21 Jul 2017

SIGGRAPH 2017 preview - moving beyond the flat screen

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One thing you're guaranteed at Siggraph: plenty of interesting eye-candy One thing you're guaranteed at Siggraph: plenty of interesting eye-candy Siggraph


If the content schedule at this year’s SIGGRAPH is anything to go by, it looks like rumours of VR’s death, or at least its entering into a proto-zombie state, are a bit premature.

 Whenever I speak to colleagues about the emergence of consumer VR and AR, I get the overwhelming sense that they just don’t buy in, or they proffer a tepid ‘let’s wait-and-see’. Inevitably, conversation ends with a twice-shy warning that we have been here before, citing the 3D project as the spectre of past technology, the Next Big Thing that consumers failed to embrace.

Sorry to break it to you, but whether you’re onboard or not, VR is happening. Immersive experiences are already making huge contributions to developments in art, analytics, gaming, medicine, science, engineering, robotics, space exploration, communication, tourism and transportation. Ironically, the 3D experiment is providing one of the key drivers for VR’s successful implementation - Stereoscopic 3D/360°.

I’ll concede that some of the reluctance is justified. There are still barriers to overcome before we have a genuinely immersive experience, and again a tech solution will follow from current developments in our traditional flat delivery format (TV/cinema/mobile) where the argument for ‘better’ rather than simply ‘more’ pixels appears to have won the day. When HDR/WCG/HFR (combined with ambisonics) are transposed and extended into the virtual realm, that will mark the tipping point when Stereo VR becomes truly compelling and when immersive storytelling will move us inexorably beyond the flat screen.

A reliable barometer of new technology is the prestigious SIGGRAPH Conference. When a technology shifts interest from peripheral to centre stage, it’s a cue to take a serious look. For those who may not know, SIGGRAPH (Special Interest Group on Computer GRAPHics and Interactive Techniques) is the annual computer graphics (CG) conference convened by the ACM SIGGRAPH organisation. Whether you’re in animation, research, product development, film or fine arts and design, there’s nothing like immersing yourself in this world of cutting-edge computer graphics tech. At SIGGRAPH 2017, you’ll find ‘all the data, techniques, people, and inspiration you need for another successful year of research, development, creativity, and production.’

SIGGRAPH is billed as ‘the year's largest, most comprehensive exhibition of products and services for computer graphics and interactive techniques’; it’s a place where the smartest and most talented folk in the industry meet up to imbibe research papers, share information and showcase the latest techniques. As you’d expect, the industry’s established leaders dominate proceedings, but SIGGRAPH is also pleasingly noted as an event that gives space to emerging challengers. Now in its 44th year, and attracting hundreds of exhibitors from around the world, the conference also hosts the international SIGGRAPH Computer Animation Festival; the leading annual festival for the world's most innovative digital film and video creators.

If, like me, conference session titles like ‘Building Detailed Fractal Sets for “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” and “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Jedha Destruction)” give you a fizzy tingle and immediately transport you to your Happy Place, then take note; SIGGRAPH 2017 Conference and Exhibition opens its doors again at the LA CONVENTION CENTER in July/August, and these are just two of the listings from the Production, Animation & VFX Sessions. Highlighting the latest developments in CG and interactive techniques, the sessions will showcase their implementation and use in the real world of feature film production (and elsewhere).

These Production Sessions give attendees the opportunity to question the world's elite computer graphic experts about the challenges and issues associated with complex productions in CG, VFX and VR and the platform on which they can share their processes and techniques. That alone should recommend it to you, but if you need additional information a quick glance through the conference paper titles and exhibitor list will show that this year’s festival is aiming beyond traditional flat screen delivery to present short films and experiences in a new space, the VR Theatre.

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Matt Aindow

Matt Aindow is a freelance artist and M&E workflow consultant, in an ever-deepening love affair with story telling via the dark art of colour grading. He believes these are jolly exciting times to be involved in the business, but is saddened that we can't deliver on gender equality. Come on! Member of SMPTE, CSI and DCS. The eternal student.

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