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Report on ACM SIGGRAPH 98

(continued from Issue No 61)
25th Annual Conference on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques

18 - 24 July 1998
Orlando, USA

Panel Sessions

Celia Pearce (Panels Chair) summarised the Panels as follows: "Panels Sessions explored the art and science of image and interface. They reflected an industry-wide trend in what could best be called "human-centred computing" - better and more transparent interfaces, more meaningful forms of interactivity, more immersive forms of display, more ubiquity, more authenticity in synthetic characters and worlds, and greater concern for social impact issues. Social engineering is as important as real-time rendering. Story telling is as important as image processing. Human processing is at the centre of it all".

Panel Sessions included: "Visualization: The Hard Problems", "History of the Future: the Past, Present, and Future of Computer Graphics", "New Models for Interacting with 3D Environments", "Out of the Box: Toys Break the Screen Barrier", "Dis-illusion of Life: Becoming a Digital Character Animator", "Interfaces for Humans: Natural Interaction, Tangible Data and Beyond", "The Sorcerer's Apprentice: Ubiquitous Computing and Graphics", "Location-based Entertainment: The Next Generation", "Computer Vision in 3D Interactivity", "Characters on the Internet: The Next Generation", and "Computer Graphics Pioneers Assess Computer Graphics".

In the Panel on "Visualization: The Hard Problems", Jock Mackinlay (Xerox PARC) defined the goal of information visualization as the use of interactive visual representations of abstract data to amplify cognitive activities such as sense-making, decision-making, and large-scale monitoring. Using vision to think enables more items of work to be tracked through an advanced workspace, using indirect effects of perception, rather than being limited to just using graphics to present previously defined data.

Figure 5: Audience Participation in Digital Pavilions

"History of the Future: the Past, Present, and Future of Computer Graphics" included presentations from Prof Turner Whitted, Prof Don Greenberg, Dr Alan Kay, and Ms Rebecca Allen. Alan Kay expressed concern that the computer was being considered too much as a tool and not enough as media. The printing press revolutionised printing but not access to information. It took over 400 years to get to the point of increased dissemination and effective communication. Turner Whitted maintained that looking at developments just before they happen is more revealing that in retrospect. Because research advance tends to follow the current trend, it is easy to overlook the fact that often really important developments come from the side. Rebecca Allen welcomed the collaboration of artists and scientists to move the field forward.

"There are so many pixels now - it is hard to get programmers to realise that you have to have good content" (Alan Kay)

In "New Models for Interacting with 3D Environments", Andy van Dam maintained 3D systems must provide multisensory input for multisensory people. It doesn't make sense to be equipped with a number of senses and then interact with computers via one finger! More experiments need to be done (with cognitive scientists) on isolating the key parameters for productive HCI. So much work has been done on abstractions rather than real applications, and so there has been little carry-over. As computing power and the availability of cheap light projectors increases, it is perfectly feasible to use the office of the future as the display and input environment.

"HCI should provide multisensory input for multisensory people" (Andy van Dam)

Transmedia was the theme of "Out of the Box: Toys Break the Screen Barrier". Transmedia toys are toys that are intelligent and interact with TV programmes, PC, and Web via a radio link. As such, they provide an interface between the user and the computer and act as an agent and encouragement to the user. Thus they blur the distinction between physical play in the real world and virtual play in the digital world. They make toys into tools, and tools into toys. Currently these applications are primarily children's entertainment products. Examples are LEGO, Microsoft's Interactive Barney, and MIT Media Lab's Synthetic Character Group, where a toy with embedded sensors could control a user's avatar in a direct and obvious manner, rather than relying on a complex mapping of buttons and keys on the computer interface.

"Dis-illusion of Life: Becoming a Digital Character Animator" addressed the issue of there being a shortage of good digital character animators, despite the vacancies currently available. Why are more animators employed from outside the USA? Why is it that trade organisations appear to produce more suitable people than Higher Education? Do digital tools affect the way animators should be educated? The consensus was that you need to study acting and the story first of all. Ability to draw and act was important - the tools could be learned later on. For most productions, something fresh and original is needed. Good animators do not imitate what they have seen before. Film Department and Fine Art Department need to get together and talk to each other; currently they tend to be separate disciplines.

"Interfaces for Humans: Natural Interaction, Tangible Data and Beyond" examined the trends towards human-centric computing (e.g. location based entertainment) and a greater emphasis on aesthetics. The Lifenet Project at IBM is looking at integrating information (voice, gesture, movement) to make user interfaces more powerful and natural. According to Bill Buxton we are currently being constrained by low cost input devices (mouse keyboard) simply because no-one wants to pay more. However, great artists will play as much as the computer (and more) for a musical instrument or a paint brush. The quality of the instrument we used will determine its value. The computer is merely being used to mimic existing skills, rather than enable these skills to be increased.

"If we designed musical interfaces in the way we designed computers, there would be no music" (Bill Buxton)

"The Sorcerer's Apprentice: Ubiquitous Computing and Graphics" ( ) explored the area of interfaces to computing that are not distracting and take less conscious attention, but make our work easier. Dr Mark Weiser (Xerox PARC) argued that this is the opposite of current practice (e.g. videogames) where the aim is to make the user more fully engaged with the computer! Current challenges to the community are to make good looking displays fit into the environment and be seamless between the device and the room - this is central to the invisibility of computing. Prof Steve Feiner (University of Columbia) has developed an augmented reality and hybrid user interface to overlay the virtual on the real. A Touring Machine has been developed to assist a mobile user in exploring unfamiliar environments. Ubiquitous computing could be defined as "hidden in the walls, under your feet, held in the hand, resting in the pocket, and perched on the nose". Steve Shafer (Microsoft Research) described the Easy Living project which used cameras as the primary input device and included an explicit geometric model of the environment, people's locations, and the location and 'usability field' for key devices in the room (such as displays, cameras, and microphone/speakers). How can we display what the system knows and does not know about the world? What styles of interaction can we use? These are some of the key issues. Bill Buxton (Chief Scientist, Alias/ Wavefront and Silicon Graphics, Inc) described how ubiquitous computing will affect the film industry. Digital effects compositing is already moving the planning earlier in the process from pre- to post-production. Non-linear video assistance and effects compositing while shooting allows "WYSIWYG cinematography" to come closer to reality. This makes things simpler and also restores more creative control for the photographer and director. "Less is more - more or less". In order to make the use of computing more effective, greater understanding is needed of the domain of the particular appliance.

"Convergence in the plumbing (IT provision) is the best way to get divergence in appliances (applications)" (Bill Buxton)

"Location-based Entertainment: The Next Generation" examined the recent growth in entertainment centres using computers, graphics, and virtual environment technology. Examples are Gameworks, DisneyQuest, and Sony. A themed environment is essential to complement the initially relatively crude graphics on the displays and to encourage users to enter the fantasy world. The social dynamic is the story, which is fundamental to everything that is created. Also important is quality.

"Computer Vision in 3D Interactivity" explored the integration of computer vision with 3D graphics. Tracking the user's head, hands, and body, and detecting gestures, is one obvious direction to explore to eliminate encumbering sensors and enable new modes of interaction. Another direction is using computer vision techniques to understand 3D structure and camera parameters in multi-view imaged-based scenes for the purpose of re-rendering the scenes as a user directs. Another is giving animated characters visual awareness of users and other characters to enable richer interactions. Ingrid Carlbom (Bell Laboratories) described a system where audio tracking had been combined with visual tracking to enhance the sense of immersion in a virtual world. Acoustic tracking can also be used to localise a person who is speaking when several people are present. This is particularly relevant and important when the lighting conditions are poor.

Figure 6: Interfaces of the Future to replace the Keyboard and Mouse

"Characters on the Internet: The Next Generation" (more information may be found at was pronounced as a hot area because company stock was currently going up! A new user interface metaphor is becoming apparent, since the avatar or agent was able to act more like an assistant to, or representation of, the user - especially as the characters become more lifelike and realistic. Celia Pearce ( felt that characters needed personality and empathy in order to be effective. In addition, characters and stories are one and the same, so the relationships between characters came out of the story. Characters are driven by intentions and goals. Athomas Goldberg described the IMPROV project at the New York University's Media Research Laboratory and how "Sid and the Penguins" had been designed and implemented

International Videoconference

An international videoconference provided a real-time link-up between a panel in Orlando, a panel in the National Museum of Photography, Film & Television, Bradford, UK, and the Smithsonian in Washington DC. The general theme of the panels was "Computer Graphics Pioneers Assess Computer Graphics".

Panellists were as follows:

Mr Carl Machover (Chair)
Ms Judy Brown, University of Iowa
Prof David Arnold, University of East Anglia

NMPFT Prof Richard Guedj, INT (Chair)
Dr Klaus Kansy, GMD, Germany
Dr Ken Brodlie, University of Leeds
Mr Terry Hewitt, University of Manchester

Smithsonian Mr John Gebhardt, InterCAP (Chair)
Mr Bob Rosen, ARL
Mr Robert Thurber, Intergraph
Mr Charles Heller, Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship
Mr Lowell Nerenberg, Tekgraf Inc

Carl Machover, Amanda Nevill, and John Gebhardt welcomed everyone to the session.

Panellists were asked to address three key questions:

This summary focuses on the points made in answer to the third question.











The Exhibition

"More, faster, better" was the theme of this year's exhibition. Companies such as Adobe and SUN are focusing more on the Web-top as the future vehicle for communication, publication, and collaboration. Adobe released new products for Web publishing, digital imaging, digital video, and business publishing. SUN demonstrated facilities for making access to Web information easier and more collaborative. Microsoft introduced a new range of specialist partners to increase the diversity of their applications: Vertigo, Katrix, Liquid Motion, TGS 3 Space, CharacterZ, Squishy FX, Live Picture Inc, PLatinum Technologies, Viewpoint DataLabs. Microsoft also offered Direct 3D, Direct Show, Direct Animation, and Direct X Transform. There was increasing emphasis on motion capture, special effects, compositing, and tools for content generation.

A number of computer graphics laboratories in major US Universities had a special exhibition of their key developments. Also included were Silicon Graphics, Pixar Animation Studios, and Microsoft Research. Key developments at Silicon Graphics included the following:

Some headlines in the Exhibition:

Figure 7: A Model Delegate who had attended all 25 years of SIGGRAPH Conferences

The Whiteboard

SIGGRAPH provided ample space for discussion and interaction, with Whiteboards for general use. One of these contained the results of a discussion:

Notes to Self:

  1. Publish more
  2. Get more grant $$$
  3. Attract more/better students
  4. Eat more Thai
  5. Teach classes in research area
  6. Treat repetitive strain injury
  7. Don't antagonise the Department Head
  8. Thoughtful gifts for the Dean

Someone had added in italics next to the latter two: "Consider putting these higher on the list!"

"I used to think that cyberspace was 50 years away. What I thought was 50 years away, was only 10 years away. And what I thought was 10 years was already here. I just wasn't aware of it yet" Bruce Sterling

Rae Earnshaw