The 32nd SIGGRAPH 2005 International Conference on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques, was held July 31 to August 4 in Los Angeles this year.

This annual conference, attended by nearly 30,000 registrants, is the preeminent graphics-related conference that attracts artists, game designers, scientists, and film and video professionals from around the world.

Over 230 companies filled the Los Angeles conference center's vast exhibition hall. This was the place to see the latest in computer-based media hardware and software. It is a place where participants can spend hours exploring the newest technology.

This year's keynote address was by Star Wars creator George Lucas. His presentation was titled "A Keynote Q&A with the Father of Digital Cinema."

SIGGRAPH 2005 also featured workshops, panels, and other sessions of interest to developers and designers. New this year was the Incubator that provided a showcase for interactive educational software used today and new products that will be available tomorrow.

There were also the expected venues including the Art Gallery, the Best of the Show Awards, the Computer Animation Festival and a Cyber Fashion Show.

These are my personal observations of SIGGRAPH in general, as a place all designers should try to attend at least once in their professional careers.

So why would you want to attend SIGGRAPH? You would find many reasons of your own, but here are mine.

Reason 1 - Experience cutting-edge graphics software and hardware.

SIGGRAPH 2005 Conference Logo

X-Wing Fighter
Attendees of SIGGRAPH 2005 were greeted by a full-scale model of an X-Wing fighter.

SIGGRAPH is one of the largest venues in the world for vendors and exhibitors to showcase computer hardware and software. All of the big players in the computer graphics industry, including, Alias, Autodesk, Apple, Intel, SGI, Nvidia, ATI, Adobe, Pixar, ILM, Disney, and hundreds of other graphics-related companies do their best to demonstrate and sell products, and in some cases recruit talent.
This year's exhibition hall was vast. I spent a considerable number of hours each day perusing the floor, exploring all kinds of computing machinery, including some motion capture (mocap) systems that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, with the ability to track numerous people in the capture space in real time. I saw this in action and it was impressive, though admittedly beyond my personal budget.

The mocap vendors mostly hire dancers to don tight-fitting lycra suits and prance around while a series of monitors show you what movement data the computer sees while the dancers move. The cost of these systems is still too steep for home use, but there are now mocap systems for less than $10,000 that can track a single person with a high degree of accuracy. This might make for some very interesting mainstream computer games in a few years

SIGGRAPH Conference

View from the exhibition hall floor.

Storm Trooper at SIGGRAPH

ILM's Stormtroopers needed no force to keep rebel attendees in the exhibit hall.

There were 3D displays of all kinds, some of which could project 3D images into space without the viewer needing any kind of special glasses. There were lots of gadgets and software, and many other graphic geeky things too numerous to mention.
Apple, Alias, Nvidia, and Autodesk had some of the largest home-sized exhibit structures on the floor, complete with multiple monitors, projectors, and surround sound.

The Apple exhibit offered free classes all day, every day for Final Cut Pro, Motion, Shake, Logic, and Garage Band. They had about 20 tricked-out G5 workstations in their staging area where you could sign up for a class and have the expert walk you through a canned project.

Alias, Autodesk, Adobe, and Side Effects Software, among others, had similar setups where film professionals who worked on the latest Tim Burton movie, or the Spiderman movie, or the Lord of The Rings movies gave away many precious production secrets.

All of the large-caliber vendors gave away free things if you attended their dog and pony show. They mostly gave away DVDs, CDs, T-shirts, mugs, flashing light things, and lots of paper-based literature and software. Other vendors had raffles for PDAs, high-end computer systems, and there was even a custom made motorcycle up for grabs.

I'm leaving out a lot, but overall, the exhibit floor reminded me of a kind of techno carnival where there was digital cotton candy everywhere.

Reason 2 - Network with People

What really makes SIGGRAPH a great conference is not the computers or the glitzy exhibit hall, but the people who attend it. Another way to put it might be that the people who attend SIGGRAPH are the cake, and the technology and exhibits are the frosting. No matter the metaphor, I saw name badges with titles as esoteric as "Digital Proctologist" and "Binary Befuddler." I also saw a lot of badges from Sony Image Works, ILM, Pixar, Disney, Rhythm & Hues, Digital Domain, WETA, and lots of others. I had opportunities to meet with some of these people, some of whom work for companies that produce well known movies and animated features, and found everyone I spoke with surprisingly open and friendly. I asked a number of people I spoke with about how they got the jobs they have and what is was like to work for company X. Mostly it seemed that those people had their jobs because they were talented and hard-working.

SIGGRAPH Conference Job Board

One of several job boards I ran into while exploring SIGGRAPH 2005.

As I walked past some of the job boards I gained some insight as to the breadth and depth of knowledge some people in the computer graphics industry have. It's kind of Darwinian, with every artist and engineer trying to find a niche in the web of opportunities posted on the walls. Some resumes were printed on plain white paper while others were prismatic, or jazzed up with white light holograms.

Most of the well-known digital production companies have talent scouts who attend SIGGRAPH, and there is an official time and day when all artists, programmers, designers, etc. get together for resume and demos exchange.

Reason 3 - The Guerilla Studio

The Guerilla Studio is a computer graphics laboratory for explorations in fine art, animation, science, and other CG disciplines. It features high-end computer workstations, a multitude of software, and numerous print technologies.

The best aspect of the Guerilla Studio is that everything is free. For example, there are 3D printers you can send print jobs to that can create a plastic 3D model from an OBJ file, and they have large format color printers than can print 8.5 x 11 2D images in feet, not inches. The Guerilla studio also has mocap and other 3D scanning hardware for use free of charge. The lab had 40 or so state-of-the-art computer workstations, Macintosh and Windows, with installations of every graphics software package available. Lab staff people were available to answer questions about the software, and they seemed to know their stuff. The lab also had nearly a hundred DVD-based tutorials that explain everything from how to add 3D stubble to a Maya model, to rigging a quadruped in Softimage. These DVDs could not be taken out of the lab, but they were from a commercial publisher who charges anywhere from $50 to $150 per disc.

Reason 4 - The Interactive Digital Art Gallery

The interactive digital art exhibits are something I never forego when I attend SIGGRAPH, and this year I was certainly not disappointed. I saw very innovative ideas that included a virtual kayak and virtual hang glider. The virtual kayak had wires on the paddles that made me feel resistance from projected water as I sat in a real kayak. As I paddled I felt the water physically, and tried to avoid hitting the rocks I saw on projected images around me in the virtual environment I was navigating within. It was a lot of fun. Equally interesting was the virtual hang glider where I donned a head mounted display as I hung suspended in a hanglider harness, flying over the rocky mountains.

Another noteworthy exhibit was a wall of fog where holographic-like images were projected. Imaging software and hardware could detect my presence in the area, and where I was positioned, so the fog apparitions seemed to react to me. The best part was that the fog was in the middle of the room so you could walk around it.

For the sake of article space I won't go into any of the other amazing interactive art exhibits, but suffice it to say that there was something there for everyone.

I've given four reasons why you should consider attending SIGGRAPH. Hopefully, you will find reasons of your own when you attend SIGGRAPH 2006 in Boston.

Resources:

SIGGRAPH 2005 Student Reports. Students attending this years SIGGRAPH have provided online reports before, during, and after the Conference in Los Angeles.

The SIGGRAPH 2005 Conference Presentations are available on DVD-ROM. Over 400 presentations totaling more than 250 hours of content can be ordered on line at: www.acm.org/siggraphdvd2005.