The annual convention of the Association for Computing Machinery's Special Interest Group on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques (otherwise known as SIGGRAPH) rolled into town a few weeks ago, attracting some momentary media (social and mainstream) attention, including an enthusiastic tweet from Gregor Robertson, aka @MayorGregor: "Checked out #siggraph - incredible to see 25,000+ computer graphics leaders in Vancouver, our biggest convention ever!".
The mayor was partly right; SIGGRAPH was Vancouver’s largest convention to date, though actual attendance was “only” 15,872, not 25,000+, according to the convention organizers’ post-event figures.
“Anemic,” sniffed one academic who has been attending SIGGRAPH since the 1980s. “One year we had over 30,000.”
Anemic or not, SIGGRAPH was significant for Vancouver and B.C. Not just because it was the biggest convention yet in the city -- occupying both the East and West Convention Centres and spilling over into several downtown hotels, but because of the opportunity it gave for B.C.-based film, animation, video and game companies, entrepreneurs, scholars, students and communities to show their stuff.
SIGGRAPH’s mission is to promote the generation and dissemination of information on computer graphics and interactive techniques. Members include engineers, animators, researchers, students, artists, filmmakers and others interested in computer graphics. They range from computer scientists and mathematics working on algorithms to optimize graphical rendering to game designers to Hollywood filmmakers.
SIGGRAPH is mainly known for its annual conferences, where researchers and students hobnob with entrepreneurs and filmmakers. Conference fare is varied, ranging from technical talks on subjects such as “High-Quality Passive Facial Performance Capture Using Anchor Frames” and “Bounded Biharmonic Weights for Real-Time Deformation” to a job fair, art and film festivals and lots of parties. And there’s a trade show -- where both small indie game producers and large Hollywood studios and Silicon Valley firms show off their stuff, paying $37 per square foot for the chance to get noticed by conference attendees. Sony was here, as was Pixar, Microsoft, Autodesk, NVIDIA, Ubisoft and many companies that us ordinary folks wouldn’t know about but which make the visual effects in our films, tv shows and video games possible.
As the years go by and technology (and trends) change, the equipment and software on display at SIGGRAPH also changes. This year 3d was big -- many booths were showing off improved 3d rendering and display systems (some with, some without glasses), and 3d printers spewing out little statues, robots and other gizmos using a variety of different materials. Judging by what was being presented, it looks like entrepreneurs are betting on a consumer demand for creating and ordering original 3d artifacts over the internet. For example, Shapeways lets you design custom jewelry and sculptures, created from glass, bronze, gold and other materials. And shapeways had many competitors at SIGGRAPH, such as 3D3 Solutions and Z Corp.
SIGGRAPH 2011 was the first time the main SIGGRAPH conference (there is a separate Asia stream) has been held in Canada, and, not surprisingly, a large number of Canadian organizations took advantage of the opportunity to get noticed by the conference delegates, including three local universities, (Capilano, Emily Carr and Simon Fraser), and many firms, both large and small.
And no wonder. Electronic entertainment is big business in British Columbia, with 1,300 companies, 22,000 employees and $3 billion worth of business each year. The feature film/television industry alone spends $1 billion annually.
Here’s a short list of some of the B.C. organizations at SIGGRAPH this year. Unfortunately, I can’t supply a complete list -- although the B.C. Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation had a booth at SIGGRAPH, they didn’t have information on who from B.C. was at the conference.
- Point Grey Research Inc. (http://ptgrey.com): Point Grey, a Richmond company, has been making speciality cameras for almost 20 years. They make stereo vision cameras, spherical cameras, industrial imaging cameras, as well as cameras for the film and graphics industry.
- 4pi Media (http://4pimedia.com): Based out of a small office on Davie Street overlooking English Bay, 4pi Media specializes in 360 degree panoramas for websites and other applications. 4pi’s president Fuad Khan told me his company creates virtual tours and also do specialized virtual reality photography. 4pi Media also partners with a funky Gastown-based game company called Downtown Eastside Games (www.desgames.com), known for its iPhone/iPod touch game, Blaze Runner, and its Potfarm Facebook game.
- Offload Studios (http://www.offloadstudios.com) specializes in made-to-order props and models, including game characters and toy prototypes. The six-year-old company is located in Abbotsford.
- Rainmaker Entertainment (http://rainmaker.com) is a visual effects and animation studio that creates its own feature films as well as special effects for other studios. The studio is currently working on a 3d animated feature called Escape from Planet Earth.
- Campbell River Creative Industries Council (http://www.crcic.ca):The Vancouver Island community of Campbell River had a booth at SIGGRAPH, showing that B.C.‘s digital creativity isn’t limited to the Lower Mainland. Joan Miller of the Vancouver Island North Film Commission told me that thanks to high-speed internet access, good infrastructure and local government and industry support, Campbell River is now home to a thriving community of internet, video and digital entrepreneurs.
As is British Columbia as a whole, judging by SIGGRAPH 2011.