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Desowitz at SIGGRAPH 2009: Day 1

Well, there’s been a lot of anticipation and curiosity about SIGGRAPH returning to New Orleans (or Nola), not only since this marks the first major conference since Katrina but also because of the severity of the downturn.

SIGGRAPH winner - Wojciech Matusik

written by Bill Desowitz

Well, there’s been a lot of anticipation and curiosity about SIGGRAPH returning to New Orleans (or Nola), not only since this marks the first major conference since Katrina but also because of the severity of the downturn. Yes, attendance may be sparse, but, you know what? A light turnout is in keeping with the quaint vibe here. And, despite the predictable heat and humidity, it’s not as bad as I remember growing up in nearby Ocean Springs, Mississippi (near Biloxi) back in the early '70s. And this new Convention Center (though very long) is beautiful, clean and easy to navigate -- so far.

I began my trip with the discovery of Mother’s near the Convention Center in the warehouse district (the architecture and layout of the city is as rich as its music and cuisine). A favorite diner since '38, I feasted on a shrimp Po' Boy and a slice of pecan pie. I was in Southern heaven once again.

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Anyway, the first day of the conference began this morning with the announcement of the ACM SIGGRAPH winners: Wojciech Matusik, took Significant New Researcher honors for his pioneering work in real world capture (lately in the area of 3-D TV); Michael Kass earned the Computer Graphics Achievement Award for his optimization techniques, especially at Pixar, where he’s perfected the cloth simulator first introduced on Geri’s Game and perfected for such features as The Incredibles; fellow Pixar colleague Rob Cook, RenderMan developer and an innovator in procedural shading and displacement maps, earned the Steven A. Coons Award; and Lynn Hershman Leeson (Second Life’s Cyber Roberta) and Ronan Verostko shared the new Distinguished Art Award for their pioneering e fforts in paradigm shifting media and the aesthetics of algorithmic art, respectively.

Meanwhile, Randy Thom, the brilliant sound effects designer from Skywalker Sound, offered the first keynote of the conference. A protégé of Walter Murch, who "went to school" on Apocalypse Now and earned Oscars for The Right Stuff and The Incredibles, Thom offered an enlightening discussion on "Designing a Movie for Sound." In fact, he used the openings of both Apocalypse Now and WALL•E to illustrate two innovative approaches. Early collaboration is essential in achieving a cinematic result and so is experimenting with how the visual and the sonic can work together. On Apocalypse Now, when director Francis Ford Coppola made Willard (Martin Sheen) a passive observer, he opened up the possibility for experimentation with sound. Likewise, when Andrew Stanton created an atmosphere for animating to sound, he opened up new possibilities as well. Thom even crucially suggested that animation is currently utilizing the best strategy for successful integration of sound design more than live-action. Early collaboration with the director is offering inspiration to animators for finding the right balance between visuals and sound, and the most appropriate combination of dialogue, music and sound effects. The latter, he said, was key.

Unfortunately, the keynote precluded my attending the Autodesk press conference, but, since I will be meeting with them later in the week, there will be plenty to cover in more detail. In the meantime, here’s a very brief company description of the new 2010 software launches for Maya, Softimage, Mudbox and MotionBuilder.

Maya 2010 is a single integrated and affordable offering that includes advanced simulation and matchmoving capabilities, high-dynamic-range compositing and network rendering. Maya 2010 unifies the Autodesk Maya Complete 2009 and Autodesk Maya Unlimited 2009 feature sets. Maya 2010 also includes Maya Composite and Autodesk MatchMover, five mental ray for Maya Batch nodes (requires a network license) and Autodesk Backburner render queue manager. Maya Complete 2009 and Maya Unlimited 2009 customers with current subscription are entitled to the Maya 2010 release.

Softimage 2010 features an optimized Softimage GigaCore III architecture and an expanded and customizable Interactive Creative Environment (ICE) system. Autodesk has also integrated the Face Robot facial rigging and animation toolset into Softimage 2010.

Mudbox 2010 makes it easier for artists to use Mudbox alongside professional creative tools such as Adobe Photoshop software, Maya, Softimage and 3ds Max. The software features new creative tools and workflows and a software development kit (SDK) that enables production teams to more easily customize and integrate Mudbox into production pipelines.

MotionBuilder 2010 offers faster overall performance, expanded realtime physics capabilities and productivity-enhancing animation workflows.

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