Another SIGGRAPH in the Books: A Recap
August 5, 2016

Another SIGGRAPH in the Books: A Recap

SIGGRAPH is the annual event that folks working in the computer graphics and interactivity markets anticipate. For 43 years now, the conference and exhibition has been  the  destination for the industry to share their experiences and learn new developments, all in an effort to advance the genre.  

This summer, the conference was held in Anaheim, California. Not exactly LA, but close enough to draw a large number of users from that area. Of course, with Disneyland within walking distance of the conference center, attendees no doubt gave into temptation and added a few days onto their trip for some post-show family vacation time. As a result, attendance at this year’s SIGGRAPH was just slightly less (approximately 800) than last year’s official tally of 14,800 show -goers in LA – this in spite of the fact that traditionally attendance is lower when the show is outside of Los Angeles. Not bad!

CGW kicked off the conference and exhibition with its Get Connected event for the SIGGRAPH Student Volunteers – those serious about working in the graphics and interactivity industries after completing their studies. For this yearly event, CGW Chief Editor Karen Moltenbrey hosted a panel of industry experts, who provided the students with an insider’s look at the industry, drawing from their own experiences to provide advice for a successful future. This year, the panel comprised Steve Emerson, VFX supervisor at Laika; Stephen Winters, IT systems project manager at Imageworks; Kevin Baillie, CEO/VFX supervisor at Atomic Fiction; and Nick Whiting, technical director of AR and VR at Epic. Autodesk sponsored the event and AMD was co-sponsor.

Once again, the international crowd was well represented at the conference, with enthusiasts coming from across the globe: Canada, Japan, the UK, South Korea, France, China, and Germany, among many other countries, 74 in all.

What did they come to see? Rendering was the big topic. So was virtual reality. Rendering for VR was the super-topic.

Nvidia and AMD both stepped up their game with important new offerings. Both are focused on handling big data sets and the added complexity that comes with VR. 

Nvidia identified four main customer trends: large data sets, VR, AI, and photorealism. To this end, they introduced the Quadro P6000 and P5000. Both are based on the Pascal architecture and are VR-ready. Additionally, Nvidia announced that available this fall will be GPU-acceleration to Mental Ray, with a 20x speed increase of rendering in the viewport. 

Nvidia further announced VRWorks’ 360-degree Video SDK, which lets VR developers create applications to ingest, stitch, and stream 4K video feeds from multi-camera rigs for 360-degree real-time surround video. 

AMD, meanwhile, heated things up during a special event at the show dubbed “Capsaicin,” where the company unveiled new technologies, including the new Radeon Pro WX Series of professional graphics cards that harness the power of the Polaris architecture. The cards are optimized for open-source software and tuned for the demands of modern content-creation needs. 

AMD also launched Radeon ProRender, part of its GPUOpen initiative, whereby its physically based rendering engine will be open sourced, as it gives developers access to the source code. As AMD points out, the Radeon ProRender is unique in that it can simultaneously use and balance the compute capabilities of multiple GPUs and CPUs on the same system.

Yet, the big news was transformative. The company said it is developing a new Radeon Pro solution – the AMD Radeon Pro SSG – for large database applications that will offer much greater memory capacity for real-time postproduction of 8K video, high-res rendering, VR content, and more. AMD contends the offering will transform the workstation PC architecture and eliminate real-time visual computing issues caused by existing GPU memory limitations. It will initially be available as a developer kit.

Autodesk delivered its SIGGRAPH news at a private media briefing. There, the company announced that the Arnold renderer is included with Maya 2017, following Autodesk’s recent acquisition of Solid Angle. The new Maya version also has many new features, including an update to the MASH motion graphics tool set. In addition, Autodesk is working on a plug-in to Arnold for 3ds Max.

Maxon hosted its much-appreciated media luncheon, giving writers a chance to catch their breath and grab a bite to eat. It was during this time that Maxon provided details of its upcoming Cinema 4D R18, which will feature interactive knife tools and so much more. The big enhancements will be to the MoGraph tools, including the new Voronoi fracture system.

Also making a splash was Pixar, which hosted a well-attended event that detailed the features in RenderMan 21, which gives users access to technology used at Pixar – particularly for the recently released Finding Dory film. The audience was also treated to a screening of the short film “Piper.”

Motion-capture companies continued a strong presence at the show for both technology providers and service providers, some with an eye to serving the emerging VR market. Faceware introduced a new interactive division that will focus on the real-time facial capture market; Faceware Interactive will assume development of Faceware Live. 

The Foundry, meanwhile, announced the release of Cara VR, continuing its efforts in the virtual-reality space with the plug-in tool set for Nuke.

Blackmagic, meanwhile, released Fusion 8.2, which is available on Linux, Mac, and Windows.

Lastly, Jon Peddie Research held its annual press luncheon. This year’s topic: the continually expanding game engines. Representatives from Unity and Crytek, in particular, discussed how game engines are now being used more and more outside the gaming realm and finding their way into VR and film, for instance. Unity’s Mark Schoennagel said that while visiting studios, he witnessed raytraced-quality rendering done in real time. “It is happening now. People are doing it,” he said.

Jean-Colas Prunier from Crytek noted that the industry has to create something new in regard to this situation. “We need to talk real-time technology, not just game engines,” he said. To this end, Crytek has developed Film Engine (a new product and the name of a new company) that is developing Crytek’s CryEngine game engine for technology and tuning it for “other” applications outside of gaming, including filmmaking.

Adding to the conversation were Milica Zac and Winslow Turner Porter, who comes from a film background but are expanding into today’s new world of entertainment. They see a need for new tools that will provide the appropriate magic for the new rules within 360-degree applications and VR. It is a world where linear storytelling no longer applies.

All agreed that rendering efficiency is needed. And while there are many trying their hand at an efficient pipeline to handle this new media, Paul Doyle of Fabric Engine acknowledges that things will oscillate for a while before a clear pathway will be found in terms of tools, technologies, and a tuned pipeline for this type of work.

For more about this topic, see “Engine-uity” in the July/August 2016 issue of CGW.

For detailed information about these and other SIGGRAPH news, visit