SIGGRAPH 2014 Wrap-up
George Maestri
August 22, 2014

SIGGRAPH 2014 Wrap-up

This year, the Siggraph conference was back in Vancouver, Canada. It is certainly one of the more beautiful cities in North America. The weather was great, and the conference center was right on the water, allowing for some terrific views.

SIGGRAPH 2014 Convention Center

The Rise of VR

While 3D printing was the hot topic for the last few years, virtual reality became the cool buzzword of this year’s show. This is not the clunky VR of the 1990s; the images are realistic and interactive. With the right combination of hardware and software, virtual reality is set to take off in gaming, entertainment, and visualization.  

Siggraph hosted a virtual and augmented reality contest this year. There were some interesting entries. One of the best was Birdly, which straps a person into a bird-like apparatus that enables him/her to “fly” around San Francisco. It was actually very immersive and compelling; you really did feel like you were flying.  

Oculus had a booth on the floor and was showing the latest version of Oculus Rift, which is still in the developer stage. Not to be outdone, Google was giving away their Google Cardboard technology, which turns any Android phone into a reasonably capable VR display. People were also developing applications for the new hardware.   Companies like Unity were showing game authoring tools for VR. On the research side, the art and new technologies exhibits had all sorts of novel ways to use VR. 

For those wanting to capture live footage for VR, there were a couple of vendors showing products. A couple of companies, such as Freedom 360, were showing panoramic mounts that held multiple GoPros. Probably a more elegant solution was being demonstrated by Buble, which had packed multiple cameras into a single sphere-shaped device. This makes capture of 360-degree footage very easy.

Flying with Birdy

New and Improved Everything

The show floor had a healthy number of vendors showing their latest and greatest. The mix was pretty evenly distributed between software companies, hardware companies, and schools teaching the craft.  

Pixar’s booth was showing the latest version of Renderman. Probably the biggest news is the introduction of a non-commercial version of Renderman. This is the standard version of the software, made free for non-commercial use. This is a great entry point for students or others wanting to learn more about this great renderer. 

Autodesk didn’t have a booth this year but showed updates to 3ds Max and Maya during the conference itself. Max got a number of tools important to VFX studios, such as Alembic support for easy interchange of data between packages. Another addition was support for Pixar’s Open Subdiv surfaces, which should make working with polygonal objects easier. Maya got some much-needed color management tools along with some interface tweaks. On the 2D side, Autodesk showed Draco, which is not a product, but prototype software for animating illustrations. Shotgun, now an Autodesk company, did have a booth. They showed nice new features such as review of assets on mobile devices and Mari support.

Maxon showed the R16 update to its Cinema 4D software. It had a number of new features. Modelers will enjoy some new sculpting tools, along with a nifty PolyPen tool, which allows for highly interactive drawing of polygons. The company also announced support for Solid Angle’s Arnold renderer.

Side Effects was on the show floor with a new version of the software called Houdini Indie. This $199 package replaces Houdini Apprentice and is aimed at indie animators and game developers. The software can be used in all stages of animation and game production, including procedural modeling, character animation, lighting, rendering, effects and compositing. Side Effects was also showing its Houdini Engine for Maya and Cinema 4D, which allows use of Houdini tools within these applications. A Houdini Engine for Unity has been announced but is not yet shipping.

Nvidia showed a couple of new and faster Quadro cards, but probably more interesting was their GRID technology. This gives studios more flexibility when it comes to graphics computing resources by delivering resources over the network. A central server can contain multiple Quadro-based cards, and these can be utilized by whomever in the organization needs the power. They were demonstrating a remote version of CATIA from Dassault Systems, a notoriously graphics hungry program. Even though the graphics server was a few thousand miles away, interactivity was not compromised.  

This technology ties in very closely to what the bigger animation studios, such as DreamWorks and Pixar, are doing with their animation software. At a panel on animation tools, DreamWorks showed Premo, which gives its artist unprecedented control over characters and animation. Pixar also showed their Presto technology, which is similar in that it creates a fluid and highly interactive environment for artists.  The key to both of these is back-end computing power. In these top studios, not everything happens on the artist’s desktop machine anymore; much of the interactivity happens in the server room. This ties very nicely into what Nvidia is doing – perhaps we’ll see more commercial packages start to support this distributed interactive model.

Exhibition floor

Papers and Panels

There were a number of good research papers presented at the conference this year.  Microsoft showed a project that turned video footage into a hyperlapse time lapse. This involved not only stabilizing the footage, but also re-creating and simulating the environment in 3D. Carnegie-Mellon and UC Berkeley were showing a method of placing 3D models into photographs, creating renders of the models that match the photograph’s composition and lighting. Adobe and the University of Washington used inverse kinematics software and the captured motion of animals to derive the motions of extinct creatures such as dinsaurs.

There were also production sessions showed behind-the-scenes on a number of major motion pictures. The DreamWorks team was showing their work on “How to Train Your Dragon 2”, Animal Logic showed how to animate a billion Legos on “The Lego Movie,” and Disney showed their work on “Maleficent.” There were a number of other production sessions from studios such as Warner Bros (Godzilla), Industrial Light and Magic (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), and Blue Sky (Rio 2).

Papers Fast Forward

Computer Animation Festival

As usual, the computer animation festival had a number of great films and showed the best in computer animated imagery. Top Honors this year went to “Box,” which explored the synthesis of real and digital space using projection mapping. The Jury Award went to “Paper World,” a beautiful film sponsored by the World Wildlife Fund that depicts origami-like paper animals in a world being destroyed by man. The Best Short went to “Home Sweet Home,” about a small house who uproots herself and goes on an adventure.

Overall, it was a great show in a great location. Next year, Siggraph is back in Los Angeles.

Pixar Teapots

Images © SIGGRAPH 2014