A Day At SIGGRAPH 2012

By James DeRuvo (doddleNEWS)

So I went to SIGGRAPH today, the 39th annual graphics confab, which this year is taking place at the Los Angeles Convention Center.  I expected talk about computer graphics in filmmaking, video games, publishing and more.  And it was all of that … but what I didn’t expect was just how technical this conference really is … and here’s a few stand outs that I saw inside Hall J …

The main stand outs for my day on the showroom floor were from Autodesk, NewTek, and Render Rocket Cloud Rendering Services.  All three companies demo’d some great new technologies which will certainly aid filmmakers, video game developers, and other graphics professionals to bring their visions to reality and to make them even more realistic than we’re used to.  Here’s a brief rundown of what I saw …

AutoDesk Motion Builder.  Yeah, you could say that Motion Builder is just another 3D Animation tool like Maya or Cinema 4D, sure.  It’s for that.  It can create, edit, and play back complex character animation that’s ideal for animation, video gaming, and filmmaking.  But what really impressed me was that once they put together a pair of 3D characters, they connected wirelessly to the Optitrack motion capture booth about 30 feet away and overlayed the motion capture data from a pair of actors directly onto the characters, which reacted in real time.  We saw the live video feed of the actors and as they moved, the characters repeated the movement precisely.

Then it was recorded and played back.  I loved it.  That could make for some serious live performance animation as well.  Course, not everyone has a motion capture studios worth tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars, so Motion Builder comes with motion captured templates that can also be applied to 3D characters that you create.  And all 3D models made in Maya are directly supported and accessible in Motion Builder.  Sweet.  And what’s cool about OptiTrack is that they’ve made motion capture far more affordable for the independent animation and video game producer, taking a motion capture package costing hundreds of thousands and bringing costs down to under $20K, and even as low as $5K.  That’s amazing.

Additionally, AutoDesk announced that their demo of SMOKE, a professional video editor for Mac, is now free to be used until December.  That’s a nice 120 day free trial of a compete full version of the software.  So if you downloaded Smoke after NAB, that means you can get a full six months out of it before you have to decide to buy it.

NewTek LightWave 11.  Now sure. Lightwave has been around forever.  And viewing their impressive list of professionals in Hollywood that rely on LightWave every day, you have to ask yourself, what else can they fit into an 11th incarnation of the this amazing 3D graphics suite?  How about interfacing with a SONY Playstation 3 and using the Playstation Move controller to manipulate characters, virtual cameras, and virtual lighting in 3D space?   It was way cool.  See the guy on the far left?  He was the voice actor who made the 3D character move while he sang a nice version of Jailhouse Rock.  Meanwhile, the NewTek reps manipulated the virtural camera and virtual light to provide for some nicely lit 3D animated scenes of a monster jailed and then recorded it an played it back with nearly zero render time.  It was really cool and makes me wonder why some guerilla YouTube filmtype will be able to do with that once they figure NewTek has added it.

Lastly, I had a great talk with a rep from Render Rocket Cloud Rendering Service.  And as he was telling me about the service itself, began to think about the SETI @Home project.  SETI @Home was an idea from a radio astronomer looking for life in other planets on a shoestring budget.  They wrote a program which volunteers could install onto their computers and then allow SETI to use them to analyze background radio signals of the universe looking for intelligent patterns.  It was really cool and just acted like a screen saver which engaged when you weren’t using your computer.  Rocket Render is kinda like that, except on a professional scale.  It uses a vast array of render servers, all tied together to render out scenes in concert.  Users of the service can use a very DropBox like utility to place a scene to be rendered and then it moves up to the cloud to be rendered out and returned.  The other way is to upload the file via FTP.  It’s pretty cool and allows smaller budget films to have the clout of large budget render farm at a fraction of the cost.  Render Rocket has worked with big feature projects and smaller short films and have even helped out struggling filmmakers with services on a shoestring.   Which makes it a serious consideration for a budding animation project.

We’ll dig into each of these deeper within the next few days, as well as a few others …. there was other cool stuff like an amazing video wall that had nearly 4500 small video clips playing on a bank of large screen LCD HDTVs, and were controlled on two small SSD flash memory based server cards by Fusion IO.  Canon was also there showcasing their augmented and mixed reality glasses, which they believe will revolutionize manufacturing, and it seems like animation academies (like Digital Domain Academy, at University of Florida) and 3D printing rapid prototypers were alternating between the big buys like NVidia, AMD, and Intel.  Even Pixar was there to showcase their iconic Renderman Software.

All in all, it was awe inspiring to see the technical innovation behind the utilities we take for granted when we tell our post production guys to do the impossible.  Would it be an ideal place for directors to hang out?  Not likely.  But the guys who make a director’s vision a reality would be right at home.

About James DeRuvo

James has a multi-faceted career that spans radio, film and publishing. A writer about the technology in the video industry for nearly 20 years, James is also an award winning film director, having garnered a Telly Award for his short film Searching for Inspiration. He's also worked as a producer of many talk radio programs in Los Angeles with topics ranging from entertainment to travel to technology.

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