The View from the Floor
Highlights from SIGGRAPH in Vancouver show the importance of attending the show — and getting the most out of it. By Todd Sheridan Perry.
I’ve been attending SIGGRAPH ever since I became a professional in the industry. Over those decades, I’ve put together a mental checklist of how to use SIGGRAPH to its fullest. So, this will be one-half travelogue and one-half survival guide.
Day One: Arrival This year, day one had a surprisingly diverse selection of deep dives into upcoming technologies: NVIDIA technology review, imaging with time-of-flight cameras, WebGL programming, attention-aware rendering … pretty heady stuff, each broken up into sections that would basically take up the afternoon. Even The LEGO Movie presentation focused on the technology Animal Logic built to maintain the LEGO brick structures in their current pipeline. You should at least pay attention to what these courses are discussing, because in three years or less, that technology is going to be pervasive.
If you do anything on day one, attend the Technical Papers Fast Forward. If you don’t know what it is, take a highly technical TED Talk, give it some Adderall, and smash it into under a minute. That is one presentation. Then multiply that by 127, and you have the Technical Papers Fast Forward. Basically, all the smartest people currently in computer graphics are solving problems for us “users.” Some of those problems are ones that we complain about every day. Most are problems that we didn’t even know were problems. These brainy folks submit their ideas to SIGGRAPH, which then picks a handful to present their thoughts in roughly 60 seconds to 5,000-plus people.
If you can, always make this event. I’m not gonna lie to you — it’s a two-hour plus slog. So, grab a triple espresso before heading in. And get there kinda early. This year was standing room only in the largest venue in the Vancouver Convention Center. Take a look at the full list of first pages of White Papers here: s2014.siggraph.org/sites/ default/files/firstpages.default.pdf Day Two: Classes, Courses and Panels Please take advantage of your access to the classes at SIGGRAPH. I realize that it’s terribly cool to be able to catch presentations on Gravity and Guardians of the Galaxy and The LEGO Movie, but try not to get wrapped up in the spectacle. This isn’t Comic-Con. There are things happening around you that have been included in the show because they will elevate you as an artist, or technician, or producer in this space. Choose wisely and prioritize.
Day two also included the SIGGRAPH keynote presentation, another thing you should try to get to. This year’s speaker was exceptional — not because he is an exceptional speaker, but because he is an exceptional person. Elliot Kotek of Not Impossible Labs discussed how his company takes computer technology and the talents within the field to help people – one person at a time. In fact, their motto is “Help One. Help Many.” His company put 3D printing to use to build prosthetic arms for children in the Sudan who had been caught in explosions during the current upheaval in the African country. And as if that didn’t diminish my role as a visual-effects supervisor enough, Kotek went on to explain how they gave a graffiti artist who is now paralyzed because of ALS the ability to create again, and how they are working with a robotics club in a San Fernando high school on building a low cost treadmill to assist in muscle therapy to accelerate the process of training people with cerebral palsy to walk again. This provides a very important contrast to the perceived glamour of animation and visual effects, and teaches a valuable lesson in paying attention to how the technology we are familiar with in one context is being used in different ways.
Days Three to Six: The Floor The floor this year was smaller that some
past SIGGRAPHS, but still seemed larger than last year’s conference in Anaheim. The big guys like NVIDIA, Autodesk and The Foundry were all present with demonstrations of how they contribute to the highest profile projects in the industry.
And lots of new announcements were getting people very excited. Chaos announced that VRay would become available for The Foundry’s Nuke and Modo products. Maxon revealed their new Cinema4D version. NextLimit came out strong with a patch for their earlier released 2014 version of their fluid simulator, RealFlow. Shotgun, one of the industry’s leaders in production management tools, released a phone app that lets you login to your projects, view artist contributions and make notes. Cool tech on the one hand, but now we can never get away from our work.
A couple of my personal favorites on the floor were Dolby’s revelation of a high-dynamic range monitor that can display the range closer to what we naturally can perceive, presumably contributing to a more immersive viewing experience. NVIDIA is providing compact, powerful GPUS, the Tegra K1, for the Google Project Tango tablet, providing realtime, dynamic feedback as it analyzes your surroundings. A lot of new, budding motioncapture technology that doesn’t required the expensive hardware and cameras: XSens and Perception Neuron being ones of interest. In fact, Perception Neuron is crowd sourcing their product development.
Lastly, try to get out and get to the parties at SIGGRAPH. It is the best place to network and meet new people. You never know if you are going to be talking to the young kid looking for their first job who grows up to accept an Oscar statue, or whether you are having a beer with the guy who wrote the rendering software that you use every day. And who knows? Perhaps the person you held the door for is the HR person for the company you’ve been dying to get a job at. I can tell you from experience that nothing happens if you go back to your hotel room and go to sleep. Take advantage of every minute you are at SIGGRAPH. You can sleep when you get home.