SIGGRAPH 2019: It's a Wrap
August 13, 2019

SIGGRAPH 2019: It's a Wrap

SIGGRAPH 2019, held July 28 through August 1 in Los Angeles, is boasting its highest attendance in the last six years, as 18,700 computer graphics professionals attended the 46th annual conference and exhibition.

The theme of this year’s trade show was “thrive,” which was befitting of the end result, not only in terms of attendance, but as a description of the overall CG community and industry today. 

Hot Tech

There were eight technologies that continued to be discussed throughout the conference, whether on the trade show floor or in papers/sessions/talks: AR/VR/MR, real-time ray tracing, real-time production, open source (Universal Scene Description, or USD, in particular, as well as Blender, which is again gaining momentum), machine learning, cloud rendering, Nvidia’s RTX technology, and convergence of all aspects of content creation, from story to final delivery. 

Often it takes a few years at least to get users to adopt a technology. But, it seems like in a matter of a year, the industry has moved forward at breakneck speed on a number of fronts. First, Nvidia’s RTX. At last year’s conference, Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang made a special appearance, presenting the company’s RTX platform, which combines ray tracing, deep learning/AI, and rasterization to transform the content creation process. RTX enables real-time cinematic-quality ray tracing, leading to interactive images that react to lighting, shadows, and reflections. 

This year, Nvidia presented a number of RTX Studio laptops and mobile workstations from partners including Dell, HP, Lenovo, and Boxx. These are not the old pizza-box style machines of years past. Rather, they are as appealing on the outside with their sleek designs as they are powerful in the inside. These are just the latest from Nvidia’s partners. 

RTX is at the core of the real-time revolution. It is also a major driving force in AI/machine learning. And AR-VR, and much more. With Nvidia offering the means for a revolution in content creation, the hardware vendors responded in kind with machines that take advantage of this power. The software vendors are responding as well. With Nvidia’s new Studio Driver, many creative applications used by the content creation crowd are optimized to take advantage of RTX. These include Otoy OctaneRender, Autodesk Arnold, Blender, Maxon Cinema 4D, Adobe Substance Painter, and Magix Vegas Pro, in addition to support for 30-bit color in OpenGL applications such as Adobe Photoshop and Premiere for all GPUs.

Speaking of real-time ray tracing…. Well, it was discussed in many of the hallways and show floor at SIGGRAPH. Using the latest GPU and CPU acceleration APIs, people are upping the ante with photorealistic real-time ray tracing and de-noising. It will definitely be a game-changer

Following on the heels of The Lion King, the topic of real-time production was fresh on everyone’s mind. At the center of this is Epic and Unity, whose real-time engines are powering this evolution in filmmaking. In the Garage section of the show floor, Glassbox Technologies was debuting its DragonFly and BeeHive offerings for virtual production that are used on set and are compatible with Epic, Unity, and Autodesk’s Maya. Of course, software vendors are taking notice of the real-time trend, fine-tuning their products to work within Unreal Engine and Unity 3D like never before.

Although open source is not new, there has been a surge in support for open source lately. Last year, ILM’s Rob Bredow discussed the launch of the Academy Software Foundation, a forum for open-source software developers in the film and broader media industries. Getting special attention is USD, or Pixar’s Universal Scene Description, an efficient system for authoring, reading, and streaming scene description for interchange between graphics applications. With so many studios now sharing shots and assets, it is streamlining the way artists work. 

One open-source software package that has been available for a long time is Blender, a 3D creation suite. However, it is getting renewed interest from the DCC community, as a number of developers are supporting Blender and even contributing to its further development.

On the topic of what’s old is new again, there’s cloud rendering. Sure, it’s been used by those in the industry for a few years now, but it seems as if those at SIGGRAPH 2019 have finally accepted its benefits and are no longer hesitant, afraid of hidden costs and security issues. 

Experience Hall

Having visited SIGGRAPH for more than two decades now, I witnessed an evolution in the Art Galleries, the Emerging Technologies, and such. Yes, I was delighted when VR was added a few years ago. And this year’s Experience Hall was bigger and better than ever.

There were some inventive offerings in the Emerging Technologies. And of course, some beautiful work in the Art Gallery. But, the VR Theater was the hot ticket. More seats were added to the theater this year, along with various VR Theater kiosks and an Immersive Pavilion arcade. Nevertheless, there were far more who wanted access but could not obtain a ticket to the theater or who had to wait too long for entry to a kiosk. Kudos to SIGGRAPH for the mobile app that informed people as their time slot for a kiosk approached, so they didn’t have to stand in line for hours on end. Maybe there will be a better solution for the theater, so more attendees can attend in the future. Perhaps a wide-scale showing on par with the Animation Theater?

The Studio was also a cool place to check out some amazing new technologies. I was especially taken by the dress maker, which used 3D printing on fabric. The materials being printed were fantastic and unique. So while there were far fewer 3D printers showcased on and around the show floor this year, the work here was truly remarkable.

In terms of the show floor, it was very convenient to have the Experience Hall in close proximity to the show floor. I do miss seeing the hordes of people racing through the aisles to get to the Pixar booth for a teapot, just sayin’. And, I expected to see more VR headsets at the show—large installations and such. What I did see was an abundance of motion-capture companies and the various performers utilizing the technology. 


Some vendors used SIGGRAPH to hold massive user group meetings. This included Foundry, with an extensive lineup, as well as Substance, Intel with its Create event, and Epic, with a guest appearance by Jon Favreau, who discussed his virtual filmmaking for The Lion King and The Mandalorian.

Of course, SIGGRAPH would not be SIGGRAPH without some attractions on the show floor. It seems that a few vendors wanted to celebrate the anniversary of the moon landing, and Nvidia did so in style with an attraction whereby anyone could walk on the moon just as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin did (but at SIGGRAPH, this was powered by RTX). Epic also had an amazing re-creation using XR and the HoloLens. 

These are my random thoughts from this year’s conference. Of course, there was so much more than what I highlighted here, but hey, a person only has so much time to see everything. 

What did you find interesting? Let us know!