SIGGRPAH 2017 Wrap-up
Issue: Volume 40 Issue 5: (Sep/Oct 2017)

SIGGRPAH 2017 Wrap-up

Another exciting SIGGRAPH is in the books! This year, the 44th International Conference and Exhibition on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques, also known as SIGGRAPH, was held July 30 through August 3, 2017, at the Los Angeles Convention Center, with more than 16,500 attendees roaming the conference halls, venues, and trade show floor.

There was definitely excitement in the air, fueled with buzz of the latest technologies that have begun to take hold within the industry. In particular, real-time technology and techniques are fueling new methods of interactive storytelling. And this was generating a lot of excitement. Virtual reality is taking off in ways that far exceeded expectation, while augmented reality and mixed reality are gaining fast traction. Additionally, deep learning is providing windows into areas previously closed to us, thanks to the computational power provided by the GPU vendors.

In the not-so-distant past, the show floor and additional areas around the convention center were heavily populated by 3D printing companies and service providers. This year, they still had a presence, albeit a small one on the trade show floor as well as in the Experience Hall for hands-on learning. Speaking of hands-on experience, there was a very unique special guest this year – a definite first for SIGGRAPH. A three-year-old, 12-foot-tall, real-life giraffe named Tiny was brought into the conference center area, and attendees lined up to participate in an animal drawing workshop featuring this true-to-life model!

Also in the Experience Hall, Epson printers and other tools of the trade were available for artists to try out in various workshops.

Once again, the conference hall saw its share of motion-capture vendors – some mainstays like Vicon and OptiTrack, and newcomers such as REALIS. And with little wonder, as motion capture and facial capture continue to evolve and find their way into innovative and cutting-edge projects (see “Moving Forward,” page 19). OptiTrack, in fact, is focusing efforts on the burgeoning genre of “warehouse-level” virtual reality, where demand for high-end VR experiences requiring large-scale mocap is on the rise.

Both Nvidia and AMD are breaking down barriers in the GPU realm, offering solutions that give users untold capabilities. For instance, Nvidia demonstrated supercharged rendering with OptiX 5.0’s new AI-accelerated denoising running on an Nvidia DGX Station, delivering the rendering performance of 150 servers. AMD, meanwhile, reinvigorated the high-end PC market with new Ryzen Threadripper CPUs and Vega GPUs. The company elicited oohs and ahs at its Capsaicin event with the Radeon Pro SSG card sporting 2tb of onboard memory. AMD also showed how its Radeon Pro WX 9100 enables real-time visualization with hyper-realistic rendering techniques, delivering up to 12.3 tflops of peak single-precision computing.

Nvidia also brought its technology unveiled at the GPU conference this past spring, including: Isaac and Project Holodeck. Isaac is an AI-enabled robot trained using a simulation environment. Project Holodeck is a collaborative and physically accurate VR environment that enables humans to be part of a simulation and interact with a robot in a VR environment. At Nvidia’s booth on the show floor, I was given the chance to play dominoes with Isaac in the real world. But, using a VR headset, I was able to enter a simulation via Project Holodeck, where our small, sparse area was turned into a large, playfully decorated space. The robot had been taught the rules of dominoes via deep learning and computer vision; as a result, it was able to sense and respond to my presence, understand the state of the gameplay, and could determine which tile to select and whether or not I made a legal game move. Who won? Well, we will keep that between Isaac and me. But the bot did give me a finger wag when I made an illegal move.

Indeed, AR and VR was everywhere this year. Hardware vendors such as Boxx, MSI, HP, and Dell touted VR-enabled computers. In fact, HP unveiled a professional VR backpack wearable computer: the new HP Z VR Backpack. The HP Z VR Backpack gives users the freedom to move and maintain total immersion with high-level visual performance, whether for military applications, VR experiences, medical training, architecture development, product development, or similar uses. What’s more, its docking capabilities transform it into a desktop PC solution. 

Dell, on the other hand, celebrated its 20th anniversary in the Precision workstation space with a special anniversary edition of its Precision 5520 mobile workstations. But what really caught my eye was the Dell Canvas, a new workspace device featuring a 27-inch QHD touch screen that sits horizontally on a desk; a digital pen offers precise tactile accuracy, and the totem offers diverse menu and short-cut interaction. 

The VR Village was greatly expanded this year and was a very busy area at the show. According to the chair, there were 149 submissions (whittled down to 114), from which 18 were accepted, and five were curated for the exhibit. But the real hit was the VR Theater, a new addition where those lucky enough to snag a ticket (they were free but given out early in the morning for the next day – and disappeared in a blink of an eye) were able to view nearly 50 minutes of compelling VR storytelling. For those who think VR entertainment means games, a trip to the VR Theater would show the leaps and bounds filmmakers are making when it comes to storytelling via the medium.

One highlight in the VR Village was Meet Mike in VR, which used the latest techniques in advanced facial motion capture to drive complex facial rigs for detailed interaction in VR. This allows participants to meet, talk in VR, and experience new levels of photorealistic interaction. The installation uses new advances in real-time rigs, skin shaders, facial capture, deep learning, and real-time rendering in Epic’s Unreal Engine 4. Here we witnessed VFX reporter Mike Seymour, as part of his PhD project with The University of Sydney, live in a glass enclosure and his avatar on screen as he interviewed leading industry figures in VR in real time and in stereo. The real Mike drove the amazingly detailed avatar of the digital Mike, providing a look into the future of photorealistic, character-driven real-time production. 

Outside of the Village – in fact, front and center in the lobby – was a VR Graffiti Wall powered by the spray-painting game “Ghost Paint. And, some ambitious volunteers participated in the VR Film Jam, which transformed two linear animated short films into virtual-reality experiences. 

As always, the Computer Animation Festival featured phenomenal projects and informative Production Sessions highlighting some of the year’s amazing work. The Real-Time presentations showed how game engines are transforming the storytelling process and blurring the line between production and postproduction.  

Not surprising, there was a particular interest in game engines, especially those from Epic and Unity. That said, I was surprised that headset vendors were not out in full force, given the number of VR content creators in attendance. 

As always, the Emerging Technologies featured some unique and often mind-blowing examples of technology that is more art and science than traditional in nature. The Art Gallery, once a large attraction, seemed to get lost amid the Emerging Technology and VR Village installations. One new addition was the Production Gallery, featuring various artwork, props, costumes, and more from recent films and games. A great addition!

Of course, this summary is just touching the tip of the iceberg that is SIGGRAPH. Mark your calendars for next year, as the conference heads north to Vancouver August 12 through 16.