Work Hard, Render Fast, Retire...
A Blurred Elephant screaming across Bonneville Salt Flats
Scott Owen, SIGGRAPH 97 Conference Chair, in his opening address invited all the participants to catch the excitement - As a kid growing up in LA, I used to surf the ocean waves, and now I'm surfing the waves of changing digital technology with everyone at SIGGRAPH 97. We welcome you to this festival of the future. In LA this week, you'll meet the creators of that future. The people who are developing the new algorithms, hardware and software to create the waves of change. The SIGGRAPH artists are the most creative riders and surfers of the new waves.
Scott Owen outlined the extra features of this year's SIGGRAPH:
One exhibitor's advertisement at last year's SIGGRAPH had the crunch line - When the Digital Revolution rolls over you, you're either part of the Steamroller, or part of the Road. SIGGRAPH 97 Exhibitors, Press Releases and newspapers had the following punchlines on display:
The Computer Graphics Achievement Award was made to Prof Przemyslaw Prusinkiewicz for his work pertaining to modelling and visualizing biological structures such as plants and seashells.
In his acceptance speech, Prof Foley outlined three challenges for the future:
Research directions were in traditional areas, in desktop technology, and in new domains such as the home and entertainment.
Computer graphics and education offers opportunities at interdisciplinary boundaries that need to be exploited.
With government research budgets under pressure it is important to have stronger university/industry links. Rapid changes in technology were leading to an increased loss of relevance of pure University research which was being rendered out of date before it was completed. A closer coupling between University and industry would improve impact, accountability, relevance and quality. In turn, University tenure systems should recognise the value and importance of work that generates an impact rather than simply the number of papers produced.
The most adventurous was an interactive multimedia experience centred on Sunset Boulevard where the passing motorist viewed a drive-by soap on two billboard sized TV's located at Billboard live, a high tech LA night club, and then interactively influenced the action with their electronic garage key to change the action between a number of set selections. We understand the traffic was halted a number of times as motorists became enthralled in the action of the multimedia drama. The result was just another 'cool' experience for the hardened Hollywood commuters.
The largest number of Electric Garden exhibits used gesture recognition to control the action of computers and robots. This growing trend from Japan was demonstrated on 35% of the Electric Garden stands. The most visual and attractive being on the Iamascope or interactive kaleidoscope where a video projector projected a kaleidoscopic image of the participant onto a screen. This was enhanced by the person's movements and accompanying music.
At a more simple and practical level, a team from the ATR Media Integration & Communication Laboratories in Kyoto, Japan used hand gestures captured by video camera to interpret and create scenes on a video wall. The designs being demonstrated were pure CAD - the design process more like a hearing disability sign language conversation. What would a reader of sign languages have made of this conversation?
Interactive movies are a swing away from this towards spectator choices and spectator involvement. A key issue is how such choice and interaction preserves the filmic point of view with regard to narrative, form, structural elements, and audio design. Traditional cinema is an offspring of the 20th century and borrows elements from literature, art, theatre, painting, and photography.
In the Blink of an Eye, Walter Murch, Silman-James Press, 1995 (Editor of The English Patient)
The Media Equation, Byron Reeves and Clifford Nash, Cambridge University Press, 1996
The Elements of Cinema, Stefan Sharff, Columbia University Press, 1982.
Brian Ferren's thesis was that one thing was more important than the Information Age and this was the Storytelling Age. Making ideas comprehensible was the world's oldest profession. Just as good graphics design improves visual literacy, so the use of good story telling tools gives good storytelling literacy. What was crucial about new media was their emotional capability to communicate. In some cases, increasing the technical resolution can decrease the emotional resolution.
This summary highlights points of particular interest to the author in the conference, though this is inevitably synoptic since there is not time to attend everything.
Panels of note included: Narrative Environments: Virtual Reality as a Storytelling Medium, Motion Capture and Computer Graphics Character Animation, Interfacing Reality: Exploring Emerging Trends between Humans and Machines, What 3D API should I use and why?, New Realities in Film Production: The Process of Creating Digital Visual Effects, Educating the Digital Artist for the Entertainment Industry: the Collision of Academia and Business. There was a full house for a Panel on Image Based Rendering chaired by Mike Cohen of Microsoft.
Research developments were presented in papers on illumination, visibility, animation, virtual reality, surfaces, geometry, hardware and texture.
Michael Cohen (Microsoft), Eric Chen (RealSpace), Marc Levoy (Stanford University), Leonard McMillian (MIT), and Jitendra Malik (University of California at Berkeley) presented different aspects of the subject. Prof Marc Levoy discussed the pros and cons of geometry-based rendering versus image-based rendering.
He gave a definition of IBR as the study of image-based modelling and rendering is the study of sampled representations of geometry.
Sampled representations of geometry included: textures, sprites, shadow maps, reflectance maps, range images, disparity maps, optic flow fields, panoramas, movie maps, density volumes etc. Recent additions included: arrays of images, light fields/Lumigraphs, inconsistent arrays of range images, hierarchical image caches etc. New aspects were brought about by increasing memory and CPU speeds; greater dimensionality and size; and algorithms that operated without geometry. He raised the question: Where are the boundaries of this paradigm - in the sense of what other representations are possible? What operations are possible on image-based representations? What new applications exist for these techniques?
The dimensionality could be increased, the quantity represented could be replaced, and a taxonomy could be formulated as follows:
Other possible operations are changing the illumination, changing the reflectance, and changing the shape. A table of input versus output for forward and inverse methods is contained at:
In answer to the question: Will IBR take over the world?, the following pros and cons were offered:
A full set of Marc Levoy's overheads is contained at:
Prof Leonard McMillian believed that IBR would be used in walkthroughs, stereo synthesis, latency compensation, framerate interpolation and framerate equalisation.
Prof Jitendra Malik outlined the current limits of computer vision and the difficulty of identifying correspondences. He envisaged two extreme variants of IBR: one using light fields, and the other using the traditional computer vision/computer graphics approach. Hybrid approaches were promising for the near and intermediate terms and were likely to be domain dependent.
Dr Ed Catmull, President, Pixar produced Toy Story under contract to Walt Disney (and recipient of two Awards from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences).
Pixar was bought from George Lucas of Star Wars fame by Steve Jobs founder of Apple and now recently returned to Apple. Jobs is still retaining his high interest in the state-of-the-art computer animation work of Pixar. The objective of Pixar is to marry Silicon Valley technology with film making creative genius. Toy Story made a profit of $37 million. Jobs owns 60% of Pixar which is currently valued at between $700 million and $800 million. Pixar now have a five-picture deal with Walt Disney.
Question: What do Pixar look for in a student's showreel?
Students think their showreel is their magnum opus. Pixar receives several thousand showreels per week from people wanting jobs. Most are rejected after 10 seconds viewing.
Question: What kind of people are Pixar looking for?
(To be continued in the next issue - including information on the SIGGRAPH Exhibition)
University of Bradford, UK
Computing Suppliers Federation, UK