Wednesday, July 24, 2002


As the years go by and my experience gets more firmly entrenched in web development, it becomes more and more clear to me that I'll probably never be involved with doing some damn cool serious project with 3d graphics. That kind of depresses me, although hearing Gus and others talk about what a rough life it is to be a game developer, I don't feel quite as depressed as I could.

But all that aside, Siggraph is da bomb. Seriously. This is the fourth year total that I've gone to Siggraph, though it is the first year I've done it for one day with only an exhibits pass. In past years, I did all the classes and everything. But this year it was located near me, so I decided I could afford to be cheap and treat it as a one day road trip.

For those who don't know, Siggraph is the premiere convention for people who just dig computer graphics. Most of them are involved with producing graphics, selling tools, or buying content; some, like me, just want to be there to check out the way cool techno toys that are hopefully going to be widely used some day. I had no real practical reason for going; I'm not looking for work, I just treat it like a geek's day at Disneyland.

I've got a Palm Pilot full of notes, so rather than put everything together into a narrative, I'm just going to include all my notes that I downloaded and comment on them.

Interesting books
Steve Rabin - AI Game Programming Wisdom
Steve Caplin - How to Cheat in Photoshop

Neat bookstore, but every special interest thing in there costs over $50. I'm putting them on my Amazon wish list in case I can ever buy them cheaper.

Feeling the VW (and torso)

This was the first interesting exhibit I saw walking in the door, and it was very neat. They had a T-Bar that can move freely in all three dimensions. It slides up and down, rotates horizontally on a swivel, and moves forward and backward on a slider. Moving the bar around controls a small ball on a nearby computer screen. Now here's the cool part. On screen with the ball was a model of something -- at first it was a VW bug. The bar gives force feedback. You can run the ball over the surface of the model, and you can feel all the curves and contours of the object. I slid the ball over the curved roof, through a window, and then around the under side of the roof. I felt the runoff grooves on the hood.

Of course as soon as you invent something like this, someone will immediately think "How can I use this to improve my sex life, or get one if I don't have one?" Sure enough, they had a model of a woman's torso. No head or anything below the waist. I decided not to play with the torso, cause in a crowded room that would just be weird. But I would infer that it was just as rock solid as the car, so it didn't seem all that exciting anyway. I'm sure there are programming tricks that could improve on that, but ANYWAY, let's move on.

dome screen

At this exhibit, you can sit in front of a screen that's shaped like a hemisphere. You are surrounded by screens on both sides and above and below you. I presume this is sort of the ultimate in home theater systems, like a personal IMAX theater. On screen, I saw a roller coaster simulation and a jet fighter demo. They explained how they generate five different images, one for each side (front, left, right, up, down) and then stitch them together with an algorithm that also corrects for the dome warping effects. Seems like this would be a good way to play immersive games, although producing movies for them would be a challenge and probably involve some sort of special five way camera (which I also saw an example of elsewhere, but I'll get to that later).

coming from dw
2003 sinbad - brad pitt, cath zj
2004 shrek 2, sharkslayer, over the hedge (jc)
2005 madagascar ben st chris rock

I got a flyer from Dreamworks concerning the next several years of animated flicks. The posters look good, especially Madagascar. I'm a fan of both Ben Stiller and Chris Rock, and they'll be playing a lion and a zebra from the zoo who get shipwrecked in Africa. Sharkslayer will be cartoon still CG, starring Will Smith. It looks like a mafia movie underwater. Over the Hedge stars Jim Carrey.

3d spinning plates

It was a 3d graphics display. I mean, you could actually see a wireframe model displayed in 3d. The way it works is, there is a circular upright screen. It spins really fast, and displays different cross sections as it spins. There was a crude interactive 3d "game" you could play with a joystick, but there was no objective except to show off the capabilities. Image-wise, it didn't look any better than a Nintendo Virtual Boy (anybody remember those??) but it was cool anyway because it was really 3d and you don't have to wear special glasses or look in a viewfinder or anything.

ILM Showing off star wrs anim

A nice little demo from Episode II of a spaceship shooting up a tower. An animator walked the audience through all the steps of adding on explosions, laser beams, etc to the original modelled scene.


Just trying to keep track of the time occasionally.

t-shirt art

Off in another corner, there were free art lessons being given. Everybody gets a Siggraph t-shirt with a large blank square to draw on. A male model was sitting in front of the room, striking a typical male model pose. The instructor was explaining how to sketch him in lines. I didn't participate, art not being my thing.

rapid prototyping (bell)

I saw a rapid prototyping machine in action years ago at the San Diego Supercomputer Center, where I used to have some classes. It's a device that reads in a wireframe model and produces a physical version. An example of one appeared in Jurassic Park 3, although like most of the movie, you had to take the scientific explanation with a grain of salt.

The one at Siggraph used the technique of hardening liquid and lasers. There was some kind of goo, and you blast the goo to make a thin cross section of the model. Then you slap it on top of the rest of the model, and keep making cross sections. The result looks like plastic. The technology has clearly improved since the last time I saw these things; the resolution is very high. The curves look curvy and not angular. Sample models were a replica of the liberty bell, very nicely painted and glossy; an alien creature; and some weird work of art which was a sphere made up of stretched out half naked people. A sign said "Do not touch" on that one because the fingers in the model were very thin and fragile.

nvidia geforce 4 werewolf, metal chick with bubbles
blizzard north guys - i'm not worthy!!

I watched a demo of the geforce 4 at the NVidia booth. It's hard to describe what I saw more exactly, but trust me, it was cool. One was a hairy, slobbery werewolf running around through shadowed and lighted areas; the other was some funky dancing woman who leaves bubbles in a trail behind her. All very detailed and smooth, and being rendered in real time on ordinary 2 gig processors.

While watching the demo, I noticed that two guys were standing there, one wearing a black "World of Warcraft" shirt. I tentatively said, "You guys aren't FROM Blizzard, are you?" "Sure," said the guy with the shirt. "You think we faked these badges?" Sure enough, the badges said "Blizzard." "Dude!" I said, and made the universally recognized "I'm not worthy!" bowing and scraping gesture from Wayne's World. They laughed. Must have been used to it. I said "I'm the biggest fan of Warcraft!" They said "Actually, we're from Blizzard North." "Oh," I said. "Well... Diablo is really good too." How's that for a good first impression?

So I asked them what's up with them, and they told me that Blizzard South is working on WoW, so Blizzard North is working on... they can't say. A secret, don'tcha know. Oh well, I tried.

Emerging tech
semi-opaque screen
not that impressive

I saw a smaller room off the beaten path that said "Emerging Technology". I decided to check it out. This looked to be mostly experimental prototype stuff. Not all of it worked very well.

The first thing I saw was this semi-opaque screen demo. Basically it's a standard VR helmet that can let the real world through in some places but not in others. So you can superimpose, say, a building on a city block, and see the fake building in front of the real buildings. Or, the virtual building can be behind the real ones, by letting the space taken up by real buildings be clear, and only the sky part of the virtual building be opaque. And IN THEORY, you can hold your hand up in front of you, and the helmet senses that your hand is closer than the buildings (thanks to multiple camera inputs), and your hand will be visible in front of the virtual building.

Problem is, it didn't really work too reliably. As a demo, they had two players play a virtual "breakout" game with each other. Virtual balls fly around and you smack them with your real hand to break the bricks. It looked fun watching other people do it. In reality, your hand is fuzzy and semi-transparent, and the ball doesn't recognize your hand's position most of the time, so you'll be swatting around at the air and not really getting a reaction.

mask thing, ditto

This one was just strange. You hold a little hand held screen up in front of a bunch of blocks. You see what you're pointing at on the screen, and if you hold it in front of blocks with a certain pattern, a funky Japanese mask appears over the block. I didn't really get it, except that it was pattern recognition.

3d power point???
controlled by palm pilot

Something called "The Cave", which is a small closed off room with a computer screen that fills an entire wall. The guy was using a palm pilot like device to call up powerpoint slides. When he called up a slide, a mechanical arm (in the virtual screen world) would go and pull out a picture from somewhere and bring it close to the screen. For really pretentious businessmen who have too much money, I guess.

"organic robot" follows your hand

Cute. Looks like a giant primitive slug. It sits in a little environment that they built for it (a real set, not a virtual world) and wiggles around, drinking water. When someone waves a hand near it, the slug bends and stretches in that direction, as if it were trying to get a better look. The main thing they were emphasizing was that it's "organic" looking, not machine-like. It was a latex skin over many bending parts.

robot photographer - way cool! weddings etc

This was neat. A little robot on wheels wandered around the room, more or less at random, swivelling a little lens all over the place. It was programmed to recognize regularly sized patches of skin tone. When it sees what looks like a face, it moves to a position where it can get a good shot, and then takes a picture. On a screen, you can see pictures that have been taken recently, and the face is framed in blue to show what the robot identified.

I had my picture converted through an "old time photo" filter, and they emailed it to me. Or at least they said they would. I haven't received it yet.

big turning 9 way camera

Sort of reminded me of the dome screen, except that this one was filming live. There were nine cameras in a little 3x3 grid, with some arrangement of mirrors to make the images line up. Elsewhere, there are nine large screens in a similar arrangement, but they are mounted in such a way that you can turn the whole arrangement. That is, you stand in the middle, grab handles on either side, and swing the whole thing to either side. The camera turns with you. So you can follow someone around the room, stuff like that. Like I said, this might be a good way to film movies for the dome home theater. It also might be good for surveillance.


star wars bounty hunter, all in maya

I left the emerging technology area and went mainstream again. I watched a LucasArts programmer brag about what a great tool Maya is, and everything in the game is done in Maya. I forget why this seemed interesting enough to take a note on, but the game looked good.

veggie tales ,ICK
dancing crosses
"goal: to reintroduce biblical values into pop. media"

Need I say more? If you've seen Veggie Tales, I shouldn't. They were showing clips from the upcoming "Veggie Tales, the movie". A board off to one side proclaims their mission statement, as I noted above. There's much more sappy stuff where that came from. (Half-hearted apologies to anyone who likes veggie tales.)

chat w blizzard - prefers altar first

I found the Blizzard table. It was a modest affair, no big booth, just a table with flyers and a TV screen showing the movies from the Warcraft DVD. I decided to chat with the Blizzard guys and ask the burning question: "Altar first, or barracks?"

The guy I talked to said it's a hotly debated question, and there is no easy answer. But personally, he likes altar first because he likes to have a hero quickly. He asked "What race do you play?" I said "random, mostly." He said "It's tough to play random nowadays, with everyone playing the night elves." I said "Maybe, but I'm low level, and the players who I get automatically matched with don't know how to play night elves very well."

Eventually, I left the exhibit hall and went to:

anim theater
some kinda funny stuff, too much weird art crap

The animation theater was playing constantly. I stayed for about 20-30 minutes. Not impressed. Even the funny shorts weren't all that funny. Clearly the REALLY good stuff was not included there, because it was saved for the Electronic Theater shows that play twice a day and cost $40 to get into. I hadn't bought a ticket, so I don't know what was played there.

After that, I went to:

2:15 art gallery

The art gallery had some neat exhibits in it. Some things were attended by their creators, and some weren't. Some were art made with CG, and some were art that made a statement about what computers are doing in our lives. The first thing in the gallery was a display where visitors could clip off some of their hair, put it in a test tube, assign themselves a bar code, and type in some anonymous personal information. It's all about how computers are reducing us all to bits of data, understand? Or something like that.

text arc (see flyer)

That was really neat. It's a way of turning books into art. Take a text from Project Gutenberg (Alice in Wonderland was featured). Arrange ALL the words in a big giant circle. Then, every word that is repeated more than once moves toward the center, appearing in a position that is determined by the average location of all occurrences in the text. For instance, the word "Alice" appears tons of times, appearing near the center and connected by strands that radiate out to places all over the text. The word "duchess" is very local to one chapter, so it is positioned way off to one side.

Actually it's really hard to explain, but they've been featured in the New York Times. Go here:

flythrough of "ideal city"

This was a VR flythrough, appearing on a big screen and controlled by a joystick. The model was a very large New York city block. According to the artist, who was sitting on hand, every surface was taken from an actual photo, but not from the same place. So it was kind of a mosaic of surfaces and billboards and people. You could fly up and see big neon ads, and fly down and look at cabs, people, delis, and vendors. The simulation was very slow when most of the city appeared on screen. But that's okay; it's not a game, it's art.

sound inflated suits

Two guys wearing inflatable bubbles danced around each other, shouting, grunting, humming, and singing. The suits automatically inflate and deflate depending on how noisy they are. They looked ridiculous, but it was funnier than anything I saw in the animation theater.

bubble game

A touch sensitive screen, where you can push bubbles around with your finger. There was actually a goal to the game, get rid of all the gray dots. But the rules were not written clearly, only represented abstractly in pictures. I suppose figuring out the rules was the whole point, somehow. I spent a while trying to master the game, and after I won a few times, I hung around and explained to other people how it worked. They asked if I designed it. :)

maze walker!

After I got my fill of art, I went back to do one more circuit of the exhibition, and popped into the "emerging technologies" room. I saw a new exhibit that wasn't set up earlier.

A projector shines down from the ceiling onto a raised platform. The projector is displaying a maze on the floor. You step on a small circular platform near one side. You march in place to walk through the maze. To turn, you turn your feet around. The platform spins you around so you are always facing forward, but the maze turns with you. Obviously it requires an excellent sense of balance, though that wasn't the main point.

It very fun, but it had some significant bugs. Several times, a clipping error caused me to jump outside the maze, and the operator had to hit the reset button. Sometimes the sensor misunderstands which way you're facing, and it spins you around so you're facing backwards. If you walk, then you walk backwards. If you try to turn around, the platform keeps spinning you so you're still backwards. The only solution is to step off and get back on again, or hit the reset button.

Well, that's the end of my notes. I did visit the SGI booth, but I guess I didn't take notes on what they were showing.

No comments:

Post a Comment