SIGGRAPH: What a Day!

Posted By Scott Sindorf on July 28, 2010 10:55 am | Permalink
This morning the SIGGRAPH trade show opened. By all accounts there are less exhibitors from previous years. Although the industry is slowly climbing back from last year recession, it is about half the size from five years ago. By far the most attended and popular booth is Pixar. The line to visit Pixar literally winded around the entire exhibit hall. I assumed that most in line were aspiring animators in hopes of landing that coveted job with their dream company. I was in fact wrong; they were giving out small plastic teacups. I truly do not understand what would make people wait for hours in line for a plastic toy, but then again everything Pixar touches seems to turn to gold, even plastic toys. In the past the teacup was a symbol for a type of typology used in 3D graphics and the default icon for previous SIGGRAPH shows. I wonder if the endless young people in line waiting in line were even aware of this.

The floor was full today and as expected 3D is all the buzz. There were virtual cameras that enabled the viewer in real time to view stereoscopic virtual sets. There were also real time 3D motion capture rigs, both with those iconic markers the actors have to wear and setups were no markers were needed at all. There were numerous 3D television monitors that require polarized glasses to view 3D. Presently this is by far the most popular consumer choice for home viewing of 3D. The competitor to this technology is autosteroscopic monitors, The viewer does not require glasses in order to view 3D. In order to experience the 3d, there are "sweet spots" where the viewer must stand in order to experience the 3D. This technology still have a long ways to go before consumer in my opinion is ready to spend the money, but still the technology is progressing.

Our company utilizes 3D cgi for our work. (Not to be confused with 3D stereoscopics.) There have been a lot of developments on this front. We heavily use Softimage XSI in our pipeline. The behemoth company Autodesk recently acquired this software. Autodesk in addition to XSI, also owns Maya and 3ds Max. I am relived to hear Autodesk will continue to invest in this product and make it stronger and continue evolving the software. As an educator, Autodesk will be offering an entertainment creation education suite. This package will offer the following Autodesk products: Maya, Motionbuilder, Mudbox, Sketchbook Pro, Softimage and 3ds Max. Students today will probably have to be multi-versed in the aforementioned softwares. We are finding as well as other design houses, that it is hard to stick with one software for our pipeline. I am hoping Autodesk will continue upgrading each of these products and not push one software at the expense of another.

I also attended two panel discussions today. The first was entitled "Blowing $hit Up." A great name for a panel discussion on the scientific understanding of how 3d cgi is creating photo real explosions and destruction of cities for film. These panels are not for the technically deficient. The first team to present was hosted by the always amazing Industrial Light and Magic. They were explaining some of the techniques utilized in making the film Avatar, primarily the explosion sequence involving the Dragon aircraft. Without getting in too much detail, much of the initial work was done with model proxies, rigid body dynamics, and later highly detailed models were substituted for final shots. The next panel again was ILM. This time they were explaining some of the work they accomplished for Transformers 2. The work spoke for itself. What I found most interesting is ILM’s goal is to make the tools as easy as possible to allow the artist to do what they do best….to be an artist and not a scientist. For the layman there is no magic explosion button to blow things up. There is a tremendous amount of pre-calculations and iterations to get the right “look.” And for ILM is not enough to have an exact explosion, the look and feel and composition is always at the forefront. It more important that the shot that looks right, as opposed to scientifically right. Digital Domain represented the last panel and they explained the earthquake sequence from the movie 2012. The work was outstanding and the ability to destroy downtown LA photo realistically was unimaginable only a few years ago.

The last panel discussion I attended was "The Making of Tron : Legacy." This movie may have the record for the most amount of time for a sequel. This was a full house and the crowd was looking forward to hearing from the directorial debut of Joseph Kosinski. As someone who also received his Master’s of Architecture from Columbia University, I was excited to see what Joseph imagined the world of Tron would look like. I was relieved and truthfully blown away at the seven-minute 3D preview of the film. It stayed true to the original vision of the artists Sid Mead and Mobius. Apparently the original star of the film Jeff Bridges will be playing reprising the role of Kevin Flynn as well a digital double playing himself as thirty five year old. Maybe the uncanny valley has finally been crossed. Also it was nice to hear with Pixar’s new relationship with Disney they were able to make suggestions on how to make it better. I hope in this case their touch does make this film turn to gold.