Rob Jamieson reports from SIGGRAPH 2008 in Los Angeles

23 September 2008

SIGGRAPH is becoming increasingly focussed on CAD with plenty of new graphics-centric technologies on show. Finding time to see them, in between work (and the endless parties), is the hard part, writes Rob Jamieson

SIGGRAPH is the largest graphics show in the world and, now in its 35th year, is the place where hardware and software gets launched, funky parties happen and there are geeks in abundance. The show has such a high profile that it even prompted some disgruntled employees of one of the attending companies to stage a protest outside of the front entrance.

This year the week long event was held in the crazy city of Los Angeles. As always, I was working hard on a stand and in the press room, so it is likely that a few things escaped my attention, however I did manage to find time to walk the exhibition hall several times and to squeeze in a few parties here and there just so that I could report back to you - what dedication!

As per the norm, the usual software companies were present and showing off their new products. Autodesk launched a new version of Maya and spent its time highlighting its ability to model in 3D stereo mode - mainly for the production of movies but also for the purpose of design visualisation. Furthermore, Maya has the Direct Connect tool which allows the importation of CAD files from other Autodesk packages and from some of its competitors. For the first time this year Autodesk also had Revit on its stand which, to my mind , demonstrated the importance of CAD and design visualisation as part of the SIGGRAPH scene today (Revit is a 3D CAD package for architects and engineers - Ed).

Dassault Systemes presented its 3dVia technology complete with modelling and viewing capabilities (see DEVELOP3D July/August edition - p44). A slight departure from the company’s mid- and high-end CAD software for which the company is famed, this technology targets a broader audience. My opinion is that the viewing capabilities in some of these free packages combined with the option to embed web pages might just warm up the ‘viewer’ wars again. The fact that some of the packages also target the gaming space offered another interesting angle.

SIGGRAPH also attracts a lot of smaller companies showing off their wares which may not have the big stands or the glitzy parties but offer up good value software with good 3D CAD capabilities. McNeel (which develops Rhino) is an example of one such company which used the opportunity to show off nice lighting effects in its packages. There was also a lot of ‘organic’ software on show which, despite not lending itself to design visualisation, is great to watch demos of, such as character creation like Mud box (now Autodesk) and Z Brush.

The Khronos Group used SIGGRAPH to publish the specifications for OpenGL 3, where previous versions are currently used in many design applications. The new version supports high dynamic range (HDR) images and now includes support for 32-bit, floating point data, both for depth and rendering buffers as well as for textures, providing better colour depth quality. OpenGL 3 has links to OpenCL (http://macnn.com/rd/108246), a new standard for parallel GPU computing which will become more of a feature of future CAD/Visualisation, image and business software products.

Unusually for SIGGRAPH there wasn’t a large amount of new hardware launched this year. AMD launched some new workstation professional graphic cards, rebranding them from FireGL to FirePro, and Intel, with its very large stand and event sponsorship, promoted some potential platform products. Several laptops were also launched like the Lenovo W500, which I’m sure DEVELOP3D labs will benchmark soon.

Every year there is a lot of promotion around the computer/human interface. In the emerging technologies section there were two examples that I particularly liked. The first was the use of smoke and projected light to form the lines of a tennis court. As the softball bounced, more light was projected making it easier to see. It was like being in the Tron movie playing a real game. This, along with the light projected keyboards for PDAs, might have some future. The other example was a flight simulator controlled by moving your hands about in free space. You didn’t need to wear any equipment, it just picked up your hand movements via a camera or two and translated it to a steering column. It was very much like in the movie Minority Report. Notice a trend here? Which begs the question whether science fiction is now leading reality?

As I have already alluded to, SIGGRAPH would not be SIGGRAPH without the parties and normally it’s Autodesk competing against XSI (AVID) for the best night. Last year Autodesk had its party in an Aircraft carrier that became so full not everybody could get in, but, if you were lucky enough to be one of those people, it was great fun. This year Autodesk hosted a party in a massive theatre, however after three hours of product demos plus a full day at the show it made it a very long day. The showreels were excellent and the 3D specs were worn avidly by the large audience. Afterwards there was the usual fight for the free bar and the music was loud, and heavy on the bass, but perhaps it’s just me just getting old.

The XSI party had Vannilla Ice of ‘Ice Ice Baby’ fame singing a set in a trendy club

The following night the XSI party had Vanilla Ice of ‘Ice Ice Baby’ fame singing a set in a trendy club where the ‘Girls were hot wearing less than bikinis’. No, I’m not just spouting lyrics, there were lots of girls dancing on podiums with not very much on. To get a ticket all you had to do was to watch a short demo on the XSI stand earlier in the day - clever. Being a sponsor for this event was an added bonus as we had drinks vouchers which made it less of a fight at the bar. However, acquiring my early departing work colleagues’ vouchers was not so good as I felt compelled to use them, which didn’t bode well for the next day on the stand. This year I think XSI might have just pipped Autodesk to the post on the party front , but maybe I’m just biased (or easily bribed by alcohol). Either way once again SIGGRAPH proved a very interesting and entertaining experience - I look forward to seeing what next year has to offer!

Comments on this article:

Leave a comment

Enter the word you see below: