SIGGRAPH 2012: Graphics Is As Exciting As Ever

Posted By Kathleen Maher on August 14, 2012 10:41 am | Permalink
I stayed at SIGGRAPH all the way through, and I even heard the bag pipes play "Amazing Grace" when SIGGRAPH closed. If anyone knows why they play "Amazing Grace" at the end of trade shows, please let me know. Playing a hymn to send everyone home is just the kind of absurd conflation of the sacred and the profane that we Americans handle with aplomb. Never mind, SIGGRAPH is kind of sacred to the people who come to learn and share techniques for creating digital imagery, and that kind of power is certainly god-like. This year, I made it to a few papers, I walked the aisles several times, I talked to a whole lot of people, and still I went away feeling that I missed a lot. 

Here are a few things I didn't miss:

1. The return of the head-mount. There were enough head-mounts on display this year to bring back fond memories of 1988 and the early days of virtual reality. Canon brought a slick head-mount display to enable people to explore digital environments for design. Canon also demo'd augmented reality applications with head-mounts. Along those same lines, Epson brought along a pair of glasses, which they're calling Moverio. These were semi-transparent glasses, so you could view digital content without completely blocking out your surroundings. It works. When I tried it, I had no trouble shifting my focus to the digital scene in front of me, but I was comfortably aware of my surroundings. Along those same lines, Christie showed off a CAVE system the size of a closet. No, it wasn't a head-mount but it was pretty convenient.

I thought it was a pretty good SIGGRAPH, didn't you? 

2. Digital reality, the ability to bring information into the real world and back out again, is developing rapidly. At SIGGRAPH 2012, Cubify brought its very low cost printers, and Objet brought its slightly more expensive printers. 3D3 offered to scan your face and send you your 3D-you. At the Foundry, we heard about using 3D scans as backgrounds for content creation. French company Lumiscaphe demonstrated cloth simulation, which they achieved by scanning in materials, and applying a displacement map to create a 3D effect. 

3. The number of raytracing companies are multiplying like rabbits. We have no idea how these sweet companies that arrive every year intend to survive, but their young entrepreneurs are indomitable. The newest companies are taking advantage of the GPU, and they're trying all sorts of tricks to overcome the memory limitations of GPU rendering. Some of the companies with staying power include V-Ray from the Chaos Group. They were in Nvidia's booth taking advantage of the new Kepler based Maximus systems. 

Software just gets better. (Source: JPR)

Caustic Graphics is a division of Imagination. The company is working on plug-ins for the major 3D vendors including Visualizer for 3ds Max and Maya, and Neon for McNeel's Rhino. Luxion's edge is push-button raytracing, and this year the company has added a tool to enable rendered 3D models in browsers called KeyShot VR. The new tool comes with an upgrade to KeyShot, and it works in browsers that support HTML5. 

4. Software is going to get a lot better over the coming year. The tools for taking advantage of parallel processing, putting GPUs and CPUs to work cooperatively, are improving, and software developers are committing to them. At SIGGRAPH this year, many of the papers demonstrated the tools the studios have developed to push hardware acceleration. These tools start out as proprietary, but the studios are increasingly cooperating on the development side, and by the time it's a paper at SIGGRAPH, the software vendors are looking at ways to put them to work. That's how we know to expect big things in the 2012-2013 season. 

I'm still assimilating a lot of what I learned this year, but I have one idea that I can't shake. Maybe 10 years or so ago, we talked about the major problems of computer graphics having been solved. It's true, too. Scientists and engineers know how to simulate reality, but it still requires enormous effort to re-create the real. That's a job that's never finished. Thank goodness. It gives us a reason to go to SIGGRAPH every year.