"No matter where SIGGRAPH is held, the gathering of tribes across such a wide
range of industries and backgrounds always makes for a magical, rewarding, and
-Mk Haley, SIGGRAPH 2013 Conference Chair
The 40th annual Special Interest Group on Graphics and Interactive Techniques conference (SIGGRAPH) was held July 21 to 25, 2013, at the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, California. Over 17,000 students, artists, academics and computer graphics professionals filled the Exhibit Hall, conference rooms, hallways and theaters to absorb the latest in 3D/Visualization technology, techniques, and entertainment. They also came to have some fun with like-minded people. I was one of those 17,000 people (my fifth SIGGRAPH) and it was a fun and exciting experience indeed.
SIGGRAPH has changed significantly over it's 40-year history. The conference perfectly parallels the history of computer graphics. In the last 10 years, visualization technology and its use in entertainment has grown exponentially. And not just in the entertainment industry, but science, medicine and even the oil industry use computer graphics technology in significant ways. The SIGGRAPH conference has grown with these industries so that the Exhibition floor and business/entertainment aspects of the conference are very large and active.
"1,354 speakers and contributors participated in the conference through a variety of talks, sessions, panels, papers, presentations, tutorials and screenings."
SIGGRAPH has also become an international event attracting people from all over the world to attend. Students, artists, presenters, cg companies and more crowd the Exhibition floor and share their knowledge with conference goers. This makes each conference that much more varied and interesting. Part of the charm and excitement that comes with attending the SIGGRAPH conference is meeting other people who are interested in the same things you are.
Due to some scheduling conflicts, I was unable to attend the entire 5-day conference this year. So, I packed in as much as I could in the 2 ½ days I was there. It was a tiring, but very rewarding experience.
Sunday, July 21st
SIGGRAPH started slowly for me on Sunday, the first day of the conference. I registered for my press badges and info package, reviewed the schedules and announcements for the day, and oriented myself to the vast and beautifully designed Anaheim Convention Center. There are many "Birds of a Feather" meetings slated for Sunday. These are informal meetings of communities/groups who share an interest in a certain technology or application.
One "Birds of a Feather" meeting I always make it a point to attend is the Blender Foundation Community Meeting which takes place traditionally on Sunday and is free for anyone to attend with registering. Ton Roosendaal, the founder and head of the Blender Foundation, invites every single person in attendance to introduce themselves, something (to my knowledge) that no other conference event does. He then proceeds to share a quick power-point presentation on what Blender is, Blender history and current/future plans for Blender.
I just love these meetings because of the amazing variety of people that attend and because of the tremendous sense of community Ton and others have created for Blender. Not to mention, Blender is developing into a "free and open source complete 3D Suite for independent artists and small teams" (Ton Roosendaal).
For more info on Blender development and future projects, check the main Blender.org website and the excellent Blendernation.com. The list of Blender's complete activities at SIGGRAPH can be found here.
Art Gallery, Studio and Emerging Technologies
I could write an entire article on every artwork in the SIGGRAPH Art Gallery. I spent a long time working my way through each work of art and came back on Tuesday/Wednesday to spend more time with specific exhibits. I suppose if I were to choose one work that was a favorite it would be Rhumb Lines by Barbara Keating: a large video presentation that plays with your notions of time and space. You can see it in the Art Gallery tour that Siggraph has created. Wonderful, imaginative art.
The "Emerging Technologies" exhibit is always interesting, as well as the Studio which is a "hands on" collection of presentations and workshops that are always packed with people. 3D printing was well represented, as was traditional stop-motion animation arts and many other fascinating exhibits.
There are excellent videos created by SIGGRAPH that walk you through each exhibit. The Emerging Technologies one is here and the Studio tour is here. The Papillon: Expressive Eyes for Interactive Characters exhibit from Disney Research was a favorite. I came back to this exhibit every day I attended SIGGRAPH.
I'm so pleased that SIGGRAPH continues to support the concept of "art" in computer graphics. So much of the interest lies in the big studio use of VFX, that the smaller art pieces often get overlooked.
Tuesday, July 23
The Autodesk press breakfast started early on Tuesday and I had to fight my way through heavy traffic on the I5 freeway to get to Anaheim in time. But, once I sat down at the Jazz Kitchen in Disneyland where the breakfast was being held, any morning blur was immediately gone when Robert Hoffman, Senior Product Marketing Manager, announced that Autodesk was making most of their learning resources Creative Commons so that anyone can "reuse, remix, translate and share" them around the world. This was quite a startling announcement as most corporations do not choose to license their documents and training materials for translation or remixing. Autodesk has a huge impact on the rest of the computer graphics industry. Since they are the first to move to the Open Source model for their documentation, this might signal a welcome trend with other CG corporations. Making information free and open source is a big step for Autodesk. They are to be applauded for giving back to the community in this fashion.
Autodesk also announced that they had just released a new, free tool called FBX Review. This is for artists who simply need to evaluate a model or animation (baked into the model) without having to open a big 3D application. It's a sweet application that I think will grow a large user base. Although Autodesk didn't have a booth this year at SIGGRAPH (some of the press made too much of this), they were very present nevertheless, with their huge User-Group meeting on Tuesday, July 23. I was unable to attend, but word is that it was quite spectacular. You can read about Autodesk's SIGGRAPH activities here and also catch some of the "on-demand" video of presentations given at the Autodesk User-Group meeting.
NewTek's huge and beautifully designed booth was my next destination. In addition to announcing the release of LightWave 11.6, NewTek also presented demos of two brand new applications: ChronoSculpt, a stand-alone 3D program, and NevronMotion, a plug-in that uses motion-capture from a Microsoft Kinect to "load common motion capture files in FBX or BVH format and easily re-target the motion onto your character directly in LightWave Layout."
NewTek had a full line-up of presenters at the booth throughout the day and it was all streamed live on NewTekTV. You can catch up on the new applications, the newest version of LightWave and screen some of the archived presentations here, and here.
Hustling over to the Hilton Hotel across the street from the Anaheim Convention Center, I met with representatives from HP (Hewlett-Packard) who introduced me to the company's new Z Displays and their very cool PC workstation, the Z230. The Z displays feature an ultra-wide viewing angle (178°), a IPS Gen2 technology and 4-port USB hub. I particularly liked the new Z230 workstations and got a full tour of the case and inner workings (both the tower and the small form-factor versions). Being a workstation builder myself, I was impressed with the way the Z230s are put together. And you can't beat the sub-$1000 price for a fully stacked workstation. Note that the Z displays are available now, but the Z230 workstation will be out later in the year. Look for a full review of both of them in the late Fall on Renderosity.com.
A favorite event at SIGGRAPH is the annual Maxon press luncheon. It's an always-enjoyable 1 hour event with good food, camaraderie and a focused, no-nonsense presentation by Paul Babb, President and CEO of Maxon the Americas. This year, Maxon announced the release of R15 of Cinema 4D, their highly-regarded 3D software platform. With a new Texture Manager and new Typography Tools, among many other updates to rendering, modeling and enhancements to workflow, Cinema 4D R15 looks to be a superb version of this increasingly compelling 3D application. Maxon's beautiful booth was thronged with people every time I came by.
At their booth, Maxon featured a stellar line-up of presenters, including the very cool Nick Campbell (Greyscale Gorilla) and Kris Korn (FUSE Animation). Check C4Dlive.com for the archived coverage and Cineversity.com (Maxon's C4D learning site) for more info on Cinema 4D R15, which is scheduled to ship in September, 2013. My own review of the new version of Cinema 4D will be sometime in October, 2013 (can't wait!).
Luxology and their ultra-modern 3D application, Modo, merged with The Foundry earlier this year. The release of Modo 701 is the first version of the program developed jointly by the newly formed company. Modo was well represented at the cool Foundry booth, especially by the very funny Brad Peebler, the company's President of the Americas. It was great to see Modo get some attention at SIGGRAPH. One of the benefits of merging with a larger company, I imagine.
At The Foundry booth, I met with David Tracy and Ian Hall to go over what's going on with the two companies. Pixar and The Foundry announced a collaboration to bring Katana and Renderman together. The Foundry also announced a new application called FLIX, which is a pretty neat looking story-boarding tool. More information here and a nice photo-set from The Foundry booth is here. I really love this software and it was great to see so many people digging it too. I think one of the things the new Modo 701 does is lay down the groundwork for a pipeline using Modo and applications from The Foundry, like Mari and Nuke. The future looks very bright for both companies and you could sure see it at the Modo Users Group love-fest I attended on Wednesday night. But, more on that in Part 2 of my SIGGRAPH report.
My full review of Modo 701 will be coming soon at Renderosity.com. If I can ever stop using the application enough to write about it. I'm also looking forward to learning more about The Foundry's applications, which are world-class.
Wacom celebrated their 30th anniversary this month (July, 2013). The Wacom brand is almost synonymous with tablet artistry/technology. I was very pleased to stop by their booth and watch an engrossing live artwork by artist Craig Elliot, a "layout and visual development artist." His slowly developing portrait of Betty Page on one of Wacom's Cintiq HD Touch series tablets was fantastic. Craig's running commentary on using tablets and the history of drawing was one of the highlights of my SIGGRAPH 2013 experience.
Wacom also featured several other artists from the Creative Talent Network. Many of the presentations and interviews can be found here, with folks that came by the booth to check out the Cintiq and Intuos series of tablets. There was also a lot of interest in the Inkling as well, which allows you to sketch on paper and digitize your drawings. No information on Wacom's upcoming mobile tablet release, but I suspect it will be an excellent device. Wacom just gets better and better.
My meeting with Paul Doyle, CEO and Founder of Fabric Engine, was fascinating. Although some of the technology was a bit over my head, Paul patiently explained the technical background of what the Fabric Engine does: "... an application framework that allows developers to create application modules without starting from scratch." He made the point that Fabric Engine developers are looking at what the "pipeline will be like in 5-10 years" and Fabric Engine is about helping create technology that can expand as the industry/technology changes.
Currently, Fabric Engine is working on two "Creation Modules": HORDE, a real-time crowd system, and STAGE, a "scene assembly, authoring and shading system." The introductory video at Fabricengine.com will give you a better idea of what the company is up to. My impression is that Fabric Engine is out to change the industry and what Paul calls "its incredible duplication of effort." I believe that Fabric Engine will have a very big impact on the computer graphics industry in the future. Look for more coverage of this innovative company as their work becomes better known.
V-ray 3.0 is coming soon! That amazing 3D rendering software for movies like Oblivion and Star Trek: Into Darkness (and much more) had its most recent version 3.0 on display at the Chaos Group booth. I met with the charming Lon Grohs, VP of Business Development, who gave me a very interesting run down on what the new V-ray 3.0 can do. Increased "Brute Force" rendering speeds, vertex merging and progressive rendering are just a few of the long list of improvements to this increasingly powerful and popular rendering software. Lon made the point that "when V-ray 3.0 comes out it's going to be the most artist friendly renderer out there." Look for more information on V-ray 3.0 and Chaos Group's "V-ray day at SIGGRAPH" here. They also released a very neat V-ray Magazine at SIGGRAPH which you can download for free here.
I was very interested to find out from Lon that Chaos Group has created a 'Partners in Art' program in an effort to support (and fund) small production teams that are using V-ray to render their project/movie. Here's a link to a superb trailer for Victor Mazhlekov's PORTALS, which is one of the projects funded by Chaos Group. I think it's outstanding of Chaos Group to support and give back to people who are using their software in creative ways, but might not have the funding that a larger company might have. Bravo, Chaos Group. Look for more info on this program and Chaos Group in future articles for Renderosity.com.
After a very long day, I spent Tuesday with Reallusion's, Charles Chen, John Martin and Bill Lessard (from Prwithbrains.com). We had a long dinner at a fabulous restaurant, The Catch, not far from the convention center. It was a great pleasure to enjoy excellent food and talk about whatever came up. And I didn't have to take notes at all! Charles, the CEO of Reallusion, makers of the 3D apps CrazyTalk and iClone, and John, who is Reallusion's VP of Product Marketing, have been friends since we met at the very first SIGGRAPH conference I covered in 2008. It's been great fun to get to know them and watch their excellent company grow.
Driving home, I couldn't help but feel lucky to be able to attend this year's SIGGRAPH conference. Every year is a unique experience. I knew I wouldn't get much sleep since my mind was filled with so much information and excitement. The hour long drive just flew by. I got just enough time to set up my notes and schedule for Wednesday, another day filled with meetings and conversations, before my head hit the pillow and I started running through the day.
My thanks to Renderosity for making it possible for me to attend SIGGRAPH 2013 and special thanks to Nick Charles, my editor, for being the neat guy that he is. Also, quick thanks to all of the PR people who helped set up appointments and ushered me efficiently to each meeting. No space to name you all, but I appreciate your help!
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.
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