Impressions of SIGGRAPH '97

By Faye Yee

What is Siggraph?

Come one, come all to the greatest convention on earth! With a myriad of papers, panels, discussion groups, interest groups, users groups, installations, exhibits, simulations, animations, ride films, movie special effects, T-shirts, pins, posters, raffles for computer systems and dozens of other prizes and freebies, it's easy to see SIGGRAPH as a carnival, fair, and circus all combined together. SIGGRAPH, Special Interest Group on Computer Graphics, is the premier international convention displaying cutting edge technological and creative innovations from the scientific, architectural, media, and commercial community. Here, an individual can see the synergy between the technical and creative artists working together and learning from each other. The convention also serves as the annual gage or measurement stick to see where the technology will be in the future.


This year SIGGRAPH has returned to Los Angeles, the home of the entertainment industry. A fitting environment when one considers the recent dominance of the gaming, ride films and special effects industry in leading the technological advances. Advances which the other areas such as the scientific community has used in developing virtual reality and realistic simulations. This dominance is evidenced on the exhibition floor, in the computer animation festival, and Electronic Theater.


Exhibition Hall and Trade Show

With a kaleidoscope of events and activities to tempt all your senses, even your virtual ones, the best way to tackle the convention is with a set plan in mind. With a layout of the convention center, a schedule of events, a defined list of booths, and a bottle of tylenol, I was ready to go. The exhibition floor was a mini Las Vegas with its whirling, flashing lights, pounding house/techno music, two/three tiered booths, movie screens, and mini ride film capsules all competing for your attention. It was amazing the amount of publicity and marketing that goes into the design of the booths, the literature, sample CDs, the schedule of guest speakers, demonstrations, on-site training, and authors signing free books on programming and computer animation. IBM was giving away cardboard luggage boxes to carry all the goodies; you have decided to collect. One would think it was a contest to see how much can the attendee carry away from the convention center. There must have been many weary necks, arms and shoulders that needed the magical hands of the on-site massage therapists.


On the floor, the clear winner this year was the NT platform. Walking around, one could see the new hardware and software that was developed for the NT user. NT has opened up the market even more for the individual for home use. Another trend was the increased software for Internet capabilities and integrating motion capture data. At the Kinetix booth, they were demonstrating what many have been waiting for: 3D Studio Max Release 2. Kinetix has incorporated a new renderer that was designed by Blur Studios. With a list of over a thousand new features and enhancements, Kinetix has upped the ante for other 3D software packages and has answered the needs and wish lists of all their users.


Visual Proceedings

Outside of the floor, more subtle visual proceedings were happening. Ongoings: the Fine Arts Gallery displayed some beautiful still imagery, intriguing video sculpture installations, and video presentations. The Electric Garden was filled with compelling interactive multimedia projects that enticed viewer participation. Projects included JPL Space Garden: Space Data Visualization, Toco the Toucan: A Synthetic Character Guided by Perception, Emotion, and Story from MIT's Media Lab, D-rhum, Virtual Basketball, and the Nerve Garden. The Computer Animation Festival presented some creative pieces from the scientific and architectural community. One scientific visualization called The DNA Story was elegant in its modeling, color, and movement while informing the audience the reproduction of DNA strands. Another impressive entry was from UC Berkeley in their aerial view of the campus in a seamless integration of CG architecture and live action.


Electronic Theater

One of the highlights of the convention, the Electronic Theater, was held at the Shrine Auditorium. The audience was dazzled by the immense and spectacular efforts by studios and individuals. The work of ILM was prevalent with their entries of Men In Black, Lost World, and the Star Wars Trilogy Special Edition. There was a great showing of work outside the US by France and Japan. Opening this feast for the eyes was the introduction by Sony Pictures Imageworks. From an opening mountainous landscape sequence, we fly inside of a temple to a room filled with monkeys pounding on rows upon rows of computers. These rows of computers seem to energize an illuminated brain that transforms into a liquid chrome dancer. The camera then pulls outs to a gestalt view of the SIGGRAPH '97 symbol filled with various video clips. This amazing eye catching opening was all done using 3D Studio Max. With the new features, enhancements, and increased use of the software by studios and individuals alike, 3D Studio Max Release 2 is definitely going to be a big hit.