Well, another siggraph has come and gone. As I await my flight in LAX, I might as well post some initial thoughts. The journalists will cover the changes to products and the like, so I’ll focus on overall experience and impressions.
First, the trivial… The weather was cool, which was a bit startling. And siggraph 2011 is going to be held in Canada. Wtf, we seem to have broken the long standing tradition of baking siggraph attendees in desert or tropical heat. Adding to the surreal feeling, the exhibits area was once again smaller, perhaps because Autodesk has consumed half the industry…
Speaking of Autodesk, this year their area was dominated by a pretty mediocre and endlessly repeating spiel about “virtual production” which basically tied together a hypothetical production workflow nobody actually uses but which gave them an overly polished way to show some basic new features of Maya and Mudbox. XSI and Max were, well, not really visible in the slightest. While I’m sure some lip service was given them, you sure couldn’t tell from a casual survey of their booth. And since there was no Softimage User Group event, siggraph pretty much was XSI free. Heck, lightwave was front and center by comparison. The only real mention of XSI was the announcement that it’s part of the basic bundle, phrased in such a way that ICE seemed like the only reason it was included at all. Thanks for the snub, Autodesk. I use Maya in production, sure, but frankly its showing its age, so why cram it down our throats when XSI is so robust?
(Edit – Some folks at autodesk disagree with my assessment. Sorry, but I watched demo people tweak the weighting of a character rigged in maya over and over on the big screen but didn’t see xsi anywhere. I know there is great work being done by the softimage folks – but marketing matters, and I’m reporting what I saw… which was that XSI was lacking visibility. That may step on taboos or be unmentionable in Autodesk circles. Tough.)
The show was far more interesting at the smaller booths, where stereo, 3d printing, and GPU rendering were all engaged in healthy competition. AMD was home to Mach Studio which was showing off it’s exciting new shader construction tools, and nearby pixel farm was showing off it’s rather bizzare companion to PFtrack, which adds a node-based workflow (cool) but which lacks some of the core power of PFtrack (wha?). Desktop 3d printers were everywhere, including the makerbot which was cleverly if less visibly off the exhibit floor and hanging out near emerging technologies with some other delinquents like the gigapan. How did that happen?
Emerging technologies was its usual combination of really cool stuff that doesn’t quite work, stupid stuff with no practical application beyond provoking thoght to a greater or lesser degree, and some eye popping technology that had me muttering “we wants it my preciouss.” Foremost in that latter category was the 3D volume display presented by Sony. Remember the 3d volume displays of a few years back that relied on spinning plates of leds? The ones that contained murky glimpses of CG objects you could walk around and wish were actually working? Well, they work now. Really well, in fact. As in they feel ready for market. Nice work, Sony, when you guys aren’t awash in marketing droids and hype you can still make some amazing stuff.
The papers and course presentations were quite good, which are as far as I’m concerned the living, beating heart of Siggraph, and I’m happy to say it’s still strong. There were the usual crowd-pleasers like an excellent panel on Tron which had the added benefit of showing us 8 minutes of unseen footage (it’s looking great.) But more importantly, the more academic presentations were still there, sharing and pushing the state of the art. I particularly enjoyed a half day course on volumetrics.
Disney had a highly visible and impressive showing on all fronts, from excellent and impressive presentations on procedural hair and trees in Rapun-oops”Tangled” to the Tron presentation, etc. They did a good job of re-establishing themselves in my mind as leaders in the industry, both artistically and technically. MPC, DD, Tippet and the Mill also brought their A-games.
The parties were parties, techies, geniuses and academics were abound, and students still want to get hired… all in all I’d say that while Siggraph is still the incredibly shrinking con, it was just as valuable as ever where it counts – in getting a feel for the state of the industry and the technology, in seeing colleagues and friends who are rarely in the same place at once, and in sharing and extending the techniques, tools and insights so vital to computer graphics. I plan to continue attending, and suggest that anyone serious about computer graphics shoulddo the same. Remember people, judging siggraph by the size of the showroom is missing the point entirely – we don’t really need sales pitches, but you won’t find any other venue where other studio professsionals and academics mingle and share like they do at Siggraph. See you there next year!