SIGGRAPH 2013: Printers, Trees, and Raytracing, Oh My!

Posted By David Blumenfeld on July 30, 2013 08:54 am | Permalink
Hello again loyal reader!  Today was a fun day at the show, albeit more freeform. I wasn't able to arrive in time for the IronMan 3 Production Session, so I decided to spend the day doing some more in-depth research about the items and ideas on the expo floor.  This also gave me a good chance to check out some of the parts I tend to explore less, such as the Emerging Technologies, Studio, and Art Gallery sections.  As always, I ran into a number of old friends and coworkers, and had a chance to catch up with them for a while.  In many ways, this is one of the most enjoyable parts of the show.  It's funny how time flies, a large number of people I hadn't seen in nearly a decade!  Along with some old colleagues and such, a few former students of mine came up to me as well.  Nearly all of them are actively employed, mostly at the same company for quite a number of years, so that there is a great thing.  We talked about what we were up to and the like, but a few of them sincerely thanked me for the help I gave them, and the fact that my piddly few classes actually made a difference in their lives and careers.  I only taught for a few years back in 2002-2004 or so, but to hear something like that really made me feel good, knowing I made a positive impact on some people and that the time i spent doing that actually meant something to someone.  If the world had more people who actually cared about seeing others succeed, it would definitely be a better place.  Anyway, enough about that.

I had a chance to check out a number of different things on the floor, and while there were some cool booths for NVidia, Intel, and Epson, as well as some of the major software vendors (notably absent was Autodesk), it was some of the smaller setups I ended up gravitating towards.  As I mentioned in yesterday's column, there was a booth for a piece of software called Flux, made by FXGear.  They have a few other products, including a hair and cloth simulator, but the fluid sim is what interested me the most.  While very Naiad like, the performance looks to be faster than that as well as RealFlow, and most importantly, the multiprocessing it provides is actually exponential the more cores you have in your machine.  The person I spoke with also indicated I could run the simulation simultaneously on my farm as well, so we have received a demo of it and are in the process of setting it up.  I am excited to try this out, as if it performs as indicated, the price to performance ratio seems like it might be a winner...time will tell once I get a chance to play with it.  I also spent a fair amount of time at the SpeedTree booth.  

The last time I looked into this, it was Windows only, with a version that had the feature-set I desired at the five thousand dollar price point.  This time around, there is a Linux version available, and in the new version 7, which is supposed to come out of beta in a few weeks, quad export will be standard now in the midline version at one thousand dollars.  While this is node locked as opposed to floating, I don't see this being a problem to have it on a dedicated machine, especially since there is really no benefit to using the farm to process anything anyway.  And if it was needed for more artists at one time, you could still pick up four more before the price of a single floating license.  I'm hoping that this package might fit into my pipeline soon, and I intend to write about that as well once I have some feedback.  I also looked at more of the 3D printing technology and services, as well as a cloud rendering solution and a non-gpu based real-time raytraced viewport for Maya and Max (sadly it was Windows only, so I won't be trying this out until they port it to Linux).

Another interesting thing happened while I was in the Emerging Technologies area.  There was a studio class going on which I opted to watch for a little bit.  While sitting there, I looked around a bit and out of the corner of my eye saw a roving object.  I doubt this is the first time this thing was there, and the technology may not be cutting edge as I know there are similar assistive devices out there as well as similar equipment for defusing bombs and such, but what I saw was basically a thin vacuum cleaner base with motorized wheels, two vertical five foot poles, and a monitor, video camera, speaker, and microphone mounted on top.  In the monitor, you could see the image of the driver who was operating this device from a remote location.  It was clear they were moving this around, talking to people, watching things going on, etc.  It occurred to me that this device, albeit primitive, is the beginning of a Surrogates-esque avatar, and in the future if our species opts to embrace this type of virtual interaction, I can look back and remember this primitive device of the early 21st century and laugh.  Oh, the humanity!

In conclusion, today was about catching up with people, seeing some new things on the expo floor, and taking in the atmosphere of the show.  Tomorrow I intend to do a few production presentations and talks, so I should have more to report on.