SIGGRAPH 2004 recap

Well, SIGGRAPH is done and gone and I should record my thoughts for posterity.
Five days of trekking to the convention center was one day too many, a feeling I get almost every year. I always sense that I’ve missed something, so I end up at the show just one more time to make sure I got it all in.
i. Exhibition
The exhibition was contained in halls H and J of the ginormous [gigantic/enormous] exhibition hall. A big convention, but small for SIGGRAPH. Digging out an old program from SIGGRAPH 2001, also at the Los Angeles Convention Center, the exhibition occupied the entire exhibition hall, halls G, H, J, and K, with registration in a downstairs hall (a carpeted parking garage) and the Electronic Theater held offsite at the Shrine Auditorium.
This year, the exhibition floor, the registration area, and the electronic theater were all contained in the exhibition hall.
There is some serious shrinkage going on with SIGGRAPH. The exhibition is now dominated by 3D tools for the entertainment industry, whereas previously this industry was one of many dominant forces. Kind of like the sole remaining superpower… hey, I think I’ve found my metaphor.

ii. Art Gallery
The art gallery serves as a more human, more visceral counterpoint to the world of machines in the exhibition hall. But as the exhibition gets smaller, the overall power of the art gallery also diminishes. There has also been an artificial (and incomplete) schism of the arts into two groups: the more passively viewed 2D/3D/screen-based works located in the Art Gallery (codename: Synaesthesia), and the more physically engaging work which has been absorbed by Emerging Technologies. The difference is slippery, and has more to do with lighting than anything else — if it is dimly lit, it must be emerging technology.
I should say more about the art gallery. From the program: “Synaesthesia seeks works that provoke and enable us to re-experience, re-examine, and make sense of our bodies, our technologies, and our culture.” I’m not sure who we are, that the work offered allows us to examine our bodies, culture, &c, other than a we of SIGGRAPH patrons. Synaesthesia’s fatal flaw is that it isn’t very inviting, it is all complexity and chaos and grey lines on paper, which makes it hard to distinguish from the world we try to filter out every day — all ground, no figure.
iii. Emerging Technology
Entering the Emerging Technology (”E Tech”) gallery from the south side, you are confronted by “The Invisible Train: A Handheld Collaborative Augmented-Reality Demonstrator” (Thomas Pintaric, Dieter Schmalstieg, Daniel Wagner, Vienna University of Technology). A child’s wooden train track is set up on a table, with cryptic black and white cards scattered in the open areas. Viewing the table through a handheld PDA with an attached camera reveals a blocky 3D train on the tracks.
The cryptic black and white cards are used for machine vision, a field that has had great success in the past few years, and a technology that was quite popular at SIGGRAPH 2003 in San Diego. With “Invisible Train”, the emphasis isn’t on the machine vision technology but on an augmented reality toolkit under development. Since the project utilizes wireless PDAs, all the image processing must be done by the low powered processor in the device, resulting in poor image detection and stifling visual quality. Take that and the bland execution of the train theme and you’ve got something that does little to spark interest in augmented reality technology.
At the opposite entrance into the gallery, the floor is dominated by three flat panel displays mounted on vertical poles, Matthew Mohr’s “The Island of Misfit Toys”. Billed as a “3D spatial narrative”, the viewer is invited to rotate each screen around its column, giving them a “bullet-time” view into a static virtual scene, something like a virtual periscope only with the camera moving around a central focus point. A brief investigation of the piece reveals a narrative involving six rooms (two per column): in one scene, a young man appears to be dropping a toilet paper roll out of the window, in another scene a woman smiles at a paper airplane.
What is dissatisfying about Misfit Toys is that the “narrative” it offers is completely one dimensional. Beyond the visual appeal, there is no real depth to the story told by the images — nor is there any clear reason why the piece is presented on 3 screens, all located in the same space. Overall the work was excessive and overproduced — just what one would expect from Parsons School of Design.
Framed between these two works lay dozens of booths, some labelled “E Tech”, some “E Art”, and some “E Merge”. Since the interactive/performance based art is mixed in with everything else, I guess you need a way to distinguish art from merge/tech.
On the merge/tech side, I was most impressed by GelForce [Tachi Lab, University of Tokyo], a device for measuring both force intensity and direction using a CCD camera. This has some impressive implications should they be able to miniaturize the technology.
iv. Special Sessions
This year’s special sessions were eclectic and poorly attended. “Real-Time 3DX: Demo or Die” is a mutated version of the VRML Roundup/Web3D Roundup. The event has diminised over the years, largely because many big players in 3D web graphics have disappeared over the years, and rightly so.
What can you expect from an event whose name changes depending on the latest breakthrough 3D technology? Two hours of disappointment, with one exception: Gerard Kim’s “Immersive Authoring for Tangible [Augmented Reality]“. I’ll have to find a link for that.
“Puppetry and Computer Graphics” was another strange special session, highlighted by the appearance of Gonzo from The Muppets. This is an uncomfortable time for computer generated puppets; digital characters really lack that surface quality of physical puppets — not just the softness of a felt puppet, but also the hardness of wood, the coldness of metal, and so on. But there were no such aesthetic considerations at this session, just a straight discussion of computer graphics past and present.
“VJ: The Art of Live Video Performance” was the most unpopular session I’ve seen — it was scheduled against the Cyber Fashion Show. VJing is too new and too nebulous to attract much of a crowd anyway. The panel was mostly a snoozer, aside from TV Sheriff who had a scratchable DVD player prototype on loan from Pioneer.
v. What else?
Some brief revisions made 26 Aug.

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2 Responses to “SIGGRAPH 2004 recap”
  1. Matthew Mohr says:

    I’m glad you stopped by my project, ‘Spatial Narrative – The Island of Misfit Toys’ in Emerging Technologies. As well, nice that you took the time to write about it.
    There is a reason that there are three screens utilized. All six scenes (two per monitor) are related through spatial relationships and visual cues. It is a non-linear narrative which takes place simultaneously in two buildings in Manhattan. By following the use of paper in each scene (a metaphor for creativity) one might be able to discover the thread of the story, a tale of growing up creative.
    There was a lot going on at SIGGRAPH. I knew it would be difficult for people to take the time for an in-depth experience with my project. As for your comment about Parsons and a tendency towards being excessive and over-produced; everything included in the narrative was there for a specific reason. Given that I did most of the work by myself on my home computer, I’ll take it as an indirect compliment.
    Keep on truckin’

  2. ErikC says:

    I think this is the G. Kim link you were looking for.
    Immersive Authoring for Tangible Augmented Reality Applications
    Interested in your critique of IF..