Notes From SIGGRAPH 2011 (Part 3)

August 30, 2011 1:07 am

Tags: ACM, CINEMA 4D, LightWave, Luxology, MAXON, Modo, NewTek, Poser, SIGGRAPH, SmithMicro

Notes From SIGGRAPH 2011 (Part 3)

"Content developers can now create a single Poser scene. Every element including dependencies is connected as one"
-Steve Cooper, on Poser 9

Tuesday, August 9th

Tuesday started at 8 AM with a Press Conference in the Media center, with chairman Peter Baccio. I arrived a bit late, but managed to catch the bulk of the comments and questions. After the event, I hung around a bit and chatted with the Computer Animation Festival chair, Josh Grow, and learned that he had started at SIGGRAPH as a student volunteer, and after seeing the special effects presentation for Spider Man (2002) he vowed to chair the Computer Animation Festival one day. At 29, Josh is one of the youngest to run the festival, and after talking with him it was obvious he was very smart, very energetic (despite lack of sleep) and loved animation deeply.

Media briefing with Hugues Hoppe, Technical Papers chair

I wrote about my conversation with Josh in Part 1 of these dispatches from SIGGRAPH, so I won't go into detail here. It was serendipity that brought us together and gave us the time to talk (something I look forward to at SIGGRAPH). By the way, Josh is chairing next year's Computer Animation Festival as well, so I hope to snag a video interview with him then.

I was supposed to meet up with Steve Cooper, product manager for Poser, but a mix-up in the location caused me to post-pone the meeting to later in the afternoon (which turned out to be much, much better for us both). So, I ventured out onto the Exhibition Hall at the bottom of the Convention center (you arrived on an extremely long escalator) to take in the sights and meet up with Mark Rocchio and Robert Morris from Thinware Media. Thinware Media is a forward-looking company that will be launching their "computer aided production" tool studioCAP sometime in the fall.

Thinware reps Robert Morris and Mark Rocchio

One of the themes I picked up on at this year's SIGGRAPH was that computer graphics is moving to the cloud and Thinware Media is out in front trying to creatively utilize this trend for their very unique application. I was bowled over by Mark and Robert's presentation, especially considering it took place right in the middle of a noisy Exhibition floor. One aspect of studioCAP I was particularly struck with was social networking not only for paid users of the application, but for anyone who registers. This is a swell deal for students looking for work as it connects them to their potential employers. All of this inside of an "asset management" application. However, this term doesn't come close to describing how innovative Thinware Media's studioCAP could be.

At the MAXON Luncheon, Paul Babb presents the new character rigging in C4D R13

Still buzzing with the Thinware Media presentation, I stopped off briefly at the Media center for some research and double-checking of my schedule for the day. The MAXON luncheon was coming up at noon, so I left early and headed over to the Marriot for some chow and news on the upcoming release of CINEMA 4D R13.

I've always enjoyed the luncheon that MAXON puts on for the press and have attended it for the last 4 years. This year, Paul Babb, MAXON's USA president, and several of his collegues presented the newest version of their popular and powerful 3D application, CINEMA 4D R13. I'm always impressed with how Paul manages to compress detailed information and present it clearly and quickly, but still manage to have fun. CINEMA 4D R13 promises to be a major release with impressive updates to character animation, new and enhanced rendering engine, stereoscopic 3D workflow and much more. I was extremely impressed with their new rigging system, which appears far easier to use than any other system I've seen. MAXON is also changing their logo to reflect the company MAXON has become today. Another excellent announcement was the re-vamping of MAXON's Cineversity learning site, which should happen sometime in the fall of 2011.

Presentation at the MAXON booth on the SIGGRAPH 2011 Exhibition floor

The MAXON booth at SIGGRAPH was a hotbed of activity all 3 days that the Exhibition hall was open. Top C4D users like Nick Campbell ( and Ken Carlson (Big Machine Design) gave smoking demos and the booth was often crowded with people. CINEMA 4D R13 will be shipping in September, 2011.

Yours truly and Rob Powers of NewTek right after my meeting with him

Next up was a meeting with Rob Powers, vice-president of 3D development at NewTek, developers of LightWave 3D. I met with Rob last year at SIGGRAPH when he was just starting out at his new job at NewTek, having come from working as animation technical director (and eventually virtual art department supervisor) for James Cameron on Avatar. After a year, Rob's influence on the development of LightWave has been significant. LightWave 10, released earlier in the year, is an important release as it brings a lot of CORE technology into the development of LightWave, and at the same time, clarifies NewTek's goals regarding the future of the program.

As usual, Rob was eloquent in his comments on how he wants to "move the software towards a more supportive structure for how artists think." He reminded me that LightWave 10.1 (released in July) contains modeling updates, along with an improved view port renderer and a lot more. I enjoyed this meeting very much and could have spent an hour with Rob. Fortunately, he was on the John Peddie luncheon panel on Wednesay, so I'd get to hear him talk about the future of virtual filmmaking.

David Tracy from Luxology demos Modo 501 for me

My meeting with Luxology in the press room was something I was very much looking forward to. The company's 3D application, Modo, had come across my research and conversations many times over the last few years, and yet I knew little about the company and software. After spending some time reading about Modo 501 (the most recent version of the software) and hanging around the Luxology forums, I was impressed and wanted to learn more.

David Tracy, Luxology's community director, met with me to answer questions about Modo, the Luxology community and to share demos of key aspects of Modo 501 via his iPad. I really enjoyed David's low-key take on the meeting and he answered my many questions thoughtfully. Based in Mountain View, California, Luxology was founded in 2002 by Alan Hastings, Stuart Ferguson and Brad Peebler, with an eye to develop "next generation 3D technology." When asked what makes Modo so unique, David replied "the community and the clean code Modo was built on." Within the industry, Modo is often used as a modeler because of it's unique flexibility. It's renderer is highly praised as well. The Luxology meeting did not disappoint. I came away impressed and excited about both the company and the application. I've already joined the forums at Luxology and have been greeted with warmth. You'll be hearing a lot more from me on Modo 501, as I hope to review it in the fall, along with trying out some of my own film projects using this unique application.

Tim and Jenifer at the Renderosity booth on Tuesday

On my way to another meeting, I stopped by the booth at SIGGRAPH and said hello to Jenifer and Tim, who were busy with the many interested people who came by. I always enjoy seeing them both. It was a chance to catch up and relax a minute. The booth looked great and they were giving away bags and handing out raffle tickets for the very popular prize drawings. I would stop by the booth many times over the next 3 days, which proved to be very enjoyable. Jenifer and Tim worked hard at the booth and it showed in the number of people who were always there when I came by.

Carlos Baena, co-founder of Animation Mentor online training school

Another organization I've wanted to meet with at SIGGRAPH, but never got around to, was Animation Mentor, the online character animation training program that has become very successful. At my first SIGGRAPH back in 2008, I met a student from the AM program who spoke glowingly of his experience. This year, I wanted to meet with them and find out what the program was all about.

I met with Carlos Baena, one of the co-founders of Animation Mentor, which began in 2005 with the goal to "provide the most personal and fulfilling learning experience on the planet." Carlos, a professional animator at Pixar Studios, spoke passionately about his own experiences growing up and discovering the need for "students to help each other learn." The 18-month online animation program uses Maya as the tool to help students learn professional animation techniques in an "atmosphere of fun and collaboration." Animation Mentor has grown significantly over the years, adding many industry professionals to its staff and placing graduates of the program with companies like Dreamworks Animation, Weta Digital and LucasArts.

I found Carlos to be an honest and direct person, who genuinely cares for the students at Animation Mentor. I'll be covering Animation Mentor's program in more detail this fall at, including a more in-depth interview with Carlos. I came away delighted with the meeting and intensely interested in learning more.

Steve Cooper of SmithMicro demos the upcoming Poser 9 release

I decided to skip the Real-Time Live! demos (much to my regret) and spend time on the Exhibition floor, where I wandered among the dozens of booths and struck up short conversations with many people. I particularly liked stopping at the Focal Press booth and looking at several new books on computer graphics. At the Media Center, I re-scheduled my Poser meeting with Steve Cooper (SmithMicro) to 4pm and just managed to run over to the Pacific Run hotel right next door to the convention center to settle down with Steve in his gorgeous hotel room overlooking Vancouver harbor.

My meeting with Steve, Poser Product Manager, was one of the best meetings I had at SIGGRAPH. He's been somewhat of a mentor for me over the years, as he patiently answered all of my newbie questions. We spoke initially of the upcoming release of Poser 9 and Poser 2012, which will be released in September. As usual, Steve was intense and energetic about the improvements that come with Poser 9, and demoed several of them, including sub-surface scattering (beautiful effect, especially on faces in Poser), realtime open GL scene preview, a vertex weight map editing toolset and much more. One excellent development that will impact sellers is the ability to export a single Poser 9 scene as one file, instead of having to deliver each element separately. Steve kindly allowed me to film a short video of his presentation. He also told me that SmithMicro is offering excellent pre-order incentives on Poser 9 and Poser 2012. Check the site for more details.

In all, Steve spoke with me for almost 2 hours on Poser 9, software distribution and how software companies develop their applications and promote them. It was an enlightening talk and I'm grateful to Steve for giving me the time. It seems we probably wouldn't have been able to talk as long as we did had we not delayed the appointment until later. My luck indeed.

Still from When I am King by Sverre Frederikson

SIGGRAPH is a great place to meet people who share your interests. I enjoy meeting people, talking about computer graphics and learning new things, but my favorite part of any SIGGRAPH conference is the Computer Animation Festival. These are the best animated films, effects reels, commercials, visualizations and student films in the world. And the work that goes into screening the thousands of entries is enormous. I was so psyched to catch the two hour Electronic Theater festival screening at the end of this very long day that I practically ran to the large theater at the bottom level of the convention hall.

I was very interested to see if Josh Grow (I had spoken to him earlier in the day) was going to have a more conservative selection of films, or would he be more adventurous, being young and, to my mind, wanting to get festival goers stirred up (like Cory Doctorow did with his keynote speech). After sitting down in a beautifully appointed theater, which had excellent sound, good sight-lines and a ton of seats (1000?), I was very pleased to see that Josh had struck up a balance between innovation and traditional subjects/styles in the festival. The variety of films is simply staggering. The two and a half hours simply flew by and I don't remember hardly anyone leaving. It was a fantastic and inspiring program of films.

Still from Chernokids. Courtesy of ACM SIGGRAPH

In spite of the fact that all of the films/shorts/commercials were of very high quality, there were some films that stood out for me:

  • The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by Moonbot Studios (Best in Show winner). Easily the best film at the festival. I'd seen it on small screen, but was unprepared for how remarkable the color and design was on a big screen.
  • Sweater Dog by Gina Moffit. Part of the Student Projects reel and a wonderfully told story with simple, inventive design.
  • MutantLand by Paul Tippett. A nightmare survival-of-the-fittest, post-nuke scenario that whips across the screen like a samurai sword. Constantly surprising and full of dread. Brilliant film.
  • Paths of Hate by Damien Nenow (Jury Award winner). Stylish and imaginative film, with a unique graphic novel style and a message that stays in your head. Be sure to catch a video of the directors presentation on the making of the film at the Autodesk booth during SIGGRAPH 2011.
  • Chernokids by Matthieu Bernadat, et al. A simply stunning film that examines the after effects of the Chernobyl disaster with expressionist compassion. Every aspect of this film is impressive. Chernokids (a graduation project at Supinfocom in France) was my personal favorite of the festival.
  • When I am King by Sverre Frediriksen. Music video for Dutch rocker, Tim Knol, this highly original film is an imaginative gem. Part of the animation process involved soldering onto wood.
Still from Moonbot's The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

It was late when the Computer Animation festival let out, but I was excited from the films I had seen. Headed over to the MAXON party (my first at SIGGRAPH in 4 years) for a stop in, but as I walked I grew weary and decided to put in a short appearance. Held at the exclusive Shore Club in Vancouver, the bar and lounge was packed, but I did manage to chat with Nick Campbell (a couple of his MAXON booth presentations are online now) and several Canadian VFX people who were bright and enjoyable conversationalists.

After about a half an hour, I took off walking for home. Rather, it was a stroll down Robson street, which was hopping and jumping with tourists and diners. Made it home to my Sailors room, threw my stuff on the chair and collapsed happily onto the bed. And so ended the longest, but most exciting day at SIGGRAPH 2011.

Stay tuned for Notes from SIGGRAPH 2011 (Part 4) coming soon...

Catch Ricky's previous SIGGRAPH 2011 articles here:

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 29, 2011

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