SIGGRAPH 2008 Blog - Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Soundtrack for the day: “There’s a Riot Going On” – Sly & the Family Stone
As you can tell from my choice of soundtrack, I’m going for the best today. After an essentially sleepless night, I hit the road at 6:00am and drove to the Convention so I could pick the Renderosity people up later in the evening. Expecting a 45- minute trip, I got downtown and parked just behind the West Hall in 20 minutes. With a good hour to kill, I headed over to (where else?) the Pantry and had a big breakfast and several cups of hot coffee. Walking back to the Convention center, I was pleased to see an entire wall devoted to an ad for the Max Payne film coming in October. I loved the game and the film seems to have the same style, so I’m there.
8:00AM - hit the Lost & Found with a flyer I made with a picture of my lost/stolen camera. Also went to security and left a copy with them and the Starbuck's opposite Hall G where I sat for a while. So, it’s in the hands of fate now. Fingers crossed.
First class was in Movement for Virtual Human and, like a dead fish smacking me upside the head, I quickly realized I don’t have a degree in computer science. The talk was way over my head, but I stuck with it and managed to figure out a few things regarding programming and theory. The speakers were outstanding and obviously passionate about their work. Bryon Stout, in particular, had a real knack for making complex theories clear and understandable. I’d really like to learn more about this topic. Perhaps there’s an article in it for the future. At least now I know what the “Piano Mover's Problem” means.
Got an emergency request via cell-phone from Reallusion: “would I help out with a video interview because the guy they had scheduled couldn’t make it.” “Sure,” I said and hurried over to their room. After a bit, MD Dundon and Alexa Smith from artfuture.com came in, set up the interview and we started rolling. They were both interested in “creative content from the edge” (as it says on their cards), so I was right at home talking about machinima and it's history. The conversation was interesting and too short, I think, but they are trying to interview as many people as possible for their site, which actually looks pretty cool. After talking some more after the interview, I really like these two women. Hope to do more with them in the future.
MD Dundon and Alexa Smith from artfuture.com
After that, it was off to interview at the NewTek booth in the exhibit hall. Since everyone is going to be reviewing Lightwave, I thought I'd take a look at some of their other products like Speed Edit. After an hour or so of great techie conversations and a full demo interview with someone at the booth, I was sold on their products. I think if I had a gold card I would have bought everything right then. Some great spokespersons at that booth.
Then it was another interview for motion capture with Tracy McSweeny and PhaseSpace (a company that will be featured at Renderosity in the future). Tracy was a smart and interesting speaker and very passionate about his product. I hope to do a much longer article on PhaseSpace in the near future.
The history of Polygon Pictures was up next. This unique Japanese CG animation company was founded in 1983 by Toshifumi Kawahara. I thoroughly enjoyed the presentation which featured clips of Mr. Toshi talking, clips of films and adverts along with an up to date breakdown of current projects. The work was incredible. I very much want to learn more about this great company who has managed to beat the odds and stay in business for 25 years.
I came back to the Exhibit Hall after that and spent some time in the “Studio” are where there were all kinds of artists and technicians creating and working on projects in addition to open computers with demos and programs you can play with. I got a chance to play the Unreal 3D demo that I had seen Mark Rein present a few days ago and it was fantastic. Also, Far Cry 2 had a demo going with it's map editor, all open to the public to play with. I touched base with lots of companies and individuals; setting up interviews and meetings for tomorrow. I think I'm going to concentrate on the lesser-know companies rather than the big ones, although I am going to spend time at the Smith Micro booth where they were showing live demos of Poser and Vue.
The famous Renderosity Booth raffle
In front of the Renderosity booth, I got to meet two university students here from North Carolina who were lining up for the famous Renderosity raffle. I managed to do a short interview with them, so I'll post that maybe next week and give you more details.
So much stimulation left me pretty beat by 4:30, so I trudged over to the Media room and caught a half hour's sleep, which gave me a second wind. When I woke up, I started thinking about SIGGRAPH and went out wandering again. I remembered that I wanted to write Peter Rasmussen's name on the “Memory Wall” they had set up, so I got a magic marker and carefully wrote his name amongst the dozen others who died this year. I will really miss Peter, who was a wonderful machinima filmmaker and a decent man.
After more wandering, I came across a booth that had a small robot who turned to look at me as I came up to their area. The fellow running the booth (sorry for not getting your name, I'll get it tomorrow) gave me a short description of his project and indicated that he was all caught up in software programming now. I realized that I had come full circle from the theoretical class on robot movement this morning to the practical application of the theory. Plus, the robot was very friendly.
Picked up Jennifer and Sergio for dinner at a classic Chinese restaurant, the Empress Pavilion. Fabulous dinner with a funny waiter named Bruce who brought us out some of the best Chinese food I've had in awhile. It was so good to get to know both Sergio and Jennifer better, especially over a warm and tasty meal. We were the last ones in the restaurant, I think.
Out on the carpark, the view of downtown Los Angeles was spectacular. A fitting end to a very interesting and enjoyable day.
SIGGRAPH 2008 Blog - Thursday, August 14, 2008
Soundtrack for the day: “Pink Moon” by Nick Drake
It was back to riding the subway today. No luck finding a quick parking space so I was late getting on the subway. Nick Drake’s voice is perfect on the subway; dreamy, poetic, sad. His songs match my mood today.
Started the Siggraph day off with an excellent panel on “Games: Evolving and Order of Magnitude”, which really means what’s going on with games behind the scenes (pipeline, development), has it been good and where is practical game development going? Michel Kripalani moderated a top level panel of artists, producers and developers. I was literally hanging on every word. The main theme was about trying to come to grips on the quantum increase in size of game production teams and how it’s impacting game companies and game quality. Steve Theodore (whom I could have kidnapped and taken to dinner, he was so interesting) had some pointed and often humorous comments to make about the topic. He bemoaned the fact that so many game company employees “care about their own asset, but not about the context of the asset in the game”. This was probably the best panel at Siggraph as it was informative and entertaining as well.
Hustled over to the Vicon booth to watch Paulo de Almada’s presentation of his award-winning short “Twisted Murder”. I profiled Paulo and his film recently at renderosity.com. Vicon is the motioncapture company that sponsored the contest Paulo won. The film played very well on Vicon’s large digital screen, but the noise in the Exhibition hall and the style of the Vicon MC just didn’t fit Paulo’s quiet film and it was hard to pay attention to Paulo’s generally quiet presentation of the Maya sets and assets he used for the film. Putting him in the back, behind the monitors made him even less of a presence. Still, it was good of Vicon to give Paulo a chance to present his film over the three days of the Siggraph Exhibition.
Paulo and I walked around the hall after his presentation; catching up and looking at all of the cool booths and software presentations. Paulo had recently picked up Zbrush (BTW, renderosity has some very good tuts on Zbrush here) and was raving about how great the program is to work with. I think he’s using Zbrush for part of his next film (all he would say is that he’s got midget boxing in one scene). We decided to go to the next panel together since he had some time before he had to leave for his Maya class in a nearby building.
“The Future of Character Animation: From Stop-Motion to Flash; From Key-Frame to Puppetry, Industry Animators Discuss the Road Ahead” (full title) is a part of the “festival talks” associated with the Animation Festival. There were seven big-time animators on the panel whose amazing demo reels were used to introduce each of them. Moderator Frank Gladstone did a masterful job of steering the conversation to very interesting topics in addition to adding pointed comments of his own. I was also very pleased to see a woman on the panel. The fact that she was representing the “Flash” animation segment made her even more interesting, since Flash hasn’t always been on the same stage as the classic 2d and 3d animators. Michelle Papendrew works for the Cartoon network and spoke eloquently about how Flash has really changed the way animation is done. The entire session was fascinating and the audience really got into it. Some of the questions from the audience were as good as the ones posed by the moderator. I left the session jazzed.
I took an alternate route back to the North Hall by walking on the upper causeway. This is an area that I call “Poster alley” because the poster presentations of graphics related topics are lined up shoulder to shoulder for a good 50 yards. There were rows of portable stands with large illustrated posters on each depicting an invention, an algorithm or some sort of technical invention related to computer graphics. Each had been submitted and approved by Siggraph for quality and uniqueness. And standing by most of them were the authors eager to talk about their project. I picked a young man who looked a bit lonely and asked him about his project. Matthew Bain is the inventor of a software program called “Artic Fracture” which is essential a real-time visual display for musical performance where the ice-like images respond creatively to the tempo and intensity of the music. Mathew was an engaging person who obviously is passionate about connecting the worlds of science and music. It was his second Siggraph and first time submitting his work. I have a feeling that the exposure he'll get from Siggraph will go a long way towards making his cool program more popular.
Back at the media room I interviewed a young Joe Kennedy who is a volunteer media person for Siggraph. It was an interesting opportunity to talk with someone about the history of the organization (he's attended Siggraph for the last ten years) and I enjoyed talking to him. Another journalist, Eric Post, who writes for VFX Magazine, joined in after I turned the recorder off and we had a great three way conversation about everything from 3d World Magazine to Zbrush.
At 1:30 I went back to North Hall for the “Know Your Rights” panel which was interesting, but very difficult to follow at times. The subject was well presented with a very useful handout on Patents, Copyrights, Trade Secrets and Trademarks, but it was not easy to listen to and I found myself falling to sleep along with several others. Gregory P. Silverman did a fine job of introducing the four legal topics (with the disclaimer that it did not constitute legal advice), but again it was like rowing upstream. I left after the first speaker even though it's a subject I'm very interested in. I wonder if a smaller, more interactive presentation would work more effectively. Of course, the previous paragraph does not actually represent the opinion of renderosity or any other entity or body associated with that Internet address or business.
After the unavoidable boredom of the previous panel, I found myself just wandering around the hall recording interesting ambient sounds. At one point I had a short conversation about pancakes with Quasi, the robot right in front of the GeekLounge (a bar full of people with Mac Boo Pro's and daiquiris). The chat was so spontaneous that I went behind the drapes that Quasi was standing in front of just to make sure there wasn't someone hiding with a microphone. Nope, it was all robot.
The sound of Siggraph is quite remarkable and I spent a good hour just recording passing crowds, information kiosks and finally an Exhibition Hall walk-through that I can't wait to listen to with headphones. Ended up at the renderosity booth where they were (once again) giving away software to a large crowd. I'm sure the audio will be amusing there. I'll try to post it in the wrap-up on Saturday.
The end of the day was spent just trying to pay attention to my surroundings. I enjoyed the architectural design of the two Convention Halls; lots of soft natural light. Two pervasive sounds if you listened carefully, one is the quiet click of Mac keyboards and the other was the slap-slap of shoes as people walked everywhere. Even in the quiet carpeted areas you could here it.
Finally at the media room again (a quiet oasis) typing up the first part of this Blog and organizing my notes and contacts. Spoke briefly with another reporter who was equally happy, but exhausted. After our chat, I ran out of power on the laptop (borrowed from my partner, Lisa Morton), so I went outside and sat on the steps and people watched. The wind had come up outside and it was pleasant to listen to Nick Drake sing as people walked by slowly.
Eventually, I made my way over to a yellow cab and paid for a ride to Little Tokyo where I met up with John Martin (Reallusion), Bill Lessard (from PR with Brains) and his wife (an educator) at a Ramen Noodle house where I had a delicious Bento box of ginger pork. Bill had an Amoeba Records t-shirt on and was waxing rhapsodic about finding out of print CDs cheap there (this was his second trip) and bemoaning the lack of good record stores in New York, his home town. The dinner and conversation was stellar and they were kind enough to give me a lift back to North Hollywood.
Big sigh at the end of another great day at Siggraph08. Time for a good night's sleep.
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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