Siggraph 2008 Day 2

With the vendor exposition opening today, was expecting tired feet and brain overload and I wasn’t dissapointed.

First spotting of the day: the Latte art machine uses existing inkjet technology to spray chocolate ink onto foam-topped beverages.

In the new technology areas, I spotted at least two dozen or so haptic (touch) sensors and feedback tech demonstrations. Some require that you wear something on your hand or finger, and some let you move your hand within a confined space. Some offer touch feedback. This is the future of UIs, especially for creatives.

Also in the new tech areas, Shinoda Lab had what looked like a big metal table with various lights and other gadgets arrayed around the surface. Apparently, this surface not only supplies power to the gadgets, but allows them to communicate. So some of the devices are sensors, others make light, noise, show video, etc. Completely unsure what this is good for, but I’d sure like to let my kids play with it.

Spent a little time in the Maxon booth catching up on their new Cinema 4D Release 11. Some of the things I grabbed on to were: support for 64-bit on Mac OS X, the Projection Man matte painting system originally developed for Sony Pictures, and COLLADA support (an open file exchange standard).

Saw an interesting presentation about the Electronic Arts (EA) motion capture studio. All of their sports video games, tennis, football, golf, skateboarding, etc. utilize extensive mocap. They have a football-field sized studio in Vancouver with tons of Vicon mocap gear. It took them $8 million to build this facility. They can lay down turf for a football field, or erect a giant half-pipe for skateboarding in this thing.

Did some quick walking around the rest of the show floor then headed over to the Production Tracking Methods, Issues and Challenges BOF session. Lots of TDs and producers from major shops were there along with a few software vendors. Good discussions about render management, the touchy subject of tracking artist’s work, representing shot complexity, reporting, plans vs. actuals, workflow, and unique aspects of the VFX industry.

Finished up the day with an interesting talk by Jim Callahan of Temerity. They make Pipeline, a workflow management app. It basically takes the (often hand-crafted) task of building a render pipeline, and puts it into a configurable, node-based toolkit. You configure your pipeline using a set of tools that are pre-wired to popular VFX apps. It does a lot of really smart stuff and can save a facility a lot of money. The bulk of their business is actually consulting with shops to help them improve their pipelines and save money. The best part of the talk was when he got into his work of deriving statistics from collected production data. Jim hired a financial statistician to work out all kinds of crazy correlations in the data, and presented some really interesting looking graphs. From this we can see all kinds of uncomfortable things about a production, like, who has the most influence on a project vs. how much time they spend at the office (sometimes an inverse correlation.) There is much more work to be done, but hopefully VFX houses will have new tools to analyze their productions and improve their margins.

What I learned today: IT in VFX houses is typically done by folks know Python scripting, that are willing to wing it. Very little extra money for “proper” IT. A very closed-loop system that seems to yield a lot of hacked together solutions. The funniest anecdote was the shop that did its production planning in Photoshop!

2 thoughts on “Siggraph 2008 Day 2”

  1. Hi Cameron – is Pipeline something you would seriously consider using, and if so, in what sense? What main benefits would it bring to the application – email me, or post in the group if you prefer.

    Cheers, Kris

  2. Hi Kris. Pipeline is for use in VFX and animation facilities of probably 6 people up to hundreds. Being able to automate (and maybe even more importantly) document the build process in a studio is really valuable. Pipeline is something that ShotRunner, ShotGun, etc. would integrate with vs. build on our own. There are a few ShotGun users who are already building this integration.

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