Report from Siggraph 2013 (Part Two)
August 19, 2013 2:49 am
"You stop thinking about how quickly you
can do something and instead think about how efficiently you can do
-Dr. Michael Balzer, Geomerics
Wednesday, July 24
No crack-of-dawn, white-knuckled drive on the I-5 for this reporter on Wednesday as I headed into Anaheim for my last day at SIGGRAPH 2013. However, I did get there early so I could have a light breakfast and stroll through the Art Gallery again. I was struck by how well-placed all of the installations are this year. At the Los Angeles convention center, sometimes the gallery is stuck in a room that's much too small for the art works. The Art Gallery here really flows. It's just another reason why the Anaheim Convention Center was such a great choice for SIGGRAPH. Such a pleasure to walk down a row of lovely palm trees next to the convention center on a bright summer morning. The fountain in front of the main entry is a very nice touch, too. I'd find later in the day that sitting next to flowing water is quite relaxing. Someone at the Anaheim Convention Center had their thinking cap on.
Picture source: SIGGRAPH 2013 Media Archive
The Faceware Technologies booth was my first stop. This marker-less 3D facial motion capture company has been on the computer graphics scene for 10 years using core technology from Image Metrics, a major developer of "facial analysis and facial recognition" technologies.
Situated in Sherman Oaks, CA., Faceware Technologies develops three main tools for facial motion capture: professional head-mounted cameras, the Analyzer application (facial motion tracking software), and the Retargeter softare that allows you to "take the 3D facial animation data and apply it to a 3D facial rig." Essentially, Faceware gives you an entire facial-motion capture pipeline from recording motion data to final animation on a 3D character.
At the booth, I learned that Faceware Technologies had just released a brand-new application called Faceware Live, which "captures a live actor's facial performance with any video source, and instantly transfers that performance to a 3D character in real time." I was impressed with this real-time facial motion capture software, especially since you don't need a high-end camera to create excellent facial animation. You can find out more information on this application here. There are also excellent videos for Retargeter, Analyzer and and Faceware's head-mounted cameras here. Be sure to check out the demos for their products here.
Screen of computer running Faceware Live at Faceware booth
Right after my session with Faceware, I hustled over to a small display from Geomerics, a company that delivers "cutting-edge graphics technology to customers in the games and entertainment industries." Speaking with Dr. Michael Balzer, the Technical Director North America for Geomerics, I discovered that Geomerics Enlighten dynamic lighting technology is behind game lighting in such titles as Battlefield 3 and EVE Online. Michael showed me how Enlighten (clever name for the application) actually delivers real-time global illumination for video games. The difference between a scene that doesn't use global illumination and one that does is striking.
Dr. Balzer at the Geomerics booth
"The reason dynamic lighting is so important is that it lifts the level of interaction in a world," is a statement made by Dr. Balzer and one that stayed with me as he showed me several lighting demos using Enlighten. He also stressed that workflow for game artists is better using dynamic lighting. The technology will be used in the upcoming PS4 and Xbox One game consoles and will even be a part of future mobile gaming development.
I was very intrigued with Geomerics. Dr. Balzer was an excellent spokesman for this fascinating company. Be sure to follow the link to their homepage and check out the video for Enlighten here. An excellent interview with Geomerics founder, Chris Doran, can be found here.
The infamous "white box" Oculus VR demo
"You can pretty much put anyone anywhere
you want them to be"
-Joseph Chen, Oculus VR
If there's anything I've learned from attending SIGGRAPH over the last five years is that you have to always allow for serendipity (lucky accidents). Nowhere was this more clearly shown to me than on Wednesday morning at the SIGGRAPH Exhibition Hall. This unscheduled experience turned out to be the highlight of the entire conference for me.
Here's what happened: I had ended a session with Geomerics (still very impressed with the demo I had just seen) and the PR person I was working with asked if I wanted to see something interesting. Of course, I was intrigued, so I let the fellow take me to the far corner of the showroom floor where we stood outside of a small, white box with no graphics or notes of any kind on the outside. After a while, I was ushered in and got a demo from Joseph Chen of the new Oculus Rift VR, a cutting edge virtual reality headset I've been reading so much about in the news.
Joseph Chen on the right narrating the demo for Oculus VR
The Oculus VR experience was phenomenal. Any other VR headset pales in comparison to the Oculus Rift. And this is just the developmental model. The commercial model (to be released some time this year) is supposed to be even better! Although it's a much overused word, "game changer" applies to this product. Yes, indeed.
Invented by Palmer Luckey, a "virtual headset and technology geek," Oculus VR made a huge splash on Kickstarter and they have been working like bees trying to get the commercial version of the headset out as quickly as they can. I'm told it will be priced at around $299 (not official yet) and already support is lining up for the new headsets (Valve's Half-Life 2, Unity). You can find out more information here. There's an excellent video on the Oculus Rift here.
Gavin Greenwalt and Alex Kelley at the Caustic booth. Great guys!
Caustic, part of Imagination Technologies, is a very interesting company I met with at last year's SIGGRAPH. I reviewed their Caustic Series2 R2100 ray tracing accelerator card for Renderosity and was quite impressed. Eager to learn what the company was up to this year, I met with Alex Kelley and Gavin Greenwalt, who told me that the "previous SIGGRAPH was about introducing people to our product, this year it's about showing off the features." In addition to their Caustic cards, they also develop impressive imaging solutions with their Visualizer software which enables artists to work "with the world's truly first interactive ray traced viewport."
Caustic shared their newest versions of their ray tracing plug-ins for Maya and 3ds Max, which includes improvements in speed and performance for both applications. I loved clips from the film Troll Hunter, which used Caustic in its production pipeline. I was also impressed with the fact that they had an Oculus Rift VR headset running off of a Samsung S4 smart-phone at their booth! Of course, I had to try it out and, my goodness, even with the smaller CPU of the phone the demo was excellent. Imagination Technologies and Caustic are going to do some amazing things in the future, especially in the mobile market. Visit the main Caustic website for more info.
A view of the row of SIGGRAPH Posters (3rd floor)
Ideas give me an appetite, so I had a superb toasted-cheese sandwich from Melt on the 3rd floor of the convention center. Got a chance while eating to view several of the excellent POSTER presentations SIGRRAPH presented there. People from all over the world send in their computer graphics ideas which, if they are chosen by SIGGRAPH, they present on a single poster board. I love the fact that the inventors are right their at the boards to answer questions, and in some cases, give demos.
Right after lunch, I went to the Thinkbox Software booth and met with rep Ian Fraser who took me through their new version of the acclaimed render management software, Deadline 6.1. The new version of Deadline 6.1 also features VMX for Deadline, "an extension of its flexible toolkit that enhances rendering in the cloud."
A Krakatoa demo at the Thinkbox booth
Another application which caught my interest was Krakatoa, a "volumetric particle rendering, manipulation and management toolkit," now in version 2.0. Krakatoa works with 3ds Max, Maya and/or any standalone renderer, "allowing Python or C++ API connection to any host application on Microsoft Windows and Linux operating systems." Caught the post-SIGGRAPH note from Thinkbox that Krakatoa is now working well with Maxon's Cinema 4D. This highly-regarded volumetric rendering system looked amazing in the demos I watched.
Thinkbox's cool-looking booth had several presentations going, so I was able to catch some of Conrad Weibe's "Krakatoa for Maya" talk, which was fascinating. You can catch a SIGGRAPH interview with him at productionhub.com. And be sure to check the Deadline page and the Krakatoa page at the main Thinkbox website. I hope to bring you a review of Krakatoa in the near future. Thinkbox Software is an impressive company with compelling applications, many more than I can mention here.
NVIDIA's new super GPU (source: NVIDIA Press Packet)
The NVIDIA booth is always a knock-out at SIGGRAPH. This year was no exception. With George Millington II as my guide, I took a tour through several stations at the huge NVIDA booth. First and foremost, the demos for NVIDIA's new Quadro K6000 graphics card had me and everyone else drooling. The K6000 has "nearly double the graphics capability and five times higher compute performance" than its predecessor (the Quadro 6000). This is probably the best video card ever made by NVIDIA. At least the folks at Pixar seem to think so. My guide told me that "the Pixar people were wearing a groove in the carpet in front of our demos for the Quadro K6000." This amazing card is slated to ship in the fall of 2013.
I also spent considerable time at NVIDIA's Visual Computing Theater which had demos during all three days that the Exhibition Hall was open. Most are available at NVIDIA's website. One particular session, "The Convergence of Cinema and Games: From Performance Capture to Final Render," presented by Jules Urbach of OTOY Inc. and LightStage, was most interesting as he discussed the future of real-time visual effects using NVIDIA's graphics cards and the Octane Rendering system which makes for fast, really fast, rendering from multiple GPUs.
NVIDIA's Logan Project demo
I'd also like to make a quick mention of NVIDIA's Project Logan, which is their effort to build a next generation Cuda capable mobile processor using their Kepler architecture. The demo was staggeringly good. Future graphics for mobile phones and tablets are going to be amazing if NVIDIA develops technology like this.
You can catch most of the NVIDIA Theater presentations here and current news about NVIDIA technology and hardware here. NVIDIA had their hands in practically every aspect of SIGGRAPH. I'm always amazed and impressed with this company's continuing pursuit of excellence in advanced technology.
Sara Richkter at the Kobold booth
Right after my meeting at NVIDIA, I stopped in at a booth I had passed by on Tuesday: Kobold Charakteranimation. The young woman who ran the booth had emailed me Tuesday and asked if I would stop by. At the small, but well-designed booth, I met Sara Richter who took me through a demo of her Cinema 4D/Maya plug-ins for animation and motion-capture using the Microsoft Kinect. The applications are designed Poser-style with the Morph Room (imports all DAZ head and body morphs as sliders), the Animation Room (imports DAZ's Victoria 3 mesh and makes it animatable and more), and the Recording Room (allows you to use MS Kinect as your motion-capture device).
I really liked the live demo Sara gave me, especially of the motion-capture within Cinema 4D. Kobold Charakteranimation is a young company and is just now starting to get their products on the market. Considering how interesting and well-designed these plug-ins are, I expect the company to have a very bright future. More info on the plug-ins here. The company also has a nice series of YouTube videos here. I hope to get a Kobold review up in the near future.
Part of the Focal Press table at SIGGRAPH
Focal Press, my favorite computer graphics publisher, had a nice display in the center of the Exhibition Hall. I browsed through their books for a good half hour before I bought a copy of 3D Art Essentials, by Ami Chopine. I don't have a degree in computer graphics and this book does a good job of explaining and demonstrating all aspects of this complicated field. I also like the fact that the book is "application agnostic," meaning that it doesn't use one particular application to demonstrate principles and science.
Look for reviews of recent Focal Press titles at renderosity.com very soon.
The uber-cool OptiTrack roller rink booth (Source: SIGGRAPH Media)
OptiTrack is a fast rising, affordable motion-capture company I met with at last year's SIGGRAPH. They machine build their own motion capture cameras, develop proprietary software for motion capture, and provide complete motion capture systems for large or small teams in professional film production, academics, science and even engineering and defense. I just loved the company's "booth" which consisted of a large skate-board rink enclosed with dark chain-link fencing. It was really a complete motion capture set-up with skaters who went through their moves while the OptiTrack system recorded the motion and refined it on workstations behind the booth. It's a very, very cool set-up and an effective way to demo their hardware/software because you actually see it in action.
The OptiTrack's rep showed me the company's new Prime 17W motion capture camera: a "1.7 Megapixels (MP) and a wide angle field of view (FOV), the Prime 17W is equipped to maximize coverage in a variety of volumes." He also told me that OptiTrack was growing very fast and had recently completed an outdoor motion-capture session which was a big challenge as you don't have as much control as you do when you work in an enclosed studio. Motive, the company's formidable motion capture software, came out in May of 2013. It has a completely redesigned tracking core and a simplified workflow.
More information on the Prime 17W camera is here. Info on Motive can be found here. Full break down of what OptiTrack's "unified optical tracking architecture" is here. Lots of great videos at OptiTrack's YouTube channel here.
Steve Cooper demoing Poser dynamics (screen doctored slightly)
Still thinking about OptiTrack's motion capture system, I made my way to the Smith-Micro booth where I spent time with my favorite computer graphics guru, Steve Cooper. He's the head of Product Management for Poser, Smith-Micro's hugely popular 3D application. I've learned more about the business of computer graphics from Steve than from everyone else combined. He's patient, honest and always willing to answer questions, even if they are very basic.
As always, Steve was upbeat about the recently released (May, 2013) Poser 10 and Poser Pro 2014. He demoed several new updates to this already cool program: Bullet physics, soft-body dynamics, Pixar sub-division surfaces, a new interactive clothing/fitting room (for Poser Pro 2014), and my personal favorite, the real-time comic book preview mode, are all excellent additions to an already feature-packed program.
"Poser is user friendly enough that kids
could use it to animate, but at the same time it's powerful and
flexible enough that nearly all of our rendering and character
animation for the series happens using Poser."
-Monty Oum, director of animation at Rooster Teeth.
Steve Cooper also made the point that the machinima company Rooster Teeth (creators of the Red vs Blue series) is using Poser for their new animated series, RWBY, directed by Monty Oum. We both agreed that Poser has excellent animation features, but few are using them. Perhaps with this series, users will see the potential for animation in Poser.
You can get a full run-down of "what's new" in Poser in a video here. The main Smith-Micro/Poser site is here. And although I didn't get to demo the product, Smith-Micro presented the newest version of their popular Manga Studio application: Manga Studio 5 Ex. Definitely a program worth checking out.
John Martin II at the Reallusion booth. Yay!
My last stop in the Exhibition hall for the day was the Reallusion booth. I'd mentioned in Part 1 of this report that I'd dined with my Reallusion friends on Tuesday night. This was a slightly more formal visit where I sat down with John Martin, Reallusion's VP of Product Marketing, who brought me up to speed on the company's newest releases.
Reallusion's iClone, a 3D animation application known for it's power and ease of use, has just been released in version 5.5, which features MotionPlus, an all-in-one Motion Data format, along with enhanced facial animation and a 64-bit version of the program to make use of multiple CPU's. In tandem with the iClone 5.5 release, Reallusion has developed a 3DXchange application which enables users to bring practically anything from other 3D applications right into iClone. This "Total Character Animation Pipeline" includes all animation info in one file format (MotionPlus).
These updates are pretty spectacular, especially seen in a demo. I've been following iClone since it's beginning and this version of the program, along with additional supporting applications like 3DXchange, are light-years from the application's original inception. I'm looking forward to reviewing the new updates soon at renderosity.com
The Modo Los Angeles Users Group meeting at SIGGRAPH
Despite being very, very tired, I was looking forward to my final event of the day: a meeting of the Los Angeles Modo Users Group (LAMUG) which was taking place at the nearby Hilton Hotel. Modo has been my favorite 3D application since I discovered it several years ago at a SIGGRAPH conference. In the ten years since it was released, the program has grown from being literally the best sub-d modeling application on the planet to being a full-featured, very modern 3D program with animation, particles and a top, top class rendering engine.
Having merged with The Foundry recently, Modo is now part of an amazing 3D pipeline that includes Katana, Nuke and Mari; all world-class applications. Although some users looked at the merger with trepidation, it's been a match made in heaven as the huge development capabilities of The Foundry are now working closely with Modo and this will produce a lot of win, for sure.
The LA Modo Users Group has been around for about 2 years now. I've been to half of the meetings and they are always fun and informative. This meeting at SIGGRAPH would prove to be something special as we all got to see Modo used in contexts/ways no one had imagined. For example, Scott Snyder demonstrated how he used Modo to design the sets and props for the film Star Trek: Into Darkness, and Vaughn Ling, from the Tron Insomniac animated series, demonstrating how to use Modo for concept design. But, the king of presenters was Brad Peebler, who gave the group a jaw-dropping preview of the "Mesh Fusion" plug-in for Modo which will add amazing mesh manipulation for Modo. Look for the plug-in to be released in late 2013.
SIGGRAPH 2013 Foundry booth on right (Source: SIGGRAPH Media)
Although I didn't plan it this way, most of my SIGGRAPH 2013 time was spent in meetings with various software/hardware companies and in discovering new technologies on the Exhibit Hall floor. I spent no time in classes or presentations and missed the animation screenings entirely (to my regret). I learned so much even in the two and half days I was there.
I did notice two trends that I think will bring the open source movement closer to the professional world of computer graphics. One is the willingness of companies to consider creative commons as a reasonable alternative for documents. Autodesk is the vanguard for what I think will be a trend among large corporations. Second, I see Blender being taken much more seriously this year than at any time in the past. This is partly due to Ton Roosendaal's hard work, but it's also a sign that open source software is now a mature model for developing computer graphics software.
Blender booth at SIGGRAPH 2013 (Source: Blenderguru.com)
SIGGRAPH 2013 was an eye-opening experience for me, probably because I had so many interactions with fascinating people who were passionate in sharing their ideas and information with me. I think I met with at least twice as many people than any other SIGGRAPH I've attended. I think a conference that inspires you to create and learn more has really done its job. The 2013 SIGGRAPH conference was one of the best I've ever been to, despite the fact that I was only able to attend half of it.
I did miss the John Peddie Press Luncheon, which always has the most interesting people looking at how computer graphics will develop in the future. And I was sorry I missed the Keynote address, actually a conversation where "eight distinguished animation film directors share their experiences along complex paths to filmmaking success." The filmmakers included Ron Selick, who had some choice words on the current state of big league animation filmmaking.
However, so much of SIGGRAPH is well documented and simply by exploring the main SIGGRAPH 2013 website and their Facebook page and YouTube channel, you can come away with a lot of information. I'll certainly be pouring over those links in the months ahead, trying to make up for some of the events I missed this year.
My SIGGRAPH 2013 badge and media materials
Lastly, Mk Haley, the SIGGRAPH 2013 Conference Chair, stated that the conference is making a concerted effort to "use SIGGRAPH 2013 as a launching pad to extend the conference out beyond today's closing through the creation of SIGGRAPH University and posting the entire Keynote session online amongst other initiatives." This bodes well for the future of SIGGRAPH, especially for those who can't afford to attend the conference. Look for more information on SIGGRAPH University here at renderosity.com as it develops.
Next year, SIGGRAPH heads back to Vancouver, B.C., Canada, my favorite city in the world. Should be another wonderful conference. I plan on doing a lot more social media posts and video for renderosity.com so you'll be able to experience the conference at the same time I do!
I'd like to thank renderosity for making it possible for me to attend SIGGRAPH this year. Also, thank you to my partner, Lisa Morton, for putting up with a crazy schedule for three days. And a special thanks to Steve Cooper, who is always inspiring.
In case you missed it, be sure to read Ricky's Report from Siggraph 2013 (Part One)
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 19, 2013
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