SIGGRAPH 2009 Wrap-Up


Ronen Barzel, SIGGRAPH 2009 Conference Chair

In a press conference early in the week at SIGGRAPH 2009, Ronen Barzel, this year's conference chair, said that in spite of the world wide financial market collapse, “SIGGRAPH is not going to cut back on it's programming”. And despite snickering in the media room about the “poor attendance” at the Exhibit Hall, I think Mr. Barzel has kept his promise. There literally was not one, but many SIGGRAPHs going on at the same time. If you were tech focused, you could attend talks on “Volumetric Shadow Mapping”; if you wanted to watch some of the best animation in the world there was the Computer Animation Festival in the afternoons and evenings, plus several “behind the scenes” talks about films like “Coraline”, “The Spine” and Pixar's newest 3D short “Partly Cloudy”; and if you wanted to spend most of your time with new software/hardware, the Exhibitors Hall was filled with companies like AutoDesk, E-ON, MAXON and Shapeways. In other words, SIGGRAPH 2009 in New Orleans provided some of the most interesting and varied content of any conference in it's history. Plus, the conference was held in a beautiful city filled with music and excitement: New Orleans.


The Studio

Personally, this year's SIGGRAPH was much more enjoyable and interesting than last year's Los Angeles event. Although some reporters made the point that many companies skipped this year in order to show at Los Angeles next year, it didn't make any difference to me. In fact, the smaller amount of exhibitors made it much easier to get around and to actually hear someone in conversation. The L.A. Conference was so loud and filled with Vegas-style presentations that I found myself simply leaving the floor just to get away from the cacophany.

This year's SIGGRAPH was highlighted by two major additions in conference content. For the first time in it's history SIGGRAPH has included Video Game technology and content as a full partner at the conference. And secondly, “real-time rendering” technology will be a part of the conference. The “real-time render” content for the conference was especially rich with everything from live “real-time” demos of games/software on a giant digital screen, to panels on GameStory, and to an exhibitor focus on “real-time” hardware (Nvidia, ATI and Intel). A stand-out moment for me was the demo on the PS3 of thatgamecompany's “Flower” by John Edwards. With a double screen of the gorgeous live gameplay, plus a smaller screen of John operating the PS3 controller, it was one of those jaw-dropping moments that made me realize that real-time rendering is now a fully viable part of the professional animation world. Add to that the inclusion of the Sandbox part of SIGGRAPH (where videogames are playable in real time) to the main SIGGRAPH conference, and you have another reason why this year's conference was so remarkable.

Another great idea for this year's conference was a focus on “Sound and Music”. Since New Orleans has rich musical history (you couldn't go anywhere without being surround by music of some sort), it was a smart move on their part to feature a keynote address by noted sound designer Randy Thom. His comments on the importance of sound and it's inclusion early in the production process where one of the highlights of the conference for me personally. Knowing that his first sound job was on “Apocalypse Now” (“my university”, he called it) gathering field recordings of flies, and that now he was at the top of his field calling for sound to be more than just “post-production” is inspiring to me beyond words.


Keynote Speaker: Randy Thom

That brings me to something that was fundamentally different for this, my second, SIGGRAPH conference: it was much more about people for me this year. I deliberately avoided packing my schedule with courses and panels from morning to night, in order to create time to meet people and follow their recommendations. From the first day, when registered at the media center and got a tip on a good restaurant around the corner from my hotel, to John Martin marching me over to the ipi Soft booth and learning about an inexpensive motion capture system that exports Half Life 2 source files natively, I never stopped meeting interesting people and discovering events that I wouldn't have found on my own.

And the pace of SIGGRAPH borrowed a good deal from the city of New Orleans, where everything is done just a bit slower than other cites. I loved being able to stop at the Renderosity booth for a cup of tea in the afternoon. And also having the time to be able to take a quick dip in the hotel pool most afternoons made it much easier to tolerate the summer humidity of New Orleans. Being able to wander a bit at SIGGRAPH and allow for serendipity made all the difference in the world to my conference experience.


Exhibition Hall

In the Exhibition Hall in particular (although I wish I hadn't been timid at times about approaching a booth), I was able to attend demos, discuss software and even be grabbed (pleasantly) by someone at the Shapeways booth for an excellent session on their 3D printing service. Some highlights on the floor include the Vue 8 demo and luncheon, the private demo for Poser 8 with Steve Cooper of Smith Micro, and interviewing Florian Witzel, who presented some of his commercial work at the AutoDesk booth.

Hanging out with John and James Martin from Reallusion was a real treat. They are almost like brothers to me now. John's presentation of the upcoming release of iClone 4 was very enjoyable and informative. I also got a chance to meet several power users of the program and have a brilliant dinner with them at La Boca. Charles Chen, the CEO of Reallusion, picked up the tab and picked our brains about iClone. He's such a bright and enthusiastic man, no wonder Reallusion is such a good company. My thanks to him for dinner and his support. I hope to kick start the iClone Forum here in the coming months with tutorials, interviews, etc.

And the Coraline production session was a revelation. I had no idea that the facial animation for the stop motion film was all done by using 3D printing. In fact, 3D printing was a sub-theme at SIGGRAPH this year. I could have kicked myself for not spending more time with this technology on the Exhibition Floor where there were actual 3D printers and demos on how they work.

3D filmmaking in general had a larger presence at this year's SIGGRAPH. One of the most popular events was the 3D clips and trailers presentation and the subsequent premiere of Pixar's “Tokyo Mater”, the line for which must have stretched the entire length of the second floor of the convention center. I was very impressed with Bob Whitehill's presentation “Visual Storytelling in 3 Dimensions” on Thursday. He used many examples from Pixar's “Up” to show how 3D must be incorporated into how the story is told for it to be truly effective. It has to help contribute to character, and above all, the emotions produced in the audience by the film. It's possible that 3D may be simply a tech fad, but I have a feeling this development will be deeper and longer lasting. If so, I hope filmmakers heed Mr. Whitehill's advice to simply make “good films”, not necessarily “good 3D films.”


Computer Animation Festival
French Roast by Fabrice O. Joubert © 2009

I also spent a lot more time this year at the Computer Animation Festival, attending 3 evening sessions and two afternoon sessions. These are some of the best animated films in the world, and watching them one after another produces a feeling that I can only describe as wanting to float up off of your chair and fly around the room; they are that remarkable. Hard to single any out, the level of accomplishment is that high, but Chris Landreth's “The Spine”, Fabrice O. Joubert's “French Roast” and Superinfocom's “Anima” were movies that have lingered in memory. Each one a small masterpiece of style and story. I only wished I could have seen my good friend Paulo's entry “Twisted Murder” (profiled here on Renderosity earlier in the year) which showed on Friday. I did manage to spend some time with him and he was very excited about the screening. He mentioned to me that he had been up since 5AM taking pictures of textures for future projects. I guess that's how genius operates.


Computer Animation Festival
Anima by Annabel Sebag, Premium Films distribution © 2009

And, of course, New Orleans is a fabulous town to walk about, eat, and walk around in. I had some of the best meals I've had in years while at SIGGRAPH. The French Quarter is remarkable and vibrant. Big surprise was the Mexican “Taqueria” restaurant, which mixed Creole and traditional Mexican food in delightful ways. Bookstores, Museums and the Riverwalk near the convention center, all made it so pleasant to be in New Orleans attending SIGGRAPH this year.


Cafe Du Monde

Regrets? Yes, there are a couple. The buzz after Will Wright's keynote address was palpable all day. I also wish I had spent more time at the “Music and Audio” panels. There were several live performances and talks that I know would have been fascinating. And I didn't get to spend as much time at Game's panels as I would have liked. And I actually did kick myself for not attending Chris Landreth's presentation on his film “The Spine”. This genius filmmaker spoke about “Psychology-Driven Animation” in his film. You know, this year I might actually buy the conference DVD that SIGGRAPH puts out just to see this talk.


Computer Animation Festival
The Spine
by Chris Landreth © 2009

At the end of the conference, I collected 500+ photos, 3 hours of audio and audio interviews, along with 2 hours of video. This last week while I've been reflecting on this years SIGGRAPH experience, I've been editing and organizing all of that material. And I'm happy to say that none of the media gathering got in the way of enjoying the convention and talking to people. I'll be offering some profiles and interviews I gathered at SIGGRAPH 2009 in future articles here at Renderosity.com. So stay tuned.

Finally, SIGGRAPH 2009 in New Orleans was a much better experience for me than last year, primarily because I didn't try to do everything at once and I spent much more time listening and taking notes. I feel that it was a great success for me as a reporter and as a person. I found myself packing my bags with a certain amount of sadness. I just didn't want to leave the conference this year. While last year, I couldn't wait for it to be over.

Next year the conference will be in Los Angeles, my home town, and will probably feature a lot more Industry participation. I wonder what it will be like.

Notes:

I've prepared a slightly edited version of my audio interview with SIGGRAPH 2009 chair Ronen Barzel. You can listen to it here.

And here are 100 of the best photos from my Flickr SIGGRAPH 2009 collection. Hope you enjoy them!


Links:
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 17, 2009

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Member Opinions:
By: IO4 on 8/18/09
Very interesting, thanks Ricky. I loved the animations, glad you included the links.

By: KeremGogus on 8/19/09
Renderodudes! :)) Wish I could be there!

By: gToon on 8/19/09
You are very welcome. Imagine all of the animated film being of such high quality and you get a sense of what the Animation Festival was like. Amazing.


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