Monday, August 25, 2008

Speedshape visit

On Friday we made our way out to the Venice Beach area and checked out Speedshape, a studio where my friend Robert works.


We got to see some sweet demo reel action (the Norwegians were right - I really believed a plane could fly!) and a nice studio in what turned out to be the former Wachowski brothers studio.

If you want to see a car, real or virtual, these are the guys to call. Check out their reel!

Afterward we drove up the coast for a bit and then through Topanga Canyon to hang out at Rob's pad. Nice! And thanks to the fumes from the floor work I'm hearing colors I've never smelled before!

Thanks Rob!


Monday, August 18, 2008


This was the last day of SIGGRAPH.

To complete what I started the previous day I attended a screening at Nokia Theatre of some of the best (?) Flash work out there. I question best, though some really was top-tier work, such as the Heavenly Sword backstory - my favorite hands-down. There was some other stuff that I might call interesting, but I don't think best of the best.

I also saw one of the competitive animation screenings, which showcased some work ranging from students to research to special effects houses. Not exactly a level playing field, but some very interesting stuff nonetheless.

The theater was powered by dual 4k projectors, with 5.1 surround sound, and this is what it looks like:

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Convention Center food is always too expensive. $3 for a 20-ounce Pepsi? No thanks! I took a load of snack bars and assorted goods with me so I wouldn't have to go through highway robbery for food, but that got old by the end of the week. Today we had lunch just down the street a few minutes away in a little shop that was more than a convenience store. It was like some sort of bodega/coffee shop/snack bar kind of thing, and it was very reasonable, especially compared to what we had in the convention center.


We happened to both be interested in going to the last Technical Paper - Procedural Modeling and Design, with the following papers:

Automatic Generation of Tourist Maps - using rules about how buildings should be shaped, how streets should be widened and how users designate points of interest in maps.

Automated Generation of Interactive 3D Exploded-View Diagrams - more rules about how parts of models interact and envelop other parts and how these relationships govern what parts need to move away from others.

Interactive Visual Editing of Grammars for Procedural Architecture - describing a "grammar" for architecture allowing buildings to be scaled, for instance, and appropriately placed and scaled architectural features appear without modeling them by hand.

Interactive Procedural Street Mapping - using tensor fields to generate street maps, which also allowed modifying fields manually.

Wow. I can't believe SIGGRAPH is over. It was great to be back from a six year absence, I believe. I definitely learned a lot, and it was really good to recharge my batteries. I'm looking forward to working on a few creative personal projects as well as being energized for my regular work.


I started today with a panel called Games: Evolving on an Order of Magnitude: During initial development of Playstation games, development teams averaged 15 artists, designers, and programmers with three to four technical engineers. For PS2, average project requirements increased to 55 artists, designers, and programmers with a technology team of 20 engineers. Now, for next-generation platforms, developers are seeing asset and team growth of an order of magnitude, but not necessarily the same growth in budgets or timelines. The greatest challenge now for game developers is to create economies of scale and pipeline efficiencies to accommodate project teams that are currently averaging 100-120 artists, designers, and programmers with 30 technical directors, programmers, and engineers. How do these companies address the complexity of programming and increased demands for quality and quantity of art assets to achieve near-life visuals?

Wow, that's a long description. I heard some good stories, and something interesting I took out of was from Steve Theodore of Bungie. He said that they removed all instances of File Explorer, et al, from their systems and relied on Search for finding files, assets, etc. He said that they saved roughly a man-year by doing this, and I'm going to see if I can translate that to our office.

Next up was a class - Advanced Material Appearance Modeling: For many years, appearance models in computer graphics focused on general models for reflectance functions coupled with texture maps. Recently, it has been recognized that even very common materials such as hair, skin, fabric, and rusting metal require more sophisticated models to appear realistic. This class begins with a brief review of basic reflectance models and the use of texture maps. It describes common themes in advanced material models (combining the effects of layers, groups of particles, and/or fibers); surveys the detailed models needed for materials such as (but not limited to) skin (including pigmentation, pores, subsurface scattering), plants (including internal structure), and automotive paints (including color flop and sparkle); and summarizes modeling of complex appearance due to aging and weathering processes. The class includes a general taxonomy of effects, as well as methods to simulate and capture these effects.

I'm on the record for liking the latest incarnation of Speed Racer, so I was able to check out the last thirty minutes or so of the Production Session called "Speed Racer": How Digital Domain, ILM, and Sony Pictures Imageworks Transformed a Vintage Anime Into a Wild Ride for the 21st Century: As the numbers of visual effects shots per film soar into the thousands, a huge army of artists, technical directors, and managers collaborates to create dazzling spectacles. In this session, supervisors from three of the principal studios reveal the psychedelic design, elaborate car animation, and complexities of collaboration required to create a very wild cinematic ride.

I caught another panel under the Computer Animation Festival banner called Flash Forward: From the classroom to the desktop, from the gallery to the television, Flash makes animation accessible and entertaining. Here is a full hour of some of the best Flash work in the world.

I heard from Greg Araya, one of the artists that make Foster's House for Imaginary Friends on the Cartoon Network, saw some nice interface work from Ken Martin of Blitz Agency as well as heard from one of the creators of JibJab, who created the "This Land is Your Land" Flash piece.

Flash is one of the applications for which I'll be creating some consumer usage models, so it was good to see how some of these people worked.

Thursday night was also the SIGGRAPH reception, and we got our money's worth! All of right field was reserved at Dodgers Stadium for a game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Philadelphia Phillies.


Underneath right field they had all kinds of free food. A Mexican food area, Asian Splendor, hamburgers and Dodger Dogs, ice cream bars, and they gave out a coupon for one free drink.

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We left around the 8th inning with the Dodgers leading 3-1, and we got out right in time. We missed a whole lotta crowd.


Sunday, August 17, 2008

Demoscene screening

From wikipedia, a demo is a non-interactive multimedia presentation made within the computer subculture known as the demoscene.

What I knew about the demoscene I found out in college, so it's been a while since I've even thought about it. I was used to very small, early 90's era graphical programming examples that were cool, but I never got into it. What I saw at the screening blew my mind!

So what's the big deal? The animations below aren't rendered with some sort of animation package - they are done in a miniscule amount of memory, usually 64k, and done in realtime. These guys really know their stuff.

Oh yeah. I had been away from demoscene for so long that I was totally unaware of the advances that have been made. Once the demos started playing, I was convinced that they were showing the incorrect footage. I mean, this couldn't be real-time, right? I actually got up out of my chair and talked to two people asking them if they were playing the correct footage. All they could tell me was that Demoscene was listed as starting at 4pm, and we were currently in the allotted time. They asked me what I thought should be playing, and I said I didn't know but I thought what was playing was too good!

I went back to my seat stunned, totally caught off-guard.

Five demos were shown:

Metamorphosis, by Andromeda Software Development

Beyond the Walls of Eryx, also by ASD

Debris, by Farbrausch & Nero

Route 1066, by UKscene Allstars

Lifeforce, also by ASD


Today began with some Nvidia Tech Sessions, the first of which was Next-Generation Hardware Rendering of Displaced Subdivision Surfaces - An overview of the next-generation tessellation pipeline and its motivation. The focus is on one of the primary applications: rendering of displaced subdivision surfaces, which dramatically increases the realism of animated characters. The talk also shows how to adapt production pipelines to create compelling content that takes advantage of this innovative rendering model.

The second was Real-Time Rendering of Realistic Hair - Until recently, simulating and rendering realistic hair with tens of thousands of strands was prohibitively expensive for real-time use. This session reviews how to render realistic hair with high geometric complexity in real time on the GPU. Topics include efficient creation and rendering of large amounts of geometry for hair (essential for creating realistic hair, especially when the hair is moving), shading, self-shadowing, level of detail, and important performance optimizations. The talk also shows how next-generation hardware tessellation can make creating and rendering hair much more intuitive and efficient.

Both of these were good and showed off a lot of work Nvidia is doing promoting their development tools and especially hardware. They have everything corralled in one place at, and I'm going to start messing around with shaders, so I just downloaded FX Composer to start experimenting.

I got to see a little bit of the ILM Production Session for Iron Man, mostly on how they made some of metal materials.

I had a small break so I went to the Nokia Theatre for some Computer Animation Festival Invited Screenings.

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The first screening was a lot of material from the Demoscene, uh, scene, and it's getting it's own post.

The second screening was the Studio Eye Candy, where they showed : Presto, from Pixar; Glago's Guest, by Disney; Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Iron Man and Spiderwick Chronicles by ILM; a liquid Bacardi spot and something else by Digital Domain; Live Free or Die Hard F35 sequence, by The Orphanage; I am Legend alternate ending, by Sony Pictures Imageworks; Scrat montage, by Blue Sky; and The Fourth Magi, by Lightstream Animation.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Softimage Party

Since we went to the Autodesk Users Group Monday night, we thought we could see what Softimage, the biggest competitor to Maya and 3D Studio MAX, had to say. Softimage has something new called ICE - Interactive Creative Environment.

We were expecting to get some info about the software, production houses talking about using it, demo reels, etc. Nope! Just a party at Club 740 in downtown LA. We met a Softimage reseller on the way to the party, and we thought we were close to getting VIP passes, but no such luck. They gave out one free drink coupon to everyone, but I didn't know what it was (I thought it was a raffle ticket), so I didn't use it for the first two drinks. Uh oh!

We weren't sure what to expect at a party with a company delivering a new product called ICE, but we soon found out.


Vanilla Ice! I'm not kidding. He came out along with Clint Eastwood on drums and DJ Dirty Chopstick on, uh, DJ. I'm still not kidding. It was actually a pretty good show! He started with some new music, downloadable for fee at his website, and then hit some of the classics.

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The DJ brought out two cases of bottled water and put them at the front of the stage. I thought that someone is going to be performing for a loooooong time, but it seems like Vanilla's gimmick is to spray the crowd periodically with water, drink water and spit it out on the crowd, drop kick water bottles and douse the girls that jump up on the stage.


Oh yeah. I'm not sure how they got the signal, but all of a sudden Vanilla held his hand out and started pulling girls up on stage. Of course, they start dancing, and then start dancing with each other. Finally one of the girls decided that she really wasn't in to the other girl and was trying to keep it like regular dancing, but the other girl wouldn't hear of it. Hilarity ensues, and the girl jumps back down into the crowd just to be replaced by someone else.

Here is Softimage's coverage of the event. We're famous! Look for us in the pictures - David's wearing a green shirt and I'm wearing a yellow shirt, and we're in the first three rows. I got dissed, hard, for a fist bump. Twice.

Oh yeah. Ron Jeremy was there. The connection with Softimage? Unknown.


He's up there on the walkway. They never put a spotlight on him, but sharp-eyed viewers should be able to pick him out.

I thought that the Autodesk party had a lot more information about the applications, the business, etc. This was fun, but I was hoping to hear how Softimage is positioning itself in the industry and against its competitors.


Today I started with Technical Paper: Image Collections & Video, which is definitely my favorite so far. The papers include some nice and novel techniques for image compression, image and video resizing and a technique for using large collections of photos (a la Flickr collections) to generate multiple views of content and finding paths through photos based on everyone else's photos.

Following that, I went to the technical paper on Parallelism, with a few tidbits on Larrabee, the upcoming Intel architecture.

Next I had a quick lunch and did a run-through on the exhibition Floor, where I talked to some Autodesk and Adobe guys about work-related stuff. A company called Point Grey Research had a Smart car with a camera called Ladybug 3, which was hooked up with a Dell XPS laptop for some 360 degree panoramic shots, and I got my picture on the display. I'm in the yellow shirt.

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Later that day was a Tech Talk from Intel - Why 3D Application Development is Driving Graphics-Industry Convergence. This was okay, but I couldn't stay for long.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Autodesk Users Group and Party

Monday night we went to the Autodesk Users Group and Party. It was at the Shrine Auditorium.

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We sat through almost five hours of bladder controversy and demos of Maya, Mudbox, 3D Studio MAX, a lot of stereoscopic demos and industry tidbits. The stereoscopic demos were very nice and done using Dolby 3D Digital Cinema.

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We looked totally hot. The glasses were really good. I had absolutely no problems wearing them over my glasses, and they worked flawlessly. They showed stereoscopic scenes from Star Wars, Coraline, Kung Fu Panda and many others. The announced versions of Maya, Motion Builder and Toxik supported stereoscopic in the viewport. Of course, you need a way to display stereoscopic images! A minor technicality, but they also supported the red-green anaglyph mode in the viewport just in case you weren't made out of money.

The meeting had some really great content, but waaaaaaay too long.

After the meeting everyone rushed out of the auditorium to another part of the building to Make that a semi-rave-like-performance-art-party-thing. Drinks were free, but crushing lines turned us away.


The party was put on by Massive Black, a studio full of really talented people and the force behind Andrew (Android) Jones was there doing what he does best - a combination of live art performance mindbomb. I really like what he does, and his personally-industrialized wearable Wacom tablet is pretty nice too!

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The food was a good mix of Asian flavor, but the teriyaki chicken kabob things went too quickly, especially when some dude walks by me and knocks my plate over. Dessert was endless chocolate-covered strawberries, pears with pomegranate (I think) and these fruit pastry things...I'm drawing a blank as to what they are named.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

First Day of SIGGRAPH!

We finally get started! We were able to take the HOV lane in to the convention center, so we missed the traffic.

My first class is Massive Model Visualization Techniques. It has some good info, but a little dry at parts.

After a quick lunch we see Ed Catmull, president of Walt Disney Animation and Pixar, give the keynote.

Ed Catmull

His speech was entitled Managing the Creative Environment, and it had some details about the start of Pixar, ideas vs people, management style and more. It was really good!

Here is the room for the Ed Catmull speech earlier in the day:


Closer to the start of the speech we noticed a line forming down the hallway and snaking back onto itself. It turns out that the auditorium fills up quickly and everyone gets turned away. We go to the first overflow room, but it looks like the video feed won't show him. We end up at the Geek Bar watching another remote feed projected on the wall.

There was also some odd robots at the new tech demo.

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After that I checked out the bookstore and caught the end of Advances in Real-Time Rendering in 3D Graphics and Games: Part 2 to see some details on how Blizzard rendered Starcraft 2. Looks nice!

The exhibition floor isn't open until Tuesday, so we take off and bolt to the Autodesk User's Group and Party.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Picking up our SIGGRAPH material

The convention opened this afternoon to register, pick up the materials and check out the lay of the land. We headed over, but first had to pick up In-N-Out burger!

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So I think I had my first In-N-Out burger, and while it was pretty good, I'm not sure what the big deal is. Later tonight we find out that you need to order it "animal style" to get some extra stuff piled on the burger and fries. We'll check it out again now that we know the whole story.

This particular In-N-Out is next to LAX, and planes were constantly landing over our heads. We could see two on the horizon lining up and it was crazy hearing the planes so close to us.

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We get to the convention center and browse a few conference rooms, and see The Geek Bar, which is a place to charge your batteries, check your email and watch a few live feeds from eight different presentations.



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First day in Hermosa Beach

After crashing for a few hours we get up with David's grandmother and head to Scotty's, a Hermosa Beach staple, for breakfast. I had the Acapulco Omelette, which is an omelette with chorizo and guacamole, sourdough toast and coffee.

I passed on the White Croaker Special.

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After breakfast we walked around the beach and the closest pier.

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Headed to Los Angeles

We finally got ready and in the car. Our trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles will take about six hours! Instead of getting an early start, we hung out blogging, getting frustrated with a printer, watching the first fifteen minutes of Cloverfield and eating sushi.

FINALLY we take off, but it's like 6:00pm.


We start out through the city but after the Bay Bridge we run through a wind farm and a lot of desolate flat land.




We end up stopping a few times to get some drinks, jerky, etc, and end up at David's grandmother's house after 1:30am!


We spent most of the time reading about the SIGGRAPH conference schedule and I end up getting tired, delirious and inserting random words into the descriptions. I need a nap!

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