SIGGRAPH 2009: Network Your Senses
June 25, 2009

SIGGRAPH 2009: Network Your Senses

Soon graphics specialists from all of the world will be converging on New Orleans for the 36th annual international conference and exhibition on computer graphics and interactive technologies, also known as SIGGRAPH.

Over the years, the conference has grown and developed according to the needs of the industry. And yet, one thing remains constant: the enthusiasm and devotion to the industry by those working in it.

Below, SIGGRAPH 2009 conference chair Ronen Barzel provides a glimpse of what to expect at this year’s show in an exclusive Q&A with Computer Graphics World chief editor Karen Moltenbrey.

SIGGRAPH is back in New Orleans this year. How has SIGGRAPH tied that venue into its show this year?

We're definitely excited to be back in New Orleans. Its history, culture, beauty, and creativity provide a great context for SIGGRAPH, and the two previous SIGGRAPH conferences held in New Orleans have been great experiences. New Orleans is being reflected in the 2009 conference in several ways.  One natural tie-in is this year's focus on Music and Audio as it relates to computer graphics and interactive techniques (which is headlined by the keynote talk from the pioneering and Academy Award-winning sound designer Randy Thom). Also, the greater New Orleans area has a growing digital media community, which is being featured by a New Orleans pavilion in the exhibition. Plus you'll see multiple New Orleans themed venues and activities at the conference.

On a more somber note, since the greater New Orleans area still hasn't fully recovered from Katrina,  conference content will include several sessions and installations related to urban planning and recovery. Beyond that, we're also trying to give back to the local community with outreach efforts that support the education of local youth in technology and creative arts.  One quick and easy thing that your audience can do to get in the New Orleans mood (while helping out the community) is to go to our Web site and listen to and download the custom SIGGRAPH sampler of great New Orleans music by local musicians, with all proceeds going to benefit the Louis Armstrong Summer Jazz Camp.  We also have several opportunities for people to get involved while in New Orleans. We need volunteers from a variety of backgrounds. All the details are available at 

With the economy and the location (outside of LA), attendance may be lower than usual. How will that affect the show?

The current economy is making things tough on everyone.  But we feel that in these volatile times, it's more important than ever for people in the community to come together to network, interact, and get inspired to keep moving forward.  So although we've had to be extra budget-conscious behind-the-scenes, we've remained committed to providing the best possible experience for attendees. In fact, this year's conference has more "you've gotta be there" experiences than ever! SIGGRAPH 2009 includes an unprecedented number of panel discussions, interactive real-time rendering demos, live musical performances, a phenomenal all-interactive art gallery, and interactive works in the new information aesthetics showcase and in the new Sandbox gaming area.  Plus, there will be a range of courses from the basics to the recent developments in a variety of areas.  Of course, there is the latest research demoed in the Emerging Technologies program, the latest products in Exhibition, and hands-on experience of the Studio, and the latest unpublished developments and behind-the-scenes presentations in Talks.  And even a couple of social gaming events will help attendees connect with one another and the conference.  For an advance overview of what will be going on, the Advance Program is available online at .

We know that times are hard, and we're working to make it as affordable as possible for people to attend the conference.  We're working with our partner hotels to lower their rates and provide other benefits.  And we've introduced a special discount rate for members of our community who are currently unemployed. 

Also I'll take the opportunity to remind people that New Orleans is a great place to bring the family and make the trip a two-for-one (and for family members who may be curious about what SIGGRAPH and computer graphics are about, it's possible to buy inexpensive one-day passes to the Computer Animation Festival or conference).

So, what is in store for us this year—the best-of-the-best highlights?

From a technical point of view, of course we've got the Technical Papers, Emerging Technologies, Courses, and the Exhibition--and this year we're introducing a Real Time Rendering program highlighting a juried selection of the best accomplishments in real-time work, demoed live and available for attendees to try out.  Plus, we've got the final judging for SIGGRAPH's first Research Challenge, in which the selected finalists will present their solutions to the challenge problem announced last fall: "Choose a specific animal, or a specific animal's sense, and develop a system that will enable a person to experience the physical or social world as that animal does."

From a creative arts point of view, we've got two amazing galleries: the computational design gallery, featuring design and architecture work based on generative modeling and fabrication, and the "BioLogic" art gallery, consisting entirely of interactive installations.  Also, there is the new Art Papers program that raises the bar on the academic level of the entire Art programs at SIGGRAPH.

Combining art and technology, we have the Information Aesthetics Showcase that highlights the convergence of graphic design with information visualization; it includes a variety of works, including several multi-modal interactive pieces.  Along with that, we have a Keynote Talk from Steve Duenes, the director of the graphics department for the New York Times, responsible for the publication’s renowned interactive and print visual depictions of the news.

On the animation and effects side of things, the Computer Animation Festival features the Evening Theater with the nightly best-of-the-best of real-time rendering, juried animation competition, and curated best works and developments in the field.  Plus, special segments on Visual Music, 3D stereo, Real-Time, and much more.  And of course, the "Production Sessions," giving the behind-the-scenes looks at the latest blockbuster films.  We're also continuing to host FJORG!, the fun and inspiring 36-hour marathon animation competition.

I could keep going, from the Music perspective (listing performances, courses, panels, ...)  or Games (the "Indiecade", Game Papers, courses, ...) or Education (Educator's plenary, panels, talks, ...), and more.

I'll end by saying that I'm particularly excited by all three Keynote Speakers:  Randy Thom (the multiple Academy Award-winning sound designer) will talk about how sound can be a collaborator in storytelling; Will Wright (the creator of The Sims and Spore) will talk about playing and perception; and as I mentioned, Steve Duenes (the director of the graphics department at the New York Times) will talk about challenges and solutions in presenting the news visually in their interactive and print graphic work.

What will we notice that is different this year?

Quite a few things, I've mentioned some of them already:  The focus on Music and Audio, which includes music performances, talks, courses and panels on interactive music and audio technology, and the Visual Music segment of the Computer Animation Festival.  The Real Time segment of the Computer Animation Festival.  The Information Aesthetics Showcase.

Another important development this year is increased  involvement of the gaming community.  For the past few years, ACM SIGGRAPH has sponsored a separate symposium known as Sandbox, focusing on the theory as well as technology of games.  But it has been clear that the gaming community and broader SIGGRAPH community would benefit from closer integration: So starting this year, the Sandbox is being integrated into the full SIGGRAPH conference.  So SIGGRAPH now includes Game Papers (that continue to be published as the Sandbox Proceedings) and a Sandbox space that this year is hosting an "indie-cade" featuring the best in independent game design.  And there are courses, panels and talks about games.  Plus SIGGRAPH 2009 is holding GameJam!, an overnight, collaborative marathon contest to design the best game on a given theme.

And although I did mention Art Papers in passing, I should explain what those are: This year, SIGGRAPH is launching peer-reviewed scholarly papers about digital and visual art and its relationship to technology and society.  They will be published as a special issue of Leonardo (The Journal of the International Society of the Arts, Sciences and Technology).  That issue also serves as the visual documentation for the works in the BioLogic Art gallery.  This is a step towards raising Art at SIGGRAPH to be on the same level of academic recognition as the Technical Papers have been for years.

Are there any areas that will have more attention this year, such as 3D stereo?

Yes, stereoscopic 3D has boomed this year, with a bunch of movies released--and we do indeed have a day of the Computer Animation Festival dedicated to stereo 3D, with talks, presentations, and screenings on and about 3D work, including Up, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, Monsters vs. Aliens, and more. 

And I've already mentioned Real-Time rendering, and the conference-wide emphasis on Games and on Music & Audio.

What will this SIGGRAPH be known for in years to come?

That's a great question!  Our intent for all the new focuses that we're emphasizing this year--Games, Music & Audio, Real-Time, Information Aesthetics--is that over time they will become part of the mainstream SIGGRAPH content.  Ideally in years to come, they'll be so mainstream that people will have a difficult time remembering when they were first highlighted!

So I expect that for most people, SIGGRAPH 2009 will be remembered for a specific thing they saw or an experience they had.  A great course they took, a groundbreaking technique that they can use.  A colleague they met. We may have a sleeper hit with a huge interactive mechanical plant in the BioLogic Art Gallery, which I think will wow most people.  Some people will have had a fun time exploring the conference through the scavenger hunt we'll be holding.  And I think that each of the three Keynote talks will open up new paradigms and ways of looking at computer graphics. 

And as in the past two times we were in New Orleans, attendees will simply remember fondly how great it was to have SIGGRAPH in New Orleans.

How, in your opinion, has SIGGRAPH evolved this year? How is it different than the past few years in terms of structure, content, materials?

Most people don't know that starting in 2008, SIGGRAPH radically changed how we go about putting on the conference.  Without boring your audience with too much detail, we went from a rigid "silo" approach with a predefined set of programs operating independently, to a more flexible and holistic structure.  In 2008, the result of that was beginning to be evidenced by the new unified submission and jury process, and the new structure of the Computer Animation Festival.  For 2009, it really came to fruition, enabling all the new focuses and programs to be created with crossover cooperation and synergy so that each of those ventures is evidenced across the range of activities that go on in the conference: talks, panels, courses, galleries, and so forth.  The end result is broader and stronger conference content that is easier to navigate by professional interest or area of expertise.  

SIGGRAPH is an amazing experience. Don’t miss it!