Report – SIGGRAPH Conference 2019 – Los Angeles Convention Center

Once again, the SIGGRAPH 2019 Conference proved to be an energetic gathering for global innovation in computer graphics, animation, VR, gaming, and emerging technologies. This annual summer event (this year, held from July 28 to August 2) returned from Vancouver to Los Angeles, its more regular site, and although the number of exhibitor booths seemed lower than in previous years, the innovation level continued its upward trend and overall attendance of 18,700 global professionals was at its highest since 2014. 

The formal name of the event is “ACM SIGGRAPH” – a mouthful of an acronym, to be sure. ACM stands for Association for Computer Machinery. The group was established in 1947 and has grown to be the world’s largest educational and scientific computing society, with nearly 40 special interest groups (or SIGs) under its umbrella. SIGGRAPH is the Special Interest Group on Computer Graphics, founded in 1969 by Andy van Dam, then a professor at Brown University. A bit of current CG trivia – rumor has it that the “Andy” character in the Toy Storymovies was named after van Dam!

This year’s conference theme was “Thrive” – an apt description of how the computer graphics and related industries are faring in this era when the majority of humans around the globe hold powerful images and technology literally in their hands. One interesting thing about SIGGRAPH is that it isn’t just for those employed in the tech industry. Historically, attendees have ranged from high school-aged gamers and graphics novices to the brain trusts of the most high-tech and largest international firms such as Nvidia, AMD, and Pixar.

Attendees always look forward to the keynote address, which often features a prominent voice in the industry. This year’s rock star was Victoria Alonso, Marvel Studios’ Executive Vice President of Production. Alonso acknowledged a debt of gratitude to the role that the SIGGRAPH community has meant to her career. She has attended SIGGRAPH for 24 years and recalled a time when she was one of just a few dozen women at the conference, which has definitely become more diverse in gender and ethnicity over the years. The Marvel superheroes are showing an increase in diversity as well, with the Black Widow character getting her first solo film. Future releases will include “The Eternals,” showcasing a wide range of ethnic characters. Natalie Portman will play a female Thor in “Thor: Love and Thunder,” which will feature Valkyrie, Marvel’s first LGBTQ superhero.

Of course, one of the other most anticipated events each year is the Computer Animation Festival Electronic Theater. The imagination and skills presented at the festival show how industries are pushing the boundaries of computer-generated storytelling for film, games, advertising, visual effects, and science. And 2019 was no exception – this year, 24 works, selected by an expert jury from nearly 400 submissions, honored diverse narratives, celebrated the human condition, and catered to this year’s conference theme of Thrive

An international show, featured works from Serbia, New Zealand, Taiwan, Germany, Denmark, Canada, Singapore, the United Kingdom, France, and the United States. Winner of Best in Show was “Purl,” from Kristen Lester and Pixar Animation Studios, featuring an earnest ball of yarn named Purl who gets a job in a fast-paced, high energy, bro-tastic startup. Yarn hijinks ensue as she tries to fit in, but how far is she willing to go to get the acceptance she yearns for, and in the end, is it worth it? 

ACM SIGGRAPH has traditionally been described as the Intersection of Art, Technology, and Interactivity, and one of the shows highlights is the annual Art Exhibition, which features work that involve the use of technology. Sometimes it’s a sublime work, where specific approaches are employed in the creation or expression of work. This year was no exception. Located in the same hall as Emerging Technologies, and the Studio, it’s a fitting blend of the emergence of new and seminal technologies, with an area to play, create, and learn. One of the primary lessons the conference offers, is the demonstration that the lack of boundaries is make the best work possible.

One of the highlights for journalists who attend is securing an invitation to the JPR Luncheon, hosted by Jon Peddie Research. Top industry representatives are on hand to present information about their newest products and the impact on the industry. What makes their discussion vital is that it’s not a presentation of talking points, but rather a candid chat among colleagues, offering different approaches and solutions. You always have the sense that the panelists are enjoying a chance to hang with colleagues, free from the constraints of the marketing team.

Inside the Exhibit Hall, we always enjoy what we see and learn from the vendors, non-profits, and educational institutions that are represented. In addition to logging thousands of steps walking the rows and rows of the usual software products and tools, storage solutions, and information services we noticed a sizeable increase in 3-D and virtual reality-related offerings.

The Exhibit Hall is also home to the Job Fair, where attendees can meet with studios and developers, to inquire about what positions might be open, internships, and applying for positions. Academia is well represented, with a slew of schools, institutes, and learning opportunities. It’s important for higher education to be represented, for networking, internship development, and opportunities for students and faculty to advance their knowledge, and meet and connect with colleagues.

Other Conference Highlights

Maxon announced Cinema 4D Release 21, the next generation of its professional 3D modeling, animation, and rendering software solution. R21 introduces powerful new capabilities including a completely new Caps and Bevel system, new Field Force dynamics, interface speed enhancements and broader integration with popular hardware and software technologies.

Autodesk unveiled Bifrost for Maya, which became makes it possible for 3D artists and technical directors to create serious effects in Maya quickly and easily using a new visual programming environment.

Nvidia showed its Prescription AR glasses. As the name suggests, the AR (augmented reality) glasses can have a user's prescription built right in, creating a more convenient and comfortable experience.

Emerging Technologies
Il Divino – A VR recreation of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel Ceiling in as an immersive experience.

Next Year – Washington D.C.

The SIGGRAPH 2020 Conference will be shifting to Washington, D.C. for the first time. Themed “Think Beyone,” the conference will take place in the Walter B. Washington Convention Center from July 19 – 23, with the exhibition open from the 21st through the 23rd.  We’re looking forward to it!

Nancy Burlan and Harris Fogel, posted 8/12/19

Photographs © Harris Fogel 2019

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