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Recent Blog Posts in August 2011

August 11, 2011
  SIGGRAPH: Technology partnerships & leveraging existing productions
Posted By Michael Stein

In recent years, there has been an increase in technology partnerships in the graphics industry, and both trends have continued this year at SIGGRAPH. As the industry has matured and the technology portfolios have increased, the major studios are looking to find partners to reduce risk, increase their development efforts without a matching increase in cost, or reduce their expenses by trading tech for software. Additionally, studios that used to write their own software for almost everything are realizing that by combining off-the-shelf software with custom pipelines they can achieve their production goals with reduced development time and risk.

On the technology partnership side, there were two major announcements at the show. Side Effects Software announced that Dreamworks Animation has purchased a global site license of Houdini in a deal that will see them collaborating on R&D efforts as well as sharing IP. The site license itself is not unique, but if DWA can provide custom solutions to problems that are then well integrated into Houdini, they can increase efficiency and visual quality more than they would otherwise. 

The other big announcement came from Autodesk, who has entered into an exclusive, 5-year licensing agreement with Disney for their XGen aribitrary primitive generator technology. Autodesk gains a powerful new tool to improve its Maya product, and while the terms of the deal were not announced, Disney is likely to see a meaningful payoff for their years of development effort. These announcements, along with the continued licensing efforts of companies such as The Foundry, will surely cause studios to look at their own tech and tools for opportunities of their own.

I attended two sessions, which illuminated how studios can combine existing commercial products with their own pipelines to achieve efficient results at a high quality. At a course on urban modeling, Pixar presented a talk on how Esri/Procedural's CityEngine was integrated into their pipeline for creating the streets of London. At the Directing Destruction talk, MPC described their Kali toolset for FEM destruction, built on the DMM engine from Pixelux. In both cases it was clear that by focusing on pipeline and integration rather than core technologies, the studios were able to quickly put systems into production without long R&D cycles. For small studios this approach seems obvious, but it's interesting to see the shift for the major studios as well.


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August 11, 2011
  SIGGRAPH: World Builder
Posted By Jeff Kember

Temperate Controlled Display System: Participants are able to choose between hot and cool water springs to influence the image presented to them. The system consists of a LCD display, a water tank, thermal camera and computer. As small cups of water are poured into the water tank, the thermal camera records the local temperate change and 2D position and sends that information to computer creating the image. One example featured a monochromatic line drawing that would become colored when warm water was drizzled over selective areas. A 3D stereoscopic example was also presented depicting an aerial view of an island. Applications of warm water would cause the terrain height to increase. Cool water would reduce the height of the island making it part of the sea floor. The thermal camera was very sensitive to temperature variation and subtle changes in elevation were possible. The installation provided a high degree of visual feedback, was fun to play with and had an almost zen garden appeal.

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August 11, 2011
  SIGGRAPH: RolyPoly
Posted By Jeff Kember

RolyPoly - Two participants are able to sense each other's presence through two white egg-like orbs. Both orbs have the ability to sense touch as well as vibrate to provide tactile feedback. An accelerometer in each orb allows the participant to affect the intensity of the vibration in the remote orb.

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August 11, 2011
  SIGGRAPH: ChordxxCode
Posted By Jeff Kember

Ph.D. Tomoko Hashida is part of the team that developed a new type of 3D volume display system. Using a programmable 2D ultraviolet light source and stacked glass plates with UV sensitive dyes, they have been successful in creating 3D geometric shapes and objects. The system does not require special glasses or other viewing aids. Multi-colored dyes are available now and higher densities are possible with further development. The geometric patterns seem to float effortlessly in the brightly lit white display cube.

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August 10, 2011
  SIGGRAPH: Vancouver hit by storm
Posted By Stephanie Hungerford

SIGGRAPH has hit Vancouver by storm, with almost 20,000 people in attendance - what could make up a small city, in fact. Apparently SIGGRAPH is one of the biggest entertainment industry conferences in North America and the largest computer graphics conference in the world. Did Vancouver really know this was happening until this week? As a result, the city has now been caught humbly responding to the event of the year with a bashful whisper, "What? Lil' ol' me? Gee, you shouldn't have!"
 
In particular, the kick-off event Sunday night at the Pan Pacific, sponsored by BC Film, really hit home how fabulous British Columbia is and what this province has to offer business-wise to the companies of the world. It was a classy event paying homage to our tax breaks, mild weather and fabulous talent. As the sun poured in through the windows overlooking the glistening waters and lush green mountains of the conference centre's surroundings, I watched the world's industry movers and shakers listen to the unabashed plug of our city. I swear I could hear their thoughts... "Move here? Well...okay. If you say so." BC Film was practically handing out work permits at the event! Mouths really were salivating, including my own and it wasn't just because of the mini-sliders. Although, those were GOOOOD.
 
But I digress. 

 
 
The exhibit floor itself has been an impressive introduction into the minds of tech geniuses. A plethora of James Cameron-type technology for new innovations in motion capture, for example, seems to be everywhere you look. I've even seen a 3D virtual clothing design company and an impressive gallery booth by Emily Carr University making you feel like you are actually at the MOMA. It is spectacular. Rainmaker Entertainment, a local animation studio, created a set-like experience representing a look into the world of Luna, their newest short film premiering in the Electronic Theater.  
 
Stepping into the "world" is the theme this year. What everyone is realizing is that SIGGRAPH is no longer just for the PhDs and mathematicians of the world. It is for the artists as well. Finally, the right and left brain unite and they are actually getting along. Did anyone ever think that would be possible? With technology driving this union, it finally IS possible.
 
The parties aren't bad either.
 
Last night Lighter/Darker hosted their party at the Revel Room, only to have to overflow into the Charles bar down the street just to accommodate the studio folks clambering to get in. Dreamworks hosted an exclusive invite-only party at the Shangri-ooo la la. Animatrik and Annex Pro struck gold hosting an after party at The Fortune Sound Club, where everyone ended up at the end of the night anyway, so if you were hoping to rub shoulders with your animation mentor earlier on, you probably could last night. Would you care for another drink Mr. or Ms. Studio Head? Oh why not.
 
Tonight shouldn't be any different, with most studios such as Rainmaker and Imageworks hosting early on to accommodate for Nvidia's late night party at the Aquarium and Digital Domain at the Shangri-La. Only two days left and what a week it has been. 

Vancouver, you've done well for yourself and thanks for not raining. 

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August 09, 2011
  3D postcards from SIGGRAPH
Posted By Jeff Kember

Raleigh Souther (raleigh@3dcheese.com), CEO of Fun from 3D Cheeze, is using off the shelf hardware and customized software to produce "3D" postcards of attendees. Two images are captured on green screen, processed and sent to a color printer. The "secret sauce" is a proprietary plastic lenticular lens, which is applied to the printed image. Guests are able to tilt the postcard to view both of the two images in a flipbook fashion. 

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August 09, 2011
  SIGGRAPH: Always choose problems worth solving
Posted By Michael Stein

Before today's keynote speech, a moment of silence was held for Andy Witkin, who passed away last September. Andy had a distinguished career in computer graphics, and was most recently a researcher and computer scientist at Pixar. I had the privilege of being one of his students as an undergrad at Carnegie Mellon, and then 10 years later being one of his co-workers at Pixar.

Reflecting on Andy's contributions made me think about being part of the graphics community, and how great it is to have a chance to not only attend a conference, where we can come together and discuss technological advances, but to be able to step outside the day-to-day and reflect on where we've come, and look to where we are headed. Being in one place with colleagues and friends make you realize how we are solving similar problems, and perhaps by communicating and collaborating we can quickly solve the problems that challenge us, and move on to the unique problems, or at the least the harder ones together.

Andy was known for telling his students and colleagues "always pick problems worth solving." So much what I've seen so far follows that maxim. On Sunday, at the "Pushing Production Data" talks, Dreamworks presented a novel approach for doing out-of-core global illumination using points, which was used on Kung Fu Panda 2 and scales to billions of points in a single scene. Weta, known for both their digital effects as well as their practical prop-making, approached the problem of digitizing props through a setup which controlled both a physical turntable as well as a digital camera, and unique computer vision algorithms. Capturing images in a controlled environment enables them to get accurate representations efficiently. 

"Facing Hairy Production Problems" presented solutions for different game and film production challenges, include two different approaches to writing parallel code that works efficient on both CPUs and GPUs.

The conference kicked off in force on Monday, with a full slate of talks, panels and courses. Cory Doctorow presented the keynote, which was focused on what has gone wrong with copyright and how to fix it. For a conference attended by many industries, which ultimately generate creative works, there seems to be no greater problem which affects as many people attending SIGGRAPH.

One common theme that's been picking up steam over the last several years is open source software. The movement has had a huge impact on the software industry at large, and the visual effects, animation, and games industries are starting to make great strides. 

At a panel entitled "The Need for Standardization within Global Visual Effects Productions Through Open Source and Open Standards," industry veterans from MPC, Sony Imageworks, ILM, and others discussed how open source efforts can enable studios to benefit from knowledge and experience outside their walls, allowing them to focus on the unique challenges that each faces. The discussion focused on a number of key issues, including the initial formation of an open source project, choosing the proper governance model, and which areas of the visual effects/animation pipelines are good for open source projects. Some of the discussion was focused on Alembic (http://alembic.io/), an open source interchange format developed by Sony Imageworks and ILM. Much of the industry is watching Alembic's development carefully to see whether it can serve as a successful model for open source standards or if it will just add yet another standard to a somewhat crowded area filled with past attempts. In general, many facilities are working to understand how new open source projects might improve their workflows and let them focus on other problems "worth solving."

That's all for now from Vancouver. Check back for more updates throughout the week.

Michael Stein is with The Moving Picture Company in London. He can be reached at: michael-s@moving-picture.com.

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August 08, 2011
  What I'm looking forward to at SIGGRAPH
Posted By Michael Stein

The flight yesterday from London (and Heathrow in general) was packed with visual effects and other CG professionals getting ready to descend on SIGGRAPH. Seemed fitting that our first night here coincided with the last night of the annual Celebration of Light, a global fireworks competition. 

SIGGRAPH is being held outside the US for the first time this year, reflecting the massive dispersion of companies and talent across the globe. As a relatively recent transplant to London, I'm attending with a slightly different perspective than I have in the past, and I'm looking forward to seeing how the industry is changing on a global scale through the official SIGGRAPH presentations and by just catching up with old friends and colleagues. The shift is clear when you walk around Vancouver, as I passed by several VFX studios without even trying, and even got a sneak peek at MPC's new Vancouver location (http://tinyurl.com/3jnvgg9).

In addition to using the time at SIGGRAPH to gauge how the visual effects industry is shifting, I always look forward to seeing how other corners of the computer graphics universe are evolving, in hopes of finding new and interesting ways to share technologies and approaches to solving production problems. As games are continually improving visually; films are trying to do things faster; and everyone is trying to find efficiencies in production, there is so much to learn from what others are doing.
 
I'll be blogging about the buffet that is SIGGRAPH: technologies, products, people, and events that shape the conference and will shape the next year in computer graphics. Check back throughout the week!

Michael Stein is with The Moving Picture Company in London. He can be reached at: michael-s@moving-picture.com.

For more on MPC's Vancouver facility, click HERE.

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August 05, 2011
  What is SIGGRAPH?
Posted By Stephanie Hungerford

I have been asked, "What is SIGGRAPH?" by many up here in Hollywood North, and it's not just my mom asking this question. I give them the general spiel that it is a conference and exhibition supporting the new technologies behind computer graphics and interactive techniques, but what most people don't know is it is also a chance to see the latest and greatest in animated films.  It is where art and technology meet - it is the future.

Some people ask how it differs from Comicon? I would like to think that SIGGRAPH is the "behind-the-scenes" look at how everything is made. Generally speaking, there wouldn't be a Comicon without a SIGGRAPH.  I also don't expect to see anyone dressed up as a Storm Trooper at SIGGRAPH, although you never know!  I'm telling you now, it won't be me.

Even if you don't consider yourself a techie, or perhaps you even struggle to set your alarm clock properly, SIGGRAPH is a chance to learn a little bit, or a lot, about this progressive industry. It is spectacular to see what the next generation holds and how art fits into the ever-changing world of technology. 

Stay tuned for my daily blog posts on all things SIGGRAPH!

Stephanie Hungerford has been working within the multi-media realm of film and television for the last five years. She started at Twentieth Century Fox in Los Angeles and now works at Rainmaker Entertainment (www.rainmaker.com) in Vancouver.  

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