Notes From SIGGRAPH 2011 ( Part 1)

August 16, 2011 1:25 am

Tags: 3D, ACM, Blender, Computer Animation Festival, SIGGRAPH, SIGGRAPH 2011, The Studio, Vancouver

Notes From SIGGRAPH 2011 (Part 1)

"Vancouver was an awesome home for SIGGRAPH and people are leaving with a renewed sense of passion and motivation both in their professional and personal lives. Vancouver delivered on its reputation as a world-class city"
-Pete Braccio, 2011 SIGGRAPH Conference Chair

Without question, SIGGRAPH 2011 in Vancouver rates as the best I've attended over the last four years. This year's premiere computer graphics conference and exhibition broke records in Vancouver by becoming the largest convention in that city's history. Just under 16,000 people came to SIGGRAPH 2011 from 74 countries. 156 industry organizations exhibited at SIGGRAPH 2011 and there were approximately 825 speakers at panels, workshops, presentations, courses, etc. And since every city affects the atmosphere that SIGGRAPH takes place in, a lot of people were smiling and relaxed as Vancouver is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. You can tell from some of the pictures included in this article that the convention center is open and airy: perfectly designed for a conference such as SIGGRAPH.

Interior of the Vancouver Convention Center, West Building

I had a chance to chat with the fellow who runs the bookstore at SIGGRAPH (Breakpoint Books) and he was all smiles since they had positioned him directly on the ground floor as you initially enter the convention center. Being able to browse the books open on tables right at the convention entrance really makes a difference. I just barely restrained myself and only bought one book: a new Blender animation book called Tradigital Blender by Roland Hess, published by the always excellent Focal Press. The book store manager also told me he really liked the convention center with all of its space and light. He said load-in was easy. And as he spoke, I couldn't help notice the big smile on his face.

The edge of the Convention Center along with Vancouver Harbor

The theme for this year's SIGGRAPH was "Make it Home," which chairman Pete Baccio (a marvelous fellow who spoke deliberately and with obvious pleasure in his brief address to the conference on Tuesday) commented that the idea came out of discussions regarding SIGGRAPH being outside of the US for the first time. The theme was an attempt to state what many already felt: no matter where you were, SIGGRAPH felt like home. I don't think that anyone who attended SIGGRAPH this year would disagree. I certainly felt comfortable and at ease as the event was impeccably organized and scheduled.

I had a personal goal this year at SIGGRAPH, which was to meet with as many people and companies as I could. I wanted to especially talk with those whom I hadn't met with in previous years. And, of course, I wanted to take a few classes, ask tons of questions and take time to let impromptu conversations and get-togethers happen. Frequently, some of the most interested experiences at SIGGRAPH come outside of what you've scheduled. In fact, every SIGGRAPH has surprises and events that happen in spite of hours spent in preparation for the conference. And this year was the best for just this kind of serendipity.

Technical Papers chair, Hugues Hoppe, and Computer Animation Festival chair, Joshua Grow

One of the most interesting out-of-the-blue conversations I had was with the Computer Animation Festival chair, Josh Grow, right after the Media briefing on Tuesday morning. I approached Josh while everyone was rushing out to an early admission to the Exhibition floor and began a conversation with him that lasted for a half hour. He did a helluva job on the festival (I had attended the full 2 hour main festival reel the night before) and was very pleased to hear it. Josh is, I think, the youngest (29) Animation festival chair in it's history. We talked about some of the problems that come when you are the young man in a very old festival. In spite of his obvious lack of sleep, Josh was congenial and even enthusiastic when I played the trailer from last year's Machinima Expo festival. One of the things I admired about this year's Computer Animation Festival selections was how much variety there was. Josh put it this way in his interview for Animation magazine: It is truly the year's unique opportunity to hear directly from the best in the business. It should prove to be educational and inspirational."

Still from Jury winning film "Paths of Hate" by Damian Nemow. Courtesy of ACM Siggraph.

Josh Grow will be heading the Computer Animation Festival again next year, so I'm really interested to see how it might change since he will have a previous SIGGRAPH conference experience under his belt. My thanks to Josh for being so approachable and friendly. It was fascinating to learn that in 2002 Josh was a volunteer for SIGGRAPH who, after watching a special effects reel for the first Spider Man, vowed to run the festival one day. He achieved his goal and more since he also works for the VFX house Creative Cartel (and was reviewing work via laptop while he was at SIGGRAPH). Josh was one of the most inspiring people I met at SIGGRAPH and it happened quite by accident.


Sunday, August 7th

As for my pre-planned schedule, after a couple days in Vancouver (I arrived 2 days early, just walking around and enjoying myself), the SIGGRAPH 2011 conference began officially on Sunday, August 7, 2011. After an easy media registration, I was free to explore the convention center and review the minischedule book which lists the times and locations of everything that will happen at the conference. I also took the time to orient myself so that I'd know where everything was. The big events were the Blender Foundation community meeting and discovering the Art Gallery, The Studio and Emerging Technologies, as attendance tends to be lighter at these events on the first day.

Ton Roosendaal, chairman of Blender Foundation

It's no secret that I'm a big supporter of Open Source, and Blender is one of the best open source applications around. The community meeting was an annual event, where Ton Roosendaal, chairman of the Blender Foundation, reviews the previous year's activities of the foundation, along with the current state of the free 3D software package, Blender. I really enjoyed this meeting, as Ton is such a focused and engaging personality. He always opens the meeting with every person present introducing themselves and telling a bit about why they are there. No other event I've attended at SIGGRAPH works like this. That's part of what makes Ton and the Blender people so special. You can download the PDF of the community meeting presentation here. Oh, and the director for the next Open Movie project (called project Mango) was announced and it's Ian Hubert. I spoke with him after the meeting and was impressed. He'll do a great job.


The SIGGRAPH Art Gallery and Emerging Technologies are two of my favorite places at any SIGGRAPH conference. This year was most interesting. Partly because the space was well-laid out and relatively easy to get around in (contrasts to last year's very close space), but also because the displays and installations were remarkably interesting. It's hard to say which were favorites, as I visited the spaces several times during the week, but the "Face to Avatar" and "PocoPoco" were the ones I kept coming back to over and over. My descriptions of these installations pale in comparison to seeing them live. There is an excellent video preview of the Emerging Technologies displays. Be sure to look for my choices and see if you agree. A full list of the presentations can be found here.

Tele-Present Wind by David Bowen @ Art Gallery

The Art Gallery was every bit as exciting as Emerging Technologies. I'm so pleased that SIGGRAPH still continues the tradition of having an Art Gallery. Last year, the location was a bit tight, plus it was stuck right up against the very noisy Studio, which made what should be a contemplative experience rather difficult. This year, SIGGRAPH organizers got it just right. Some art installations were sound-related, and having relative quiet made the experience much better.

Again, all of the pieces are remarkable, but I was particularly taken by David Bowen's "Tele-Present Wind," where a small field of dried plant stalks respond via remote wind monitor and rustle seemingly spontaneously in front of you. The art work has a zen magic to it that keeps you continually fascinated. Be sure to visit his website for more about this exceptional artist.

Hildapromenade 4 by Philipp Engelhardt @Art Gallery
Another work of art at the gallery that intrigued me was "Hildapromenade 4," by Philippe Engelhardt. Ostensibly an illuminated book of found photographs, the artist used 3D technology to allow you to interact with the story of a woman featured in the photographs. Its ghostly and ethereal quality, combined with the tactile experience of touching the book and turning the pages, make for an odd experience. Almost as if you are interacting with someone who has died but is still alive in slowly changing pictures. The installation was perfectly lit and positioned in the gallery, too. After I spent time with the piece, I noticed many others who interacted with Hildapromenade 4 came away with their mood changed. A remarkable work by an artist who is talented and contemporary. Be sure to visit Philippe's website where you can view a video of this wonderful artwork.

It's a shame to mention just a few installations at the SIGGRAPH 2011 Art Gallery, as they are all unique and imaginative. I mention Tele-Present Wind and Hildapromenade 4 as they were the works that affected me the most. Be sure to check the SIGGRAPH 2011 website for a full list of Art Gallery installations. ItSpace, The Insatiable and Garden of Error and Decay are other installations that were effective and interesting.

Flower-lined walking path in Vancouver's Stanley Park

After spending several hours in The Studio (disappointed I missed a class on new techniques in Sand Animation) and the Art Gallery, I decided to head over to Stanley Park, which was not far from the excellent Bed & Breakfast place (Nelson House, highly recommended), and have a fancy dinner at the Fish House restaurant which came highly recommended. Stanley Park is over a hundred years old and is about 10% larger than New York's Central Park. Another big difference is that it's nearly surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and has a wonderful lagoon, walking paths and a famous collection of totem poles.

Unfortunately, while trying to find the restaurant I got lost in the park, but wasn't much put out as the park is so full of wonderful trees, flowers and gardens. Eventually, I found my way and ended the day with a magnificent dinner of 3 kinds of salmon at the Fish House. My two hours of wandering had worked up and appetite and I waddled back to my room in the West End of Vancouver a very contented and happy fellow.

The big load of meetings, classes, screenings and panels at SIGGRAPH would start up on Monday and my daily calendar was packed. Stay tuned...

"Celebration of Light" fireworks on the beach in Vancouver

Oh, quick note: I was fortunate to attend a superb fireworks display called the "Celebration of Light" the previous night (Saturday), which I discovered was the third in a series of fireworks competitions that had been going on for a week or so. David, the proprietor at Nelson House B&B warned me that there would be over 250,000 people cramming themselves on the beach and nearby streets. He was so right. I walked with a massive amount of people down to the beach and just managed to squeeze in tight right down in front of the huge barge just offshore where the Canadian team launched their 25-minute fireworks show. It was breathtaking; the best fireworks I'd ever seen.

Your humble on-the-scene reporter, Ricky Grove (gToon).

Coming up in Part 2: Monday and Tuesday meetings, Animation Festival and more...

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 16, 2011

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