Computer Graphics and the Global Economy: Is Democratization A Good Thing?
The 40th annual SIGGRAPH conference and exhibition had a lot to offer attendees, from a keynote presentation featuring nine distinguished animation directors (watch it on YouTube, if you haven’t already) to production sessions led by elite computer graphic experts, to the Computer Animation Festival, featuring standout work from artists, animators and VFX houses around the world .
Jon Peddie Research held its annual press luncheon, now in its 11th year, to discuss trends in graphic computing, including a “relentless pace of innovation that commoditizes and democratizes every part of the production process,” according to JPR, in a market led by competing tax subsidies.
In a panel discussion -- Democratization: Is It a Good Thing? -- moderated by JPR’s Kathleen Maher, five industry and academic experts shared their insights about an increasingly volatile industry. Panelists included 3D animator and effects artist Joe Herman; Joni Jacobsen, executive producer at leading VFX house Pixomondo; Dr. Paul Navrátil, researcher and manager of the Scalable Visualization Technologies group for the Texas Advanced Computing Center at the University of Texas at Austin; Mike Romey, head of production pipeline at Zoic Studio; and DreamWorks Animation CTO Dr. Lincoln Wallen.
The lunchtime session provided an intimate backdrop to a frank and open discussion in which the panelists shared their view of the various forces and their impact on the computer graphics industry. Jon Peddie kicked off the exchange with a nod to the event’s sponsors (Autodesk, Dell, HP, Lenovo, Lightworks and NVIDIA) and statistics that showed five percent annual growth within the computer graphics industry, yet an overall decline in attendance and exhibitor participation at SIGGRAPH, widely considered the most prestigious forum for the publication of computer graphics research.
Wallen observed that aerospace was at one time the driver of the commercial computer graphics industry, but it moved from custom solutions to off-the-shelf software. “SGI died at this conference in 1999,” he said, an early victim of commoditization as both the open source Linux operating system and the Microsoft/Intel hold on the industry drove down prices. Navrátil commented that “conferences get commoditized as well as products and services,” noting that while SIGGRAPH was once the only platform available to showcase new products for M&E, computer graphics technology is now an important part of conferences like IBC and NAB, and new conferences such as FMX and the VIEW Conference that have arisen.
Maher noted “when something goes digital, it becomes fluid,” prompting Jacobson to share how Pixomondo is responding to that fluidity by distributing its workload geographically, not only to save money but to stay competitive. “California artists are pushed out not because of the level of talent, but because it’s not a level market,” she said. “You try to level the playing field as much as you can.”
Wallen, emphasizing DreamWorks’ unique position in the industry as a Hollywood studio—not a VFX house—that typically brings only two to three films to market each year, said artistic talent was the primary concern, adding that DreamWorks does not consider its Bangkok studio an example of outsourcing, which implies the use of contractors, but rather insourcing, where the remote location is just one more office taking advantage of the company’s scale. He also pointed to DreamWorks’ presence in China, noting that the company is not trying to outsource work there, but rather to create content meant specifically for the Chinese market.