SIGGRAPH 2009 in New Orleans.
By Oli Laperal, Jr.

I just returned from SIGGRAPH, the world’s premiere conference on CG and Interactive Techniques.  Over 20,000 people attended last year: artists, research scientists, gaming developers, filmmakers and teachers.

The keynote presentations were excellent.

Randy Thom of Lucas Skywaker Sound, a two-time Academy Award winner, explained the often neglected, but ever important, stimuli for human sensory perception: sound.  He often referred to his work on “Apocalypse Now” (where I was a lowly PA) and “Wall E”.

Will Wright, creator and video game designer of the massively popular Spore and The Sims game series gave comprehensive insight on the human psyche, and of the industry in general.

Steve Duenes, Graphic Director of the New York Times Company showed various styles of presenting compelling and data-rich graphic designs over the years.

The SIGGRAPH Computer Animation Festival showed some of the best CGI animation worldwide.  Human behavioral sciences, modern computers, and comprehensive analysis of human perception of life help create compelling characters that show emotion.

It is amazing to see complex human-like reactions and animation in modern computer games.  As I wonder about the number of polygons needed to be generated in near real time at the level of complexity and sophistication shown, I wonder if  “digital actors” will in fact be the next group to stage a Hollywood walk-out.

I did not expect to see cameras for feature films, but there was one.  SpheronVR AG showed a 360 degree sweeping HDR (High Dynamic Range) camera that records, surveys, and image-captures full backgrounds for hard-to-duplicate scenarios in 360 degrees x 180 degrees at a very high resolution.  I was taken aback by their claim of 26 f-stops of dynamic range, at 50 megapixels, in a single scan for the entire sphere.   It measures x, y and z coordinates and recreates virtual sets from real world environments.  All from a motorized camera that comes in a small attaché case.

Emerging Technology showcased breakthroughs in robotics, gaming, virtual reality, live stereoscopic 3D teleconferencing, 3D MRI CT scan for scientific and medical applications, alternative display, motion control and experimental sensory experiences. I would have dismissed these as rocket science, but seeing them in actual demonstrations means we’ll see these toys at CES pretty soon. Of special interest to homes is a hand-held robot that neatly folds loosely scattered newly-washed clothes.

Stereoscopic 3D.  With 22+ big-budget Stereoscopic 3D films for scheduled release, 3D games sprouting, concerts and PPV sports, it is obvious cinematographers cannot ignore this discipline today.  Producers smile at figures that show a 300% to 700% revenue increase between 2D and 3D theaters of the same movie.  It was a real treat for me to see several days of non-stop stereoscopic 3D big budget Hollywood films including extreme sports, mega concerts, and roaring races.  All these on multiple Sony 4K SXRD 20,000 lumen projectors, Dolby sound and RealD3D circular polarized glasses.  Want to learn Stereoscopic 3D?  Lenny Lipton’s book “Foundations of the Stereo-scopic Cinema” would be a good start. He mastered physics, optics and filmmaking at Cornell (my alma mater).  Alas, like video, stereoscopic 3D sorely lacks a universal unified common standard.  I know that most of the current stereoscopic 3D formats we see today will not be financially economical in a few years.

The Job Fair was a beehive of frenzied activity.  Big wigs like Apple, Double Negative (007, Harry Potter, Angels & Demons), ILM,  Pixar, Rhythm & Hues, Lucasfilm, Dreamworks, Digital Domain, Microsoft, Google, Intel, Autodesk, and many others were processing applicants like sardines.

I used to think Siggraph was a glorified CAD/CAM modeling special interest group, of little interest to cinematographers.  Not anymore!

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