SIGGRAPH 2017 Exhibit Floor

And finally, a few words about the exhibit floor of SIGGRAPH 2017. After all, it is primarily what my exhibits-only pass is intended for. My first stop was a quick glance over the paper posters. It is interesting to see where researchers are focused today. Some of them are solving problems I didn’t even know were problems.

There were the mega-booths expected of a tech trade show, by the usual suspects. Intel, AMD, and NVIDIA were all present to proclaim each of them are the best for graphics. This year AMD has a pretty compelling story with their Ryzen CPUs and Vega GPUs and I wish the best for the underdog.

There were also many large booths offering VR experiences. Not the small consumer grade VR experiences like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive with two or three tracking devices. These are huge setups with tens of cameras offering freedom of movement over hundreds of square feet. I was impressed at all the technology and investment going into VR until I got a little smarter: They are actually motion capture companies that have configured their demonstration booths to show VR experiences because that’s what’s hot this year for getting people’s attention. Most of their revenue come from doing things other than virtual reality.

For trade show exhibits that are presumably trying to attract customers, some of these vendors are surprisingly cagey about the technology. Things that I thought were innocent beginner’s questions were met with “I’m sorry we can’t discuss that.” The friendliest representative I encountered was at the Motion Analysis booth.


He explained the booth – which had a line of people waiting to try the zombie apocalypse shooter VR experience on display – is a cooperation between his motion-capture company and one of their customers who operates VR arcades with the zombie shooter experience. The motion tracker system’s control computer was nearby and he walked me through the basics of how these systems track motion by correlating  the imagery across their many cameras. I learned that the price tag for a system like that used by the zombie VR arcade have six to seven digits after the dollar sign, which means I’m definitely not getting one in my home anytime soon.

I did not expect to see 3D printer companies on the exhibit floor. Makerbot, Formlabs, and several other names I didn’t know were present. I enjoyed getting a close look at all the finely detailed prints they can produce, I did not enjoy their associated price tags.

That is to be expected. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about computer equipment, VR systems, motion capture, or 3D printer. This is an industry trade show displaying professional-level equipment that can stand up to commercial use. Not the hobbyist-level equipment that I’m more familiar with.

It was fun to see them up close and personal on the SIGGRAPH exhibit floor.

SIGGRAPH 2017 Exhibitor Sessions

An exhibits-only pass holder like myself is barred from most of the interesting presentations and talks. However, we are thrown a bone in the form of the SIGGRAPH Exhibitor Sessions. I had expected these to be glorified sales pitches for the companies that exhibit at the convention, but they exceeded my expectations and turned out to be informative, educational, entertaining, and often combinations thereof.

OpenSubdivPixar had a few sessions centering around their open-source efforts. I realized I might have been out of my depth when the OpenSubdiv talk dove straight into adoption success and future road map of the product. They didn’t bother explaining what it was to ignorant people like myself – I guess if I didn’t know, I didn’t belong at that session.

Several software vendors offered sessions for their customers to talk about their work. Such sessions accomplish multiple objectives at once: The software product is seen in action as a production tool, the customer of the product advertise their service, and we learn a little of the nuts-and-bolts behind the scenes. I attended one such talk that broke down some of the work behind the animated household items of Beauty and the Beast (2017), and a different session (by a different vendor) talked about Rocket and Baby Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.

Much of the technical details went over my head. I wish I was a little more conversant on these topics, but I did catch a few things here and there and jotted down a few items to look up when I got home. One example was the Alembic interchange format used by these effects houses to collaborate on a film. Since each shop has different software tools and different ways of working with them, an open data interchange format like Alembic is essential for the ecosystem to function.

SIGGRAPH 2017 Computer Animation Festival

“LOU” by Pixar Animation Studios

A highlight for many SIGGRAPH attendees is the computer animation festival. I was very happy to discover tickets for the show is a separate purchase from the very expensive conference ticket, which I can’t justify buying. As far as movie tickets go, $40 is pretty darn pricey. But it is SIGGRAPH, it is special, so out comes the credit card.

One disappointment of the festival is the VR theater. All advertising for the computer animation festival talked about the VR theater. Virtual reality is a new media and many filmmakers are exploring ways to tell a visual story with it. With all the promotion of the VR theater – including a pitch by a speaker at the screen event itself – it was a rude surprise to discover the VR theater was only open to conference attendees. My animation festival ticket did not permit entry.

This felt like bait-and-switch and left quite the bitter taste in my mouth.

But back to happier things, the non-VR animation shorts that made an impression on me. About half of them are short films that tell their own little story. There were several visual effect break-down reels of recent films, showing how the various effect shots were made. I enjoyed seeing the before/after footage cutting in between.

The Jury’s Choice short, Buster the Boxer, is unique by presenting both: the short film (which is also an advertisement) followed by a VFX breakdown of what we just watched. I loved seeing both back to back.

A few clips were just compilations of completed shots – effectively bits of the film with no breakdown information. I found those uninformative and just disappointing.

I was fond of the short Scrambled for two reasons: (1) non photo-realistic shading resembling hand drawn animation, and (2) animation for the Rubik’s Cube character. The animators managed to convey emotion and personality purely by arranging the 26 little cubes that make up a Rubik’s Cube.

Analogue Loaders offered an unexpected perspective: it re-imagines many various “please wait” animations we see on computers. Turning them into physical world (“analogue”) representations, and of course it is itself a computer animation done in the digital world. A little bit of animation Inception.

The Best in Show short, Song of a Toad, has been filed away in the “I don’t get it” section.

The festival, which can trace its roots to the Luxo Jr. short by an infant Pixar, wrapped up with the latest Pixar short: LOU. It lived up to the legacy and expectations of a Pixar production, and was a very entertaining way to wrap up the evening.

SIGGRAPH 2017 Los Angeles


I had been fascinated by computer graphics for almost as long as I’ve been interested in computers. My earliest memory of computer graphics was at the California Museum of Science and Industry, predecessor to the current day California Science Center. In association with the 1986 World’s Fair (Expo ’86) in Vancouver, British Columbia, the museum held an exhibit on computer graphics. Part of the exhibit was a computer lab where museum attendees can watch an artist work on a computer. Next to the lab was a TV screen running a video loop.

My attention was captured by the video loop. It included the landmark animation short Luxo Jr. There were many other technical displays of computer graphics in the video loop, but the little hopping lamp is the one that made me sit on the bench and wait for the loop to repeat.

Since this was before the age of Google and Wikipedia, it took me some time to learn that Luxo. Jr. was first presented at a computer graphics industry conference. At the time it was officially just a demonstration of the algorithm described in a paper presented at SIGGRAPH 1986. But history showed it was far more than a simple demo.

Once I knew about SIGGRAPH I knew it would be interesting. However, the conference is not cheap, even before considering the airfare and hotels. Most of the attendees are there for business: they work in a career where their employer would foot the bill. I did not work at such a job so SIGGRAPH remained out of reach.

Until this year.

SIGGRAPH 2017 is in the Los Angeles Convention Center, roughly a 40 minute commute away. Since I didn’t have to invest in airfare or hotel expenses, it made sense to get a taste with a cheap exhibits-only pass.