SIGGRAPH 2009 New Orleans – Day Five
August 8, 2009 1:08 am
Sountrack for the day: Waylon Jennings' Travelling Man
Very slow start to the last day of SIGGRAPH. Even with Waylong Jennings and cups of coffee, I was dragging. This led to getting my lecture halls mixed up and I ended up sitting in the wrong hall listening to questions about the “robustness of deforming meshes.” It wasn't long before I knew I was in the deep end again, and thanks to the help of a SIGGRAPH volunteer I got into the right panel. Of course, this had to be the panel I was most interested in attending because of it's seeming connection to machinima. “Making a Feature-Length Animated Movie in a Game Engine” was the subject and I missed the first 10 minutes, and spent most of the half hour of the panel trying to reverse-engineer what I had missed.
I had expectations that the panel would be discussing the idea of taking a game engine (commercial or licensed) and, well, make a 3D animated movie. Half a dozen have been created in the machinima community, including the recent “Clear Skies 2” and “Bloodspell.” I was hoping to get some insights into workflow, producing, and possibly game engines I hadn't heard of. Well, apparently, the session was about a French animation company (Delecave) who saved several million dollars using a game engine they created in-house called Renderbox. Most of the session consisted of listing what worked and what didn't in using a game engine. They ended by saying, “Yes, you can create a feature-length film using a game engine.”
I couldn't help but wonder why they just didn't license a better game engine. One that could render fur better, handle larger scenes and give you better lighting. From what they were saying, they had to do a lot of hacking and Maya-related fixing to get what they wanted. Then why use a game engine? Fortunately, a Pixar employee partially saved the panel by asking a question about how the game engine handles scenes with lots of characters. The panel answered that it was the biggest problem in the pipeline.
I appreciated the Delecave presentation and the pix from their film look good, but it was hard not to jump up and say, "why not license the Source Engine or the Unreal 3 engine?" It's only about 400K, I think, and you could do most of what you wanted to do and still save a lot of money.
It's apparent to me that the world of SIGGRAPH and real-time rendering, and the world of machinima have a long way to go before they discover each other. More thoughts on this in the SIGGRAPH wrap-up post to come.
I managed to miss the first showing of the 3D clips/trailers, but fortunately they added another showing and I had a blast watching about an hour of wonderful 3D media. The room was packed, so it was a bit hard to see, but I forgot all about it after a few minutes because the 3D effect was so interesting and easy on the eyes. Past 3D had problems with the glasses (gave me headaches) and the 3D effect wasn't always consistent. But contemporary tech has fixed all of that and the future holds some great, great 3D experiences. Pixar's “Partly Cloudy” was shown in 3D and made it a better movie for me (I saw the 2D version last night).
Disney is re-releasing “Beauty and the Beast” in 3D, but it didn't seem as effective as the other films which were shot specifically in 3D. A complete song from the U2 3D concert just blew everyone out of the building. Man, what a great use of 3D (and a fantastic concert). I don't think I've ever seen better concert footage before. Lot's of commercials were shown which were fun in 3D. There were also clips from a very cool videogame called “Invincible Tiger” which is a side-scrolling game, but in 3D. Man, it was so great.
But the standout 3D films, for me, were almost all of the science-related ones. The 3D effect really lends itself well to showing ocean currents, landing zones on the Moon and just about anything technical. The 3D enhances the image and not only makes it more interesting, but improves the ability of the film to communicate complicated technical ideas. The standout film for me was a 3D examination of an Egyptian mummy done by Ima Solutions, an animation company from France. At one point the camera moves behind the mummy's skull and takes you on a ride down the mummy's spine and then into the stomach/rib area. The 3D effect was so pronounced here (and through most of the film) that it communicated the present condition of the mummy superbly. Also, the 3D allowed you to see clearly the funereal practices that were used on the mummy. Fascinating stuff. And the technology looks to get better and better.
Pixar's new short film, “Tokyo Mater,” was up next and it was very enjoyable, but standard fare for Pixar. Taking one of the characters from the ill-fated "Cars" film, they send him to Tokyo to compete with the fast Japanese cars in a “drifting” race match. Of course, the film was beautiful and exciting, but the theme is so cliched it was hard to enjoy. Especially after watching the incredible mummy film earlier. As I was leaving the theatre (the movie is very short), the line outside seemed to go on for miles. Another example of Pixar's continued world domination in animated films.
After spending time checking up on press releases and going over some items from my notes at the Media Center (for the press), I bid farewell to SIGGRAPH 2009 and headed back to my hotel to cool off and relax.
I ended up going to the excellent World War II museum which was not far from my hotel. Established by the late historian Stephen Ambrose, it's a wonderful historical tribute to the war and it's participants. Apparently Ambrose became interested in Andrew Higgins, the man who designed and built the famous landing craft boats which were essential to the success of every Allied invasion during the war. Since Higgins Industries was in New Orleans, Ambrose chose to set up the museum there.
The Museum goes chronologically though the history of WWII with displays of clothing, weapons, and in small booths, personal accounts of the men and women who were a part of the war effort. I was amazed to see an actual Enigma Machine, a code breaking machine that allowed the Allies to decipher German communication codes. I was also impressed by the fact that the museum pulled no punches and the section on the Pacific war left me in tears. Somehow, seeing the actual clothing and hearing the voices of the men and women who fought (including Germans and Japanese) brings the tragedy of that war right to you.
Thank God for candy stores, because buying Pralines at Aunt Sally's in the French Quarter cheered me right up. And, after browsing in Beckhams Bookshop (and seeing their store cat, Juniper), I walked back to my hotel and sat down to write up my last blog. Funny, I ran into Jason and Jenifer on the Riverwalk coming back from doing the same thing I was: shopping. It was so great to see them again.
My thanks to Renderosity for helping me get to SIGGRAPH. And particular thanks to Debbie, Jenifer and Jason for being so helpful and for providing a rest stop at their booth.
PS: I'll be writing a “Wrap-Up” blog on SIGGRAPH after I get back home and have a chance to think about the conference and go over my notes.
Special thanks to Ricky for his reporting on daily events at SIGGRAPH 2009!
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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