|Last month, the graphics community celebrated the past, present, and future of cutting-edge CG technologies at the annual SIGGRAPH conference and exhibition in New Orleans. Last year, many were questioning the decision to hold the conference in the Big Easy—and that was before we were hit with the current recession. Everyone wanted to know, was the city ready to host the conference? The answer, as we have discovered, was “Yes!”
Sure, attendance was down. Drastically. But then again, who didn’t expect that, given the grim economic situation companies—inside and outside the industry—have had to face this year. SIGGRAPH released the attendance figures: 11,000 artists, research scientists, gaming experts and developers, filmmakers, students, and academics from 69 countries filtered through the halls and aisles of the show. To put this into perspective, last year’s conference in Los Angeles boasted 28,400 show-goers, while the 2007 conference in San Diego had just over 24,000. At the 2002 conference in San Antonio—considered by many as the most dismal SIGGRAPH yet—had 17,000 visitors.
Now, for the upside. The overall attitude of the attendees was extremely positive. Many of them looked at the low attendance as a mere blip on the radar, projecting a “This, too, shall pass” attitude. Most of the major players were still represented. However, studios and companies had cut back on their travel budgets and sent fewer people than they had in previous years. Those they did send, however, were top-notch veterans, many of whom presented papers and participated on panels, rather than newcomers. In fact, the average “attendee” seemed to be someone with at least several years of experience. So while some vendors may have wished for more traffic, hopefully they will reap the same type of financial benefit from exhibiting as they have in the past.
SIGGRAPH 2009 reminded me of the conferences of old, where the show floor “downstairs” was secondary and the happenings “upstairs” (panels, papers, discussions) were primary. After all, the latter is what SIGGRAPH is all about. According to the conference chair, SIGGRAPH management chose to provide a full, compelling program despite the economic situation. That was a fantastic decision. No one seemed disappointed, and if they were, well, they shouldn’t have been. There was a lot of information to be had, and most seemed to take advantage of it. And although fewer folks were walking the show floor, those who did had buying power. They weren’t simply there to play; they could pay.
Outside the conference center, the weather was hot and sticky. But what about the heat wave that hit Boston in 2006? After-hours (and sometimes during show hours), the popular French Quarter was teeming with attendees. With such a confined space, chances were high that you would run into an old friend or acquaintance—something that doesn’t often happen when the conference is held in sprawling Los Angeles. What a nice treat it was to run into friendly faces along Bourbon Street, where people could just relax and catch up over a drink. After all, SIGGRAPH isn’t just about the latest technology. It is also about sharing experiences and making connections.
Good times. Good food. Good people. Good technology. Just like a great gumbo, SIGGRAPH is more about the quality of the ingredients than the quantity of them. And this year’s show sure was fine in this regard. n
Did you attend SIGGRAPH 2009 in New Orleans? Share your experience in our online Blog section at www.cgw.com. Or, read about how others viewed the conference.