SIGGRAPH 2011 Review
by Jaclyn Turner http://jaclyntphotography.com
A mere three weeks post SIGGRAPH and my mind is still spinning. Being that this was my fourth time attending the conference, I was not expecting such a whirlwind of emotion.
I have always been very fond of my times spent at one of the largest tech gatherings in the world, but this time, for some reason, left me feeling directionless...depressed, even.
I spent days reflecting upon this.
I tell myself, it’s typical, that it’s normal to be overcritical of oneself in the presence of so much talent. But I still felt clueless.
What happens next? Why is it that when I was surrounded by such a warm, welcome and intelligent gathering of individuals did I find so little inspiration?
It wasn’t the content. or the people. or the city. and it certainly wasn’t the awe-inspiring convention centre.
Then I realize. It was me. It was the glasses through which I was taking it all in.
This SIGGRAPH was my first conference as a self-employed artist.
In the past, I’ve always attended with specific objectives in mind. Looking for tips on modeling, searching for new software, investigating technology my employers could invest in, or seek out others we could outsource to.
This time around I decided to go to as many classes as I could and take in as much information as possible. I found the community, had great conversations, and witnessed amazing technology.
But I was also left with more questions than answers. They told us that the artists and developers should interact and learn from one another. That all artists needed to look at some formulas.
But there was little room for learning. Little room for sharing...
Cory Doctorow’s keynote on the negative impact current copyright laws have on innovation really got me thinking. How much more innovative could our community be if we didn’t coddle “intellectual property”?
If patent laws didn’t lay out the stage for an all out war between tech giants? If information was truly shared? Truly built upon?
It’s very inspiring to sit in a class and hear from brilliant minds at big firms talk about the mechanisms they’ve developed to counter some of the problems I face as an artist. But that inspiration is crushed when the reality sinks in that these techniques are not available to just anyone.
So what is an artist to do? I suppose I should go back home and do my best to remember what they taught and try to engineer my own solutions. But that would be doubling up on work that has already been done.
How many hours or years of my life could I spend figuring out solutions that already exist but that are fiercely protected by the companies that “own” them? And I’m only one artist.
There are thousands of us out there. Thousands of us relearning. redoing. repeating. If we all worked together, collective, in an open-source way, how much faster would we be able to grow?
How much more innovation could our industry see? How much more art could the world be exposed to? How much more dialogue could exist? How many more solutions would be solved in a matter of days instead of years?
Our fear of copyright has become so absurd that one workshop presenter felt a need to photograph her aging mother next to every painting she included in her presentation as to protect herself against a potential case of copyright infringement.
This not only shows a deep misunderstanding of copyright laws (education falls under ‘fair-use’ in most copyright laws) but also shows us the extreme lengths to which our fear leads us.
I’m a sensible person. I understand the need to protect new ideas. But the rising tide of ‘patent trolls’ has forced major companies to spend millions of dollars to purchase patents they may never have a desire to engage with.
And as is the case in the medical industry, an individual patent often covers such a wide range of ideas that if your idea slightly touches on one of said hundreds of small ideas, it’s off limits.
Absurdity trumps innovation.
Perhaps it’s time for our industry to take a lesson from Academia, where a growing number of Colleges and Universities are bucking the trend and choosing Open Access research and publishing.
Just last month, the University of Kansas created a coalition of 21 institutions of higher learning in North America that are all engaging in the philosophy that sharing is caring.
SUNDAY - DAY ONE
I arrive in the city mid-morning and head straight to the convention centre. This was easy, as all roads in the city seem to lead here. Registration takes no time at all, and I am off to explore.
I mostly scope the place out, browse the book fair and seek out the locations of the next days classes. But i don't spend too much time here as the sun is calling, and there is much sushi to be had in this city.
MONDAY - DAY TWO
After the keynote, i quickly grab a bite and a coffee. The first class on my agenda is called 'Storytelling with Colour'. I am a big fan of stories, and colour, and also Dreamworks, which is who the presenters (Kathy Altieri and Dave Walvoord) work for.
And this class was definitely all I hoped it would be...and so much more. It wasn't really anything I haven't heard before, but it was the way it was presented. Very entertaining. Lots of video clips showing how films use colour, starting with live-action examples, then moving into animation, and how we, as animators, have the power to be even more expressive in our lighting and are able to use it to control how a scene is viewed. Something else that really struck me was when they talked about we should draw our inspiration more from the classical painters, such as Vermeer, than from a photograph, as photographs tend to be more flat. The rest of the time was spent analyzing the colours of Kung Fu Panda 2. In this film, they were actually so bold as to assign a colour to each character. Risky move, but of course, they pulled it off flawlessly.
Soon after the class, I eagerly make my way to my most favourite part of SIGGRAPH - the Electronic Theatre. I love the sight of everyone making a mad dash to find a good seat, the collective energy and anticipation, excitedly waiting to see the best of the best of our industry. The intro animation, 'The ABC's of Animation' ended up being one of my favourites. And I will undoubtedly be bookmarking this one to show to all future clients. You should too.
Other highlights of the show, 'Paths of Hate', 'The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore', and of course, the premiere of Pixar's latest short 'La Luna'.
Afterward, just because I could, because I had a pass this year, I went to check out the reception. But I was not prepared for what I saw.....table after table of amazing desserts, fondue, cakes, ice cream, cheese, wine.
So I promptly took one of everything, got a glass of red, and sat down to watch the sunset.I sat there as long as I could to take in the quiet before finally deciding to go check out the Chapters party...
The party needs no description. It was a typical bouncing party in true SIGGRAPH style...with me being one of the few females. I lasted two songs before calling it a night.
TUESDAY - DAY THREE
The plan was to make it to the session on 'The making of La Luna', but after seeing @siggraph's tweets of the mile long line 20 minutes beforehand, i decide to just give in to my excitement over the exhibit floor.
I always need a good hour or two the first time on the floor to thoroughly walk through and just take it all in. I debated on standing in the ridiculous line for the Pixar teapot...but I thought my time might be better spent exploring in The Studio for a bit before my afternoon class. The Studio was mostly a variety of 3d printers, so I took advantage, modeled something up, and submitted my design (which sadly fell apart in the end).
After lunch, I make sure and get to my class early...as this is the one I was most excited about. The class, 'Modeling 3D Urban Spaces using Procedural and Simulation-based Techniques', had several speakers and went all afternoon. The first few speakers sounded very similar to me, a lot of formulas, a lot of examples, a lot of brilliant ways of city modeling. It was informative and engaging, though it did leave me feeling a bit confused as to how this is helping me. I just felt I needed something more tangible, something I can use right away to start improving. So I was excited when Pascal of 'City Engine' started talking. This looks like something I can (and will) use. It's basically a software that focuses on quickly producing large scale models of cities and buildings, which can be done in various levels of detail so your model can always be as efficient as possible. There is a 30 day trial version that I can't wait to try. The last speaker of the day was Michael Frederickson, TD of Pixar's latest, Cars 2. He shared that they used City Engine extensively in the modeling of the London scenes in the film, using three models with three different levels of detail. They would merge these versions together making sure the most detail was only shown where absolutely necessary, thus minimizing render time.
WEDNESDAY - DAY FOUR
Today started out with a good solid session by Bruce Block called, 'Cinematography: the visuals and the story'. The hour and a half flew by, I wished it had gone on and on. I felt like I was in a room with Woody Allen. It was so witty and amusing, yet still informative as he would go from clip to clip discussing deep vs. flat space, contrast, color, and tone in film.
I had a couple of hours to kill before one last class, so I finally went to fully explore Emerging Technologies and the Art Gallery. E-tech was entertaining, as always but I did find it a bit lackluster this year. A lot of innovative ideas, but not many that seemed to have real actual use in life...particularly the 'Mommy Tummy', which supposedly replicates how it feels to be pregnant for 9 months all in under 3 minutes, with the help of a strap on 'belly'. I've never been pregnant so I can't say, but I didn't really buy it...
The one that really stood out to me was 'PocoPoco' a device that creates music at the push of a button. The guys at the booth put on a very impressive show.
I always completely lose all sense of time in E-tech, so before I knew it, it was nearly time for class. The fact that it was my last class of SIGGRAPH had me feeling sad, and I wanted to make the most of it by really focusing. The class was 'Applying Color Theory to Digital Media and Visualization Research'. Unfortunately, it was a bit of a letdown....very basic colour 'theory' which was really just...the colour wheel. I'm sure it was helpful to some, but with my art / architecture background, i found it bland. This is the presenter that kept including photos of her mother, and not only that, but she also talked about her mother a lot. So I exhausted my twitter feed, instagram, facebook, while listening with one ear. She did mention one thing though, a link to an online colour scheme designer, that could prove to be of good use.
But I did manage to stay for the whole class, though afterwards, I was starting to feel major SIGGRAPH fatigue. I powered through and opted to spend some more time on the exhibits floor. I just wanted to 'check' how long the line was for a teapot....but just as I imagined, it was absurdly long. The line for a free beer, however, was not too long, so i chose that line instead. Taking in the scene with a beer in hand was just what I needed to gather my energy for the evening.
The event I had been waiting for all week - the CGarchitect party. Also the most important for me, networking wise. I finally felt really in my element, and found it easy to talk with pretty much everyone there. And I realized what a small world we are when i discovered that I was chatting with someone who went to my university, and I had actually met many years before. The connections made at the party were more than just that, they were real friendships forming. I felt very honoured to be a part of this 10 year anniversary celebration of a company that had taught me so much. If I go to SIGGRAPH for nothing else, it is this. This community.
THURSDAY - DAY FIVE
The last day. Always bittersweet. Always sad for it to end. Always filled with fires of inspiration that have been lit during the week.
My classes were over. I had seen it all. I had been up into the wee hours of the night....But I had to go back for more. I had not yet reached my fill of the exhibits floor.
So I went and slowly soaked up the last of SIGGRAPH. I slowly lingered around all my favourite booths, Pixar, Autodesk, V-Ray. I had recently decided I need to learn Houdini, so I talked to the people at that booth for awhile, where I learned there is actually a free version of the software online. I also spent some time at the Shapeways booth which was by far the most impressive 3d printing I have seen. Will definitely consider using them if the need ever comes up. I then headed over to the Google booth, which can always be counted on for a good time. They were doing a scavenger hunt via mobile phone. Of course I did it, and got a pretty cool google t-shirt out of the deal, so I was satisfied.
And in the end, even though, I was left with a lot of uncertainty of where to go next, it continues to change me for the better.
I will continue to attend Siggraph. I will continue to challenge the models in which we operate. I wish to embrace our collective strength. We’re 20,000 strong every year. Now just imagine what we could accomplish together.
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