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Report on ACM SIGGRAPH 98

25th Annual Conference on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques

18 - 24 July 1998
Orlando, USA

"Now here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!" ("Through the Looking Glass", Lewis Carroll).

"This is a picture-in-your-face kind of place"

"The greatest thing is to get the true picture - whatever it is" (Winston Churchill) "In order to deviate from the norm, one must have a clear idea of the norm one is deviating from"


From 600 attendees at the first SIGGRAPH conference in Boulder in 1974, to 48,700 in Los Angeles in 1997 is a phenomenal growth over 25 years. Over this same time frame industry revenues for the field worldwide have grown from $540 million to $56 billion, a factor of 100. The first Exhibition was at SIGGRAPH in 1976 in Philadelphia where 10 exhibitors covered 1000 sq ft. In 1997, this had expanded to 359 exhibitors and 182,600 sq ft.

Some 35,000 people attended SIGGRAPH 98 in Orlando in temperatures of 96 degrees and upwards, with high humidity! Delegates from around the world attended to hear the latest research results in computer graphics and interactive techniques and see the latest products from key vendors in the field. A fellow delegate in the registration line-up reminded me that there were many alligators in the swamplands of Florida and they could run faster than humans. However, they couldn't turn as fast, so the best solution if you were pursued was to double-back on yourself!

Figure 1: Orlando Convention Center

This year's Conference comprised 46 pre-Conference Courses, 19-21 July, and 45 papers in the technical sessions selected from 303 submissions, and 18 Panels with a wide range of topics from real-time auditory interfaces, through behavioural modelling, to ubiquitous computing. Further major aspects included a full Educator's programme with technical papers, panels and electronic schoolhouse, an enhanced realities exhibition, a digital pavilion, an interactive dance club, a technical sketches programme for animators, artists, and designers to present the technical aspects of their work, and a TV and film programme, aspects of which were fed on to the Internet in real time.

Walt Bransford, SIGGRAPH 98 Co-Chair, welcomed everyone to the Conference and drew attention to the expanding reach of computer graphics and interaction to scientists, artists, educators, entrepreneurs, vendors, visionaries, and dancers which illustrated technology's current reach into ever widening forms of human experience and creativity. He also highlighted the 25 year Anniversary since the first Conference in Boulder in 1974. Various aspects of the Conference - the "Time Tunnel" illustrating the key developments over the 25 years, the International Videoconference Panel session on Thursday, where computer graphics pioneers assessed the history and future prospects for computer graphics, and parties and receptions which would celebrate the 25 years.

Figure 2: Reception Hall for ACM SIGGRAPH 98

Prof Steve Cunningham, SIGGRAPH Chair, outlined the purpose and objectives of the committee - to promote the development and application of computer graphics and interactive techniques, and to support the values of excellence, integrity, passion, and cross-disciplinary interaction.


Dr Jim George presented the first ACM SIGGRAPH Outstanding Service Award to Maxine Brown (Electronic Visualization Lab, University of Illinois at Chicago) for her many years of leadership in the organisation and conference committees, including chair of SIGGRAPH 92 in Chicago.

Prof Bert Herzog presented the 1998 Computer Graphics Achievement Award to Dr Michael Cohen (Microsoft Research) for his research in radiosity, constraint-based animation, shape design, image-based rendering, and realistic image synthesis. His work is the key to making radiosity usable for complex scenes. The beautiful images created with these methods still remain state of the art, both technically and artistically. His work has unusual breadth and creativity attributable to his multi-disciplinary background and approach to problems. With degrees in art, engineering, and computer science he has capitalised on the skills and opportunities arising from these three domains.

Figure 3: Lining up to Register for the Conference

Overview of the Conference

46 pre-Conference courses presented a wide range of information on graphics, animation, and virtual reality topics. The level of the material ranged from the elementary to the advanced. Refereed paper sessions covered the following themes: animation and simulation, facial modelling and animation, multiresolution surfaces, hardware acceleration, image-based modelling and rendering, image based rendering, plants, palettes and perception, rendering, 3D interaction, surfaces, and art, illustration and expression. Panel sessions reviewed a wide range of topics on current issues and problems. A Computer Animation Festival presented current animation works. The Electronic Theatre was a video show in the main auditorium on the latest and greatest works in computer generated animation and special effects. Special conference sessions included "History of the Future: the Past, Present, and Future of Computer Graphics" and "Survival Stories from 'Titanic'".

Enhanced Realities

This was an international showcase of innovations to facilitate human/idea/machine interaction. Computer graphics was used in various ways to combine with emerging technologies to create intelligent graphics to learn, play, assist, and instruct.

Digital Pavilions

Digital Pavilions showcased networked computer applications that demonstrated future ways to communicate, collaborate and interact.

Art Gallery - Touchware

Figure 4: Art Gallery and Touchware

An exhibition chronicling 25 years of computer art from early algorithmic drawings and paintings to modelled figures and drawings by computer artists. Touch was used as a metaphor to illustrate concepts such as being in touch via the Internet. Artworks included digital paintings, drawings, photographs, interactive installations, and teleperformance projects. Web creations may be found at

Computer Animation Festival

Animations, performances, and interactions demonstrated computer graphics as product, media, and process.

Electronic Theatre

The main video show was preceded by the demonstration of a live interactive entertainment system, cinematrix ( in which all the audience could participate and interact. Highlights of the film show included: "Building and Sailing the Titanic" (Digital Domain - 400 people from the company worked on the film), "Homage to Hilbert" (Nelson Max), "Virtual Bill Highlights" (Protozoa), "Spacetime Swing" (Autodesk), "Music for Unprepared Piano" (NCSA), "Geri's Game" (Pixar Animation Studios), "The Making of Sid and the Penguins" (NYU Media Research Lab), "Marienkirche" (Helsinki University of Technology), "Small Soldiers" (Industrial Light and Magic), "Wild River - Motion Ride" (Sega Digital Media Lab), "Flubber" (Industrial Light and Magic), and "George of the Jungle" (Dream Quest Images).

Snippets from the Courses

"If 'Necromancer' (William Gibson) is equivalent to VRML1.0, then 'Snow Crash' (Neil Stephenson) is equivalent to VRML2.0" (Scott Owen)

In the course on using touch interfaces with computer graphics applications, Thomas Massie (SensAble Technologies) focused attention on haptic rendering and devices which were both input and output, as a move away for one device for input (e.g. keyboard) and another device for output (printer).

Image-based modelling and rendering (IBMR) was now becoming a well-developed discipline with a technical papers session and a new course to explain the detail. This was well set out by Paul Debevec (University of Calfornia at Berkeley, In conventional computer graphics, modelling is hard and rendering is slow. IBMR starts with photorealistic images (multiple views of a scene) and by reconstruction of other views via geometry, is able to generate a complete model of the scene. IBMR is a spectrum of techniques including movie maps, light fields, depth, geometry, materials, and kinematics. Dayton Taylor's virtual camera may be found at

A course on the theory and practice of "Tour into the Picture" (originally presented as a technical paper at SIGGRAPH97) is a technique for providing a powerful graphical user interface for making 3D animation from a single 2D picture or photograph. Software is available at

"This product is so good you are only limited by your imagination!" Wrong. You may be limited by the vendor's imagination because you can't do what you really want to do! (Andrew Glassner)

Current applications of computer graphics in entertainment were reviewed by Prof Pat Wenner and highlighted the booming games industry with revenues of $5.3 billion in 1997 and a 20% increase expected in 1998. Global piracy of software currently costs about $3 billion per annum. Games environments could now be driven by low cost VR helmets, force feedback joysticks, and intensors - a force feedback chair. The Riven game sets new standards in the quality of the imaging by the use of new algorithms and textures. One of the latest games has taken 2 hours to load the model into Softimage during the development process.

Motion picture special effects during the year had been dominated by the work on Titanic. A motion capture on only 25 people had been used as the basis for creating a large number of variations to be used to populate the decks of the ship for various shots. Costumes of the period were used in the texture maps, and each character was rendered individually along with their shadows.

Location-based Entertainment Centres were on the increase with 5 locations from Gameworks (Sega, Universal, and Dreamworks) and 2 for Disney Quest. Some of the park attractions used real-time 3D graphics. Further information is contained at the annual conference on entertainment and theme parks.

A new course on "Art for Computer Graphicists" organised by Andrew Glassner concentrated on composition, colour theory, layout, and social and historical context. All are essential prerequisites to creating clear and powerful messages. Emphasis of technical topics over artistic ones can hide and obscure the importance of good content. The fundamental principles creating great visuals lie well before the recent era of computer and computer graphics, and are enshrined in the work of great artists, sculptors and painters down the ages.

Guidelines for good design include:

"Rembrandt was a renderer! (Andrew Glassner)

In the course on "Immersive Environments: Research, Applications, and Magic", Jesse Schell (Walt Disney Imagineering) offered the following:

Tips for Artists and Engineers

Engineers (for Artists) Artists (for Engineers) Walt Disney distrusted engineers - as people who designed things for themselves rather than for others.

Design tips included:

To use the image as an effective medium it not only must have good content, it must relate to the viewer -"We are led to believe a lie when we see with, not through, the eye" (William Blake)

The Conference

The Conference was keynoted by Dr Jim Blinn who was the first recipient of the Computer Graphics Achievement Award in 1983 and is a Graphics Fellow at Microsoft Research.

Jim Blinn's Corner

Dr Blinn reviewed the principal aspects of each SIGGRAPH Conference - as he had attended them all! He summarised the key changes between then and now as follows:
Then Now
Calligraphic Rastergraphic
Mainframe or mini $$$ Desktop $
Fewer users Everyone
Everything is hard Easy
Had to be clever
More brute force
CAD Special effects
Feasibility Refinement/practicality
- higher standards
Application papers Rendering
Talks gave the whole paper Talk is a trailer for the

Over this time period a number of people had put together lists of "Unsolved Problems in Computer Graphics" starting with Ivan Sutherland in 1966. A current list was proposed as follows:

Future predictions included: Over the past 25 years a new industry had been created in imaging.

The technical conference had moved forward and brought in art and dance.

In a sense the world had been changed too - a new medium is now available, just as television had changed the world over 25 years ago.

This summary highlights points of particular interest in the Conference to the author, since there is not enough time to attend everything.

Research Papers

Papers in the area of facial modelling and animation included creating physically realistic animation that exploits neural networks (the NeuroAnimator) and which is more efficient by one or two order of magnitude compared to conventional numerical simulation. Motions can also be synthesised to meet prescribed animation goals. A paper on beam tracing enables real-time acoustic modelling and auralization in interactive virtual environments. Fixed sound sources can be spatialized in real-time as the user moves through a virtual environment. A further paper described a technique for retargetting motion from one animated character to another of different size but retaining specific features and constraints of the motion. A paper on cloth simulation outlined a fast stable method using large time steps. A paper on face simulation presented a system for capturing 3D geometry and colour and shading information from live actors' performances for the creation of animated human facial expressions. Principal components analysis is used to compress the geometric data. A further paper described a system to generate varied geometries of human faces using anthropometric statistics for likely face characteristics in a population. This yields the required diversity for animating a scene with multiple humans. A new method for creating photorealistic textured 3D facial models from photographs of a human subject was also presented. This allows morphing between different models to create smooth transitions between different facial expressions.

A paper on the "Office of the Future" described a unified application of computer vision and computer graphics in a system that combines and builds upon the principles of the CAVE, tiled display systems, and image-based modelling. With the help of synchronized cameras, the geometry and reflectance information can be captured for all of the visible surfaces in the office so that images can be projected on the surfaces, images of the surfaces can be rendered, and changes in the surfaces can be interpreted.

A new method for using measured scene radiance and global illumination to add new objects to light-based models with correct lighting is discussed by Paul Debevec. Further information is at

InterSense presented a new tracking system for augmented reality and virtual set applications, based on an inertial navigation system aided by ultrasonic time-of-flight range measurements to a constellation of wireless transponder beacons.

The Tangible Media Group at MIT Media Lab discussed a tangible user interface based upon MediaBlocks: small electronically tagged wooden blocks that serve as physical icons ("phicons") for the containment, transport, and manipulation of online media. MediaBlocks interface with media input and output devices such as video cameras and projectors, allowing digital media to be rapidly copied from a media source and pasted into a media display.

A new method for creating an image with a hand-painted appearance from a photograph was presented by Hertzmann of the Media Research Lab, New York University. This framework can be used to describe a wide variety of visual styles, resulting in different forms of art, e.g. impressionistic.

(to be continued in the next issue)

Rae Earnshaw