Wednesday, 22 August 2018

SIGGRAPH: A newbie's perspective

SIGGRAPH: A newbie's perspective

This was my first year attending the much talked about SIGGRAPH conference and it was with a sense of excitement and anticipation that I finalised my preparations for departure.

With my background in the world of practical effects I was looking forward to learning from the industry’s greatest thinkers and practitioners about how technology is developing to match the look of the real world. I was not disappointed!

As we arrived in Canada, wildfires ravaged the landscape of British Columbia - meaning the world famous mountains across the bay were hidden by a thick, low lying haze. It set a moody scene, but helped focus my attention on the conference centre in Vancouver’s harbour - the setting for this year’s assembly of the VFX world.

We’ve already reported on the marquee announcements - a few briefly detailed below - but I wanted to give a SIGGRAPH newbie’s impression of this fantastical gathering of the greatest scientific and artistic minds. VR, AI and real time were the main themes I noted as I toured the conference and discussed with other attendees between talks. 

GPU Rendering

NVIDIA’s incredible new Turing processing architecture offers previously unimaginable power and memory on a single RTX card, and even greater when two cards are joined via NVLink. The all-new RT Cores offer a never seen before real-time ray tracing capability.

Chaos Group showed exactly why they excel in the graphics arena. Their universally revered and respected founder and developer, Vlado, demonstrated the power available from the RTX cards and debuted Project Lavina - conceived to demonstrate the graphics acceleration on offer (resulting in an impressive halving of render time). We’re still waiting on a date for the commercial release, but rest assured we’ll pass on the details as soon as we have them.

Pixar Renderman’s 30th anniversary was held in the majestic Art Deco Vogue theatre in downtown Vancouver’s Theatre Row. There was a new (old) logo and obligatory teapot, but the showstoppers were the previews for XPU and GPU processing. And the frankly ludicrous data handling capability looks set to return Pixar to pole position in the rendering game.

The conference was an overwhelming scientific onslaught. I saw many of our friends and partners from studios we work with on a daily basis, but in unusually relaxed mode - either watching or delivering fascinating talks and insights. Walking the halls I spotted luminaries such as the legendary Jim Blinn - instrumental in the birth of on-screen graphics from his work at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and author of the Blinn-Phong Shading Model still used in OpenGL today. 

CG and VR

Rob Bredow’s keynote covering his and ILM’s work on Solo: A Star Wars Story was a fascinating insight into the making of this latest instalment of the ever popular saga. The behind the scenes view and obvious enthusiasm and dedication he poured into the project were infectious. I particularly enjoyed the level of physical work that went into the film, blended seamlessly with the latest in cutting edge computer graphics. It was reassuring that my years spent running round with smoke machines, fans, and snow blowers weren’t entirely wasted! Sometimes you just can’t beat the in-camera look. 

Finally, experiencing Presenz and how it brings the CG world to life with such realistic lighting made VR into something interesting and engaging for me. Coupled with the Star VR headset and NVIDIA’s processing power it’s becoming ever clearer that there’s a genuinely exciting future here for fully immersive and realistic worlds.

I left with my head spinning - full to capacity with new ideas and knowledge. If you have the opportunity to go to SIGGRAPH I highly recommend it - or at least find the videos online and push the boundaries of your understanding.