This year's Siggraph 2016 conference was my 10th. I've come a long way from the fellow who filled every possible second of his schedule with classes, panels, presentations and meetings. I've discovered that you have to leave time for the unexpected meeting or event. And you need time to relax and process what you have experienced.
Siggraph 2016 in Anaheim was a very satisfying and inspiring conference for me personally. This year, I decided to break with some of my conference habits and try new things. The reason for this is that the conference is so large (14,000 people this year) and deep (1,700 speakers and contributors) that you could go through the conference three times and never repeat yourself.
What follows are some highlights of my Siggraph 2016 conference experience. By the way, one of the great benefits of going to an event like this is that the experience helps clear your mind and break old thinking habits. If you make yourself open to discovery, you can come away from Siggraph deeply inspired and excited.
AMD Capsacin Event
I thought I new AMD, but after this wonderful presentation on Monday night it was like a complete awakening for me. Although NVIDIA often gets the limelight, the people at AMD are doing some wonderful things like building up a culture that values pushing boundaries. I also like the fact that AMD is pushing to support the Open Source movement with their research. Plus, AMD has been making a huge effort to reach out to companies like Unity and The Foundry to enhance their applications with advanced GPU technology.
One of my first meetings on Tuesday was with the incredible CEO and founder/creator of Allegorithmic (Substance Designer/Painter), Sebastien Deguy. He showed me some of the very first renders of Substance application back over a decade ago. This led to a conversation about keeping creative while becoming successful. Sebastien's journey from being a lone inventor to running a company that is growing by leaps and bounds is a personal one and I was so honored that he would share it with me. This kind of personal understanding of a company's core ideas is much more valuable than all of the press releases in the world.
Emergence @ the Siggraph Art Gallery
The art gallery at Siggraph is one of my favorite places to visit. It's certainly one of the quietest places which is a big relief at times. But more importantly it's a real pleasure to see how technology enables artists to simply create remarkable things instead of the ubiquitous push for profit. The theme this year was "Data and how it/we interact with it". The stand out piece demonstrating this idea was Emergence by Chris Bennewith, Liam Birtles, Oliver Brown, Gaz Bushell, and Anthony Rowe, Squidsoup.
from the CG Society Youtube channel
Production Session: The Making of "Pearl", a Google Spotlight Story
The very first event I attended on Sunday was this production session with key members of the team that created the vr short film, "Pearl". It was intensely interesting because the director, Patrick Osborne, and his staff faced basic decisions about how to create a story in a virtual world. Even things like "where do I cut?" had to be addressed because as Patrick put it, "there is no history of production in vr". That this incredible film could have been make in a little over a year when faced with having to answer essential film questions AND completing production is astounding. It's also impressive that Google would sponsor and encourage such ground-breaking work.
VR Village and Emerging Technologies
On Thursday, the last day of Siggraph, I spent several hours diving deep into Virtual Reality. I wanted to try every single demo available in the VR Village, but soon discovered that some sections were mobbed and the line was much too long for me. But, surprisingly, I also realized that my eyes/brain could only take so much of helmets and goggles and low resolution viewing. There were some excellent demos, but I found that I was more interested in the obstacles facing wide-spread adoption of vr in science and the arts. This led me to a wonderful booth run by several Berkeley Students titled, "Computational Focus-Tunable Near-Eye Displays".
While participating in their tests/survey for eye-focus in vr displays, I got a fast education in human eye problems while using vr. I had no idea that the focus issue would be such an important obstacle to an easier (and less upsetting) virtual reality experience.
Final Thoughts and Observations on Siggraph 2016
The goal of any conference or convention is to excite and inspire it's visitors. Siggraph has never failed to accomplish this with me. Every single time I'm thrilled to attend and come away with new ideas and renewed energy to explore aspects of computer graphics that I was unaware of.
This year's Siggraph was no different. In fact, for me personally it was one of my favorite conferences. I met so many people and attending so many interesting events; all in an atmosphere of fun and convenience. The event was beautifully laid out at the Anaheim Convention Center and the scheduling was great. I especially liked the drawing boards put up on the first floor for artists (or anyone) to express themselves about Siggraph by drawing things.
Finally, VR was the main thread of talks and discussions I listened to and overheard at Siggraph 2016. Booth after booth covered this supernova topic in some fashion or other. What really impressed me though was the slow realization that the developments of virtual reality are not confined to simply the entertainment industry, but there is development happening in architecture, medical, psychological treatment and in industry.
At Siggraph 2016, I only scratched the surface of what was being presented and talked about regarding virtual reality. Siggraph 2017 in Vancouver should be an opportunity for me to learn and discover more. And that's why I attend every year: there is nothing like this conference in the whole world to bring you alive to the possibilities of technology in computer graphics!