SIGGRAPH 2020 is not exactly over yet, as the on-demand presentations will be available until the last week of October. However, I thought it would be a good idea to write a wrap up article where I can share some final thoughts on the event.
The most obvious thing to say is that SIGGRAPH 2020 was very different to the previous ones I’ve attended, because it was completely from home, and that took away pretty much all of the social aspects of the event. Usually you can meet a lot of people in various ways, be it presentations, talks, or even when you’re standing in line to get something to drink, and that was not the case this time.
On the other hand, I think things like exhibitor presentations, talks, panels, etc., worked just fine in this format, since they are mostly a one-way exchange. While some presentations are usually aimed at high-end studios, this time I found that some talks were things that mid-level players could also take advantage of, specially the talks related to VR and AR. As I said in a previous article, not everyone will be able to reproduce an AI-driven rotoscoping tool to clean up stop-motion footage, but anyone can get their foot into AR following the AR courses and presentations. Keep in mind this is my first SIGGRAPH in 10 years, so I don’t know how gradual this change has been, but I certainly welcome this change.
I think part of this change is due to the development of new, easy to use, and affordable tools. A few years ago, not everyone could afford to get into game development, for example. Now, a lot of game engines are free, allowing you not only to make games and interactive apps, but also VR and AR apps if you have a decent computer and the skill to do it (or time to learn those skills).
Another thing I liked about this SIGGRAPH is how it offered me a new perspective on things. While I have been somewhat interested on VR and AR, I have never been really interested enough to get into it, but now, some of the presentations made me think of alternative applications of VR and AR, and have inspired me to take some time to learn more about VR and AR.
However, I do think the virtual format limits some aspects of the event. Above I mentioned how the social aspect is taken away. I think the same goes for the exhibition, as you can’t just walk to a booth and start talking to people (I am aware there’s a way to schedule meetings with exhibitors, but it’s not the same as face-to-face interaction).
Interaction in general is very affected by this format, to be honest. SIGGRAPH stands for “Special Interest Group on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques” but, in a virtual event, you can’t really interact with things (for example, art gallery pieces or hardware equipment). Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying a virtual SIGGRAPH is a bad thing. It’s definitely a good thing because it makes the event available to people that wouldn’t be able to attend otherwise due to traveling, housing and food costs.
Having said this, I certainly hope next year we have a virtual SIGGRAPH again, even if there’s a physical event, so more people can attend and get involved in computer graphics. Digital content creation and game development tools have become widely available, very affordable, or even free, so it is only fair that one of the biggest events in computer graphics evolves and becomes available to everybody, not only those who can afford to travel.