powers, President of LightWave 3D; and Jacob Rosenberg, digital technology expert, author and filmmaker.
Of course, the topic is so rich the panelists could have spent several hours discussing whether we need "more computer power or more pixels." Suffice to say, multicore means "faster workflow." Everyone agreed that with "real-time rendering" becoming more important (along with virtual production), multicore CPU and GPU's will have to overcome technical barriers before we can get to a point where the full potential of multiple cores can be effectively utilized.
After the excellent Jon Peddie lunch and with my mind caught up in the mystery of multicore, I walked back to the Convention Center and met up with Faceware Technologies at their booth. Faceware is a video-based software and hardware solution for facial motion-capture and animation. Peter Busch demoed the Head-Mounted Camera they had on display and the results were impressive.
I also got a chance to meet Paul Charisse and Alex Counsell, instructors at the University of Portsmouth in the UK who were there to share their experience using Faceware with their students. I really liked the fact that Faceware is giving education users free and unlimited use of their software. You can find out more information at the Faceware Technology website. I'm looking forward to learning more about Faceware and perhaps reviewing the hardware and software for renderosity at some point in the Fall.
One of my favorite computer graphics companies is Luxology, the folks behind the brilliant 3D application Modo. It was a pleasure to meet up with David Tracy at the beautifully designed Modo booth (which they were sharing with another innovative company, Unity). Luxology's recent release of Modo 601 was "by far the most successful launch of software in company history," according to David. I'll say it was. You can read my review here.
David and I sat down to talk about what Luxology was up to at SIGGRAPH. In addition to presenting a compelling series of presentations at their booth (I caught all of Martin Mayer's excellent demonstration on using Modo for his short film, Synergy), Luxology announced that they were soon to release an NPR kit for Modo. The non-photo-realistic kit includes all kinds of advanced rendering forms like toonshading, stippling and sketch-tone, to name a few. I really like the Luxology idea of "kits," as they add an extra dimension to Modo at a reasonable cost. This NPR kit is focused on creating renders that look like traditional illustration, which can be useful to technical illustration and/or creative animation. More info at the NPR kit web page.
Luxology is also offering their "side-grade" for Modo 601, where, if you have another 3D application, you can "side-grade" to Modo 601 for $895. It ends on Sept 7th, 2012, though. Check out the offer at the Luxology website.
I didn't get a lot of time at the Unity booth, but I do want to mention that Unity spoke at the first ever SIGGRAPH Mobile day-long event. Mobile entertainment will become an increasingly important market in the future and Unity is poised to be a big player. Unity also announced their upcoming Asset Store, plus support for Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8. David Helgason, CEO of Unity said, "At Unity our singular goal is to level the playing field for game developers and create the world's best game development tools." Check out the free download of Unity and learn how you can create your own 3D game. My thanks to Joe Robins for his help in learning more about Unity Technologies.
Reluctantly, I left Unity and Luxology and headed over to the huge OptiTrack booth, which was situated in the middle aisle next to AMD and Autodesk. Their large motion-capture stage was one of the big draws at the Exhibit Hall, primarily because it looked great, but it was also built as a practical set-up for motion-capture. I was very impressed with OptiTrack and the presentation I received from Seth Steiling, the market Manager for NaturalPoint, the mother company that produces OptiTrack, along with TrackIR and SmartNAV, all tools to accomplish affordable, high-quality motion-capture.
Seth showed me OptiTrack's newest hardware addition: the Prime41 high-resolution motion-tracking camera. And what a beautiful camera! Designed and manufactured in the US "at our own plant," as Seth told me, the Prime41 captures at a resolution of 2048 x 2048 at 180 FPS. It has 170 LEDs built into the camera and is OptiTrack's premium camera. I'm very interested in how mocap has become increasingly available to all levels of CG and film production. Look for a renderosity.com article on OptiTrack in the fall. More info at the main OptiTrack website.
The last appointment of the day was with Reallusion at their booth. I enjoyed seeing John Martin and Bill Lesard (PRwithBrains), the PR man for Reallusion, as they are old friends. John was demoing the latest updates to iClone, which is the company's 3D machinima creation platform. Reallusion has added a lot of support for the Kinect mocap device from Microsoft. Visitors to the booth were having fun animating a 3D character in iClone in real-time using the Kinect.
John and I also talked about Reallusion's recent release of the iClone Animation Pipeline, which allows the user to create and animate production-ready characters, create a motion library using the Kinect, and import/export assets from software packages like Unity, Unreal, Maya and Blender. More info on this suite of tools can be found here.
I had set up the Reallusion meeting with John and Bill because we all planned to go out and have a big Japanese dinner after SIGGRAPH closed for the day. Little Tokyo was not far from John's hotel, so his crew and I sat down to a wonderful meal, then headed over to their hotel lobby for some "top secret" demos for iClone and CrazyTalk, their "animate anything" program. My lips are sealed, John. I can say that the developments in the Fall and Spring are going to be spectacular.
The last day of SIGGRAPH is traditionally a bit slower, which I think suited the attendees (and myself) just fine. I was able to come in late and take my time wandering around the Exhibit Hall. I did manage to pick up a dozen DVDs of previous SIGGRAPH Animation Festival showings. At $3 a piece (thank you, ACM SIGGRAPH), I now have the last decade of Festival films. What a deal!
I also met up with Fusion-Io, Imagineer Systems Mocha Pro and Maxwell Render. Fusion-Io is new to me. Their spectacular booth (see pix below) stood out on the Exhibit floor. I talked with Vincent Brisbois, who walked me through their brand new IoFX, a hardware acceleration card that packs a whopping 420 GB of capacity. I'm hoping to utilize this technology in my next workstation build for renderosity. You can get more information at the Fusion-io website.
The Mocha Pro booth featured an excellent presentation by James Chick from Hive FX, which does the VFX work on NBC's Grimm. He spent about a half an hour going over the Mocha Pro workflow with his FX work. Mocha-Pro provides "intelligent planar tracking for VFX and Post." Kevin Bourke and Mary Poplin took me through the newest update to the software, Mocha Pro 3.1, which adds additional tools for lens-distorted footage, python scripting and additional features to "help roto artists work more efficiently." I was very impressed with Mocha Pro and Mocha AE (for use specifically with After Effects) and will be reviewing the software at renderosity.com this fall. Check out their website for more details.
I spent time at the NVIDIA booth going through all of the demo stations and getting a great update from Oguzhan Oguz, Sr. Product manager. In addition, they announced that their second generation Maximus platform "dramatically accelerates workflows by simultaneously performing complex analysis and visualization on a single machine." Now, the Maximus setup is updated to the Kepler platform and is the "fastest and most efficient GPU architecture available."
NVIDIA has made all of their SIGGRAPH 2012 presentations available on demand. Check out all three days' worth at their SIGGRAPH website here. I'll be posting more info on NVIDIA developments at renderosity.com in the fall.
My last meeting at SIGGRAPH was with Jenny Fermor at the Next Limit booth, where we talked about Maxwell Render. She told me that Maxwell Render was updated in June, 2012 with version 2.7, which includes some spectacular updates like Maxwell Grass and Anamorphic Bokeh. Next Limit has also released a new Maxwell Render Learner Edition, which requires no student ID to use and is for noncommercial use. I was impressed with Maxwell Render and hope to review it in conjunction with my Cinema 4D R14 review, since Maxwell provides plug-ins for this application and others like Maya and Houdini.
I did manage to spend some time with Focal Press and Wiley Publishing in the last hours of SIGGRAPH. I really like both of these publishers' books and got a chance to get a good update from folks at the booths there. Look for my book reviews from these publishers in the fall.
SIGGRAPH is a different event every year for me. It's such a huge gathering of people and technology that it could run for a month and you'd still not see everything the convention has to offer. I enjoyed this year's event very much. I spent more time meeting people and learning about their products this year than I have in the past. I do love the classes and presentations at SIGGRAPH, but I wanted to follow some of the interesting themes that were showing up this year. Real-time acceleration with GPU/CPU, virtual production, increasing interaction and collaboration between 3D software vendors, and affordable motion capture are just a few of the ones I picked up on in my many meetings this year.
SIGGRAPH was also very well organized this year. Little niggling issues in last year's convention were completely absent this year. The Animation Festival was glorious and the keynote speaker, Kathleen McGonigal, was an inspired choice.
It was an exhausting 5 days, but I loved every minute of it. I encourage anyone who is able to attend SIGGRAPH, even if it's only for a day, to do so as it renews your enthusiasm for computer graphics and makes you realize we are living in a very special time where digital technology and entertainment is changing almost as fast as we can imagine it.
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