Spotlight : August 1997

SIGGRAPH '97: The Convention Floor
By Todd Vaziri

SIGGRAPH has become a monster. Veterans of the conference huddled in quiet corners of the L.A. Convention Center, talking about the good old days, when only a few hundred people were interested in this particular computer graphics get-together, in the days before the Hollywood invasion.

Those days are over... Hollywood has certainly taken over the annual conference and exhibition, hosted by ACM SIGGRAPH (Special Interest Group in Computer Graphics). In the 1990's, the convention has become overwhelmed with the presence of visual effects houses and digital tools producers. This is clearly evident on the exhibition floor.

In many ways, it's no different than any other exhibition floor--loud, bright, colorful and in your face. The largest companies have the most extravagant booths with the jumbo-tron screens and their 300-watt speaker systems demonstrating their newest products. As is the case with other ordinary conventions, nothing amazingly groundbreaking was introduced. The phrase, "same crap, new packaging" was uttered many times throughout the convention aisles.

The visual effects houses that participated in the exhibition took up relatively modest-sized booths. The reason for their presence is two-fold--to not only to show off their most recent visual effects work to the computer graphics industry, but to set up recruiting stations for potential employees. At nearly every booth, resumes and demo reels were accepted, making the effects houses' booths one of the most popular of the entire convention.

Dream Quest Images' booth was lost within the Disney section (Disney now owns DQI), but many cool props were on display, including some of the motion-control models used for THE ROCK. Digital Domain also had a few models on display, including a capsule model from APOLLO 13. Scott Ross, DD's head honcho, was spotted frequently around the booth, conducting interviews with members of the television media.

The most popular demo reel shown at an effects house's booth was certainly Blue Sky Studios', highlighted by their wonderful work on JOE'S APARTMENT. Dozens of folks huddled around two monitors, giggling and staring in awe of Blue Sky's terrific CG animation and rendering created for the little-seen film.

Next door to Blue Sky, a crowd huddled around Industrial Light & Magic's booth. This was the first SIGGRAPH where ILM had a convention floor presence, and the adage from FIELD OF DREAMS certainly rang true, "If you build it, they will come." ILM was bombarded with hopeful young animators with resumes and demo reels clutched in their hands.

Pacific Data Images shared an area with DreamWorks Animation, and with the exception of a maquette created for THE ARRIVAL on display, didn't have too much to show, other than press releases for their upcoming, fully CG animated film, ANTZ.

Among the hardware makers, SGI had an enormous presence, taking up several sections of the convention floor. Their big attraction was "The O2 Experience," where folks could get up close and personal with one of SGI's powerful (yet inexpensive) O2 computers. The O2 caps, which were handed out as gifts, were seen everywhere at SIGGRAPH. Intel had a modest presence, but lost many, many points with folks loyal to NT, when they rolled out the Disco Dancin' Intel Engineers on their main stage... ugh. That was embarrasing to watch.

If you add up all the hardware and software makers, and put them together with the effects houses, it is clear to see that the convention floor was very much geared toward the Hollywood visual effects industry. The non-photorealism-oriented folks certainly have their place in the convention, but the drive for creating photorealistic images for feature films was prevalent and overwhelming.

All in all, the exhibition floor was an exercise in overloading one's senses, particularly vision. Many attendees could only enjoy the eye-candy for so long, until they realized they had gorged themselves, and needed a little time to digest all the information, and clear their minds. That's what the panels and sketches are for.

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