ANIMATION WORLD MAGAZINE - ISSUE 4.5 - AUGUST 1999

But Wait! There's More at SIGGRAPH `99

by Jennifer Champagne

Intel. Sony. Digital Domain. Intergraph. Discreet. Alias|Wavefront. Avid. Papers. Conferences. Workshops. Who's who and what's what? Upon entering the LA Convention Center most will be hit with overwhelming visuals - huge booths, bright lights and freebies to delight even the convention veteran. Some booths have dance numbers and interactive visuals, while others demonstrate the tools and techniques that were used on films like Star Wars Episode I:The Phantom Menace. Not to mention the conferences, sessions, and guest speakers - where does it start and where does it end? SIGGRAPH is an event that is so overwhelming most people won't be able to sort it all out in the week that they are there (and if you are local in LA, you may only be able to spend a few days). To alleviate this conventionphobia, here is a list of the predicted highlights of the show -- those things that you should take some time to see.

The Future Is Interactive
Bringing people into the virtual world is the Millenium Motel's job and the collection of visio-haptic displays that will be available will allow visitors to immerse themselves completely in this world. The Millennium Motel (a.k.a. Emerging Technologies) leads the user to realize how technology is becoming more interactive. Ranging from artificial intelligence to advanced head-mounted displays to interacting with synthetic realities to conversing with virtual representations of others, the Motel gives people a firsthand experience with what is to come. Life Spacies is one such event in the Motel, in which people on a global scale (Internet) and people on-site can communicate and interact through synthetic, digital creatures. Music can be created through Visual Conductor that reads your gestures to guide rhythmic patterns, tempo and volume, while musicBottles utilizes corked bottles to control sounds of violins, cellos, and a piano. City of News brings one into a new way of browsing the Internet as a cityscape dynamically unfolds, giving the user a method of "exploring an urban landscape of information."

SIGGRAPH can be overwhelming without a guide. Courtesy of SIGGRAPH.

A Time To Teach
The Electronic Schoolhouse emphasizes that "everyone is an educator and everyone is a student." With the importance of education in society being stressed, this program was created to present ways of both using technology to teach and teaching technology. The courses are on a broad spectrum of subjects, but are all focused on the concept of education. Whether you are an educator trying to introduce technology into your classroom or are looking for a curriculum to bring you into the CG industry, the Electronic Schoolhouse is an important event. You may attend introductions to visual effects, 2D animation and 3D animation, if you are a newcomer to the industry. Exploratories and ThinkQuest bring about new ways of teaching to utilize computer technology. A number of forums focus on teaching by introducing virtual worlds like Virtual Harlem, which explores the concept of virtual fiction in 10 square blocks of 1920s Harlem, or The Getty Experience, a virtual representation of the Getty Museum exhibitions, as well as a session which provides a look into the past with a virtual representation of 12th century Bologna, Italy. Quite a few of the features integrate with the Creative Application Labs, which allows one to take new-found information and apply it in a practical setting utilizing the tools that were presented in the classroom. Finally, there are courses that allow one to explore the ongoing debate as to what the balance is between artistic and technical training.

CGI-created Watto shows Qui-Gon Jinn his wares in Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace. Courtesy of and © Lucasfilm Ltd

Where Did We Come From?
The Story of Computer Graphics is a feature length documentary overview of the history of computer graphics and is holding its world premiere opening night in the Shine Auditorium. The impact of this event is immeasurable. Most CGI people know how to do what they are doing - but not why these tools allow them to do it. Insight into the history and origin of the business gives insight into the present and future of the business. The film begins with the first utilization of computer graphics as radar in the armed forces, up to the current technologies. Interviews range from visionaries like George Lucas, Jim Blinn, Robert Abel, and Ed Catmull.

Hands On Experiments
The Studio is an event, which teams artists with technologists to create tangible artwork in a lab-like setting. Digital Artwork can be brought in and transferred to a different medium through new and improved technologies. The first session is 2D Large Format printing, where an artist can sign up for a 3 hour session, bring in artwork (no portfolio or deadline artwork permitted) and have it printed into a large format. The second session introduces 3D Rapid Prototyping, which is the way industries bring 3D CAD drawings or models into reality. In The Studio, visitors can bring in a 3D model that they created in their favorite 3D program and have the computer cut a real representation of the model that can be taken home. A third session is dedicated to animation where animators may take their work home on a BetaSP tape (that they provide), or artwork can be created from scratch on the computers that The Studio provides. However, with the "Make Art" session, one doesn't have access to the large format or rapid prototype features.

The Millenium Motel includes many exhibits and installations. Clockwise, from upper left corner: City of News, Enspered Vision, Route 66, and Water Display. Courtesy of SIGGRAPH.

You Can't Forget...
The Sketches and Applications are important, and there are far too many to suggest any one particular event. You must pick and choose between the ones that would be of most interest to you. If you love everything about CG, then you will have to weigh the options. The Animation sessions cover all the new technologies that have been developed for film, television, and commercial production. Academy Award winning artists and technicians discuss the issues that they had to deal with in the productions of The Mummy, The Phantom Menace, The Haunting, What Dreams May Come and Tarzan. Art, Design and Multimedia discusses the new techniques for interface design, creating new ways to produce artwork in the computer and visualize. Third, and largest, is the Technical sessions, which discuss the intricacies of the mathematics behind the interfaces with which we work, and other subjects such as the medical applications of computer graphics, rendering and dynamics algorithms, and other topics a technically-based mind would love.

Disney animators used Canvas, a software program, to create the backgrounds in Tarzan. © Disney and Burroughs.

Essentially, there is more to see at SIGGRAPH than Disneyland. Because of its size and nature, a certain degree of planning must take place so that you don't become blindsided with technology. I haven't even mentioned the exhibition floor where all the companies are flaunting their wares (or vaporwares), each with their own marketing plan to out-market their neighbors with flashy displays, or models-for-hire handing out flyers in shorts and baby doll tops. If you go in with a plan, you are less likely to veer off into the unknown halls and then look at your watch with anxiety while announcements of the halls' closing blares over the megaphones. If you are going to the conferences, you are going to have a plan anyway, but if you plan to hit just the exhibits -- I recommend going early in the week. Because if you wait until Friday, you won't have enough time to see everything, and all the good giveaway pens, free magazines, mugs, shirts, etc. will all be gone. Oh yeah! And don't forget to ask about the industry-sponsored parties! I'll leave it to you to find the tickets.

Jennifer A. Champagne is a founding partner at Max Ink Cafe, LLC. Champagne is currently wrapping the first season of Black Scorpion and the animated short, Players.


Note: Readers may contact any Animation World Magazine contributor by sending an e-mail to editor@awn.com.


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