Siggraph 2008 Day 1

Since this is my first Siggraph show I opted for the basic pass, which gets me into the exhibit floor and a lot of the artist exhibitions, but not the technical talks. Since the exhibits open tomorrow, on Tuesday, I arrived today (Monday) around 4:30pm for registration. Time from Oakland to LAX: 1 hour. Time from LAX to Los Angeles convention center (via the Blue shuttle) 2 1/2 hours. Sheesh.

After getting registered it was straight to the Autodesk event at the Shrine Auditorium. Noticing that the program was to be about 3 hours long without a break, I took a ‘strategic’ seat on an aisle.

The presentation kicked of with a series of choice commercials done by various houses. Some were very innovative and folks were applauding. This is a very cool community of folks.

The keynote featured a look at gaming graphics from Ubisoft, who are doing James Cameron’s Avatar as the first stereoscopic console game. There was also a mention of new HDRI capabilities in Stitcher, and something about Moviemento. It was hard to follow. Apparently, a very thick French accent was a speaking requirement for anyone doing the keynote.

Next was an amazing demonstration of a 3D modeling, texturing and painting application called MudBox. The artist was able to ‘paint’ on textures and materials in real time. It was amazingly fast. But it just kept getting better as he turned on various specular settings to make the figure look wet, turned on ambient occlusion, changed the lighting by moving around an HDRI lighting map, dialed in a shallow depth-of-field, and more, while continuing to work in real time. The crowd really went wild for this.

The Third Floor did a really cool demonstration using the Moven wireless suit and a handheld virtual camera to create a pre-vis scene containing a moving character in about 10 minutes. The Moven suit is totally self contained and uses accelerometers placed at strategic points in the lycra suit to measure the movements. The ‘director’ used the virtual camera to get different camera angles and a handheld feel for the shot. I could totally see using this for pre-vis, corporate video, and sports training.

Blizzard Entertainment showed its work on Starcraft 2/Diablo 3 teasers. Very cool to see these at full resolution on a big screen compared to the little compressed ones you see online. Amazing work. The StarCraft II trailer was excellent.

Duncan Brimsmead provided a series of small demos in Maya showing off their nParticles system. He is really a master. Simple demos that spoke volumes. The second, and last set of product feature cheers for the night.

The new stereo viewports in Maya, Toxik and Lustre were very cool. We all had 3D glasses and slipped them on when the artist popped into 3D mode.
Jaw-dropping the first time you see it.

Dreamworks demonstrated a scene from Kung Fu Panda reworked for 3D. This was the jailbreak scene and it was stunning. Its purpose was to shatter all of the old assumptions about what you can and can’t do with 3D. Quick cuts, DOF effects, camera pans, etc. The crowd was really excited over this.

Then, Dreamworks showed a 5 minute preview in 3D of their upcoming Monsters vs. Aliens. Looks like its going to be another great show to take the kids to, and the 3D was done very nicely — not over-the-top like the Journey to the Center of the Earth clip that Sony showed later in the evening.

There was also a clip from one of the original Star Wars films converted to 3D. Very cool! The crowd cheered that one. Also a new Pixar/Disney short in 3D about a lonely Russian outpost guard who is visited by space aliens.

During the (way too long) stereoscopic screening with Sony, you could really start to get a sense of what works, and what doesn’t in this new medium. Nice and subtle uses of parallax with good motivation work to add depth to the scene. Overt uses of the technology, for example the flying fish in Journey to the Center … that fly right at the camera, the National Geographic title sequence (with title graphics all on different depth planes) and flat looking backgrounds don’t work. We’re going to see a lot of 3D crap before it gets better.

The after party had about a dozen models dressed in some kind of world-of-warcraft / barbarian costumes. About a half-dozen artists from Massive Black were creating illustrations of the models that were being projected on large screens. I left when I could no longer move freely.

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