SIGGRAPH, held between August 4-9, at the Morial Convention Center, in New Orleans, is the world's largest and most prestigious computer technology event dealing with computer graphics and interactive techniques, of which animation plays a major part. The annual conference is put on by what was once known as the Association for Computing Machinery's Special Interest Group on Computer Graphics (i.e., SIGGRAPH). This year marked the 23rd running of the big daddy of all computer graphic conferences, which acts as a showcase for all the newest and greatest achievements in computerized visual arts, special effects and animation. This is a serious gig I tell you, nothing to take lightly! But through the heavy breakthroughs in technology and the advancements in software on display there is also plenty of partying as well.
I've been going to SIGGRAPH since 1993, and I have been more and more active since my first year. Each year there is more to see and experience. Sure there's the new advancements in the technologies, this is expected, but there are educational demonstrations, courses, papers and panels. For instance, I went to Pixar's course on the "Making of Toy Story," where the production team talked about how they did problem solving and made creative "cheats" to reach their expected results. This sharing of creativity and learning curve ingenuity were invaluable and is widespread throughout the SIGGRAPH experience, and one major reason I attend each year.
Of Bayous and Gorrillas
SIGGRAPH goes into all aspects of computer visual mediums, it does more than provide a realm for large entertainment companies. The technology of computer graphics floods the likes of Education and Research. In the Digital Bayou this year you could see how technology helps in, for example, Telemedicine and Distributed Scientific Visualization of Ocean Models. These are intriguing and quite refreshing to see, especially if you are in a specific industry and most of your projects are similar in production.
Hands-on is a commonalty during the convention and one of my favorite venues for this integration is the Gorilla Gallery. Here you could bring or make images with the help from other artists in attendance. It's an exciting share and share alike type of atmosphere where one can both tap into others' creativity and collaborate.The exhibition floor itself seems to expand exponentially each year to accommodate the explosive growth within the field. As I walked the floor, there seemed to be a slightly different approach to many of the booths. There were more small hands-on instructional areas and smaller group discussions and presentations this year. There was one company that had a schedule of unique event showings and discussions every half hour for every day they were there on the floor. This feeling of schedule and choice is rarely found on an exhibit floor, and very exciting trying to fit-it-all-in.
I noticed a lot more user-friendly applications this year. It used to be a general rule of thumb that if you were an artist then you were probably not computer literate, and if you weren't a computer engineer you probably weren't an artist. But since high end software has been getting easier to use and many high-end products are now available for the home computers, the bridge between artist and computers is becoming less and less intimidating. I believe there will be a considerable narrowing of this gap next year just based on all the new applications coming out for the Windows NT platform. I'm sure many of these packages will be on display at SIGGRAPH 97 in Los Angeles. I can't wait. Say, maybe I'll even try one.
Noticed in Passing
Some other things I noticed in passing this year. For one, there seemed to be a lot more women both attending and contributing to the conference than in previous years, which was very encouraging. I also noticed the massive volume of inner convention center and outer convention center activities. There were large hands-on venues like The Bridge held on and off-site. There were also smaller activities every day and night held in both convention center rooms and local hotels. So, no matter where you were staying, you could check at your front desk to see what types of SIGGRAPH activities were going on there. These hotel events were generally sponsored by separate companies. (For example, Industrial Light & Magic hosted screenings and discussions at the Hilton Riverside.) Apart for these activities there was SIGGRAPH's own Electronic Theater, which is the showcase for new technology and is a must see.
As each day went by, there were huge parties to go to. Some were by invitation only (mainly for large company recruitment), but there were others for anyone and everyone. Most of them, considering we were in New Orleans, went on until dawn.
One morning I came back from one of these parties to find that I had only two hours until the keynote address. This year's speaker was Douglas Adams, the author of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Knowing if I tried to sleep I'd probably miss him, I made my way over to the convention center to find a ton of people moving into the main presentation hall. Never had I seen so many attendees so enthusiastic about a keynote speech, which I have to admit was most excellent!
Some of the drawbacks to such an exciting week-long conference are not really so bad. There is the lack of sleep, but hey SIGGRAPH is only once a year. Another is that you just couldn't do everything. I should know it's not doable, because I really tried to do just about everything possible each day and night. The last "drawback" is the restricted amount of time spent on your email, cellular phone or pay phones. There was just so much to do, see, and get involved with that if you wanted to communicate and share your experience it was to your benefit to do this directly with anyone and everyone at the conference.
Overall, this year's conference was one of my favorites, but then again I'm addicted and I say that each year.
Kellie-Bea Rainey has been in the entertainment industry for four years. She has working in visual special effects for many top feature films. She has also worked in animation (traditional and computer 2D and 3D), including interactive multimedia and online environments as a production coordinator, production manager and as a producer.