Let the Good Bytes Roll

The eclectic sights and sounds of New Orleans add an extra dimension to this year’s SIGGRAPH confab and CG animation festival.

It’s a commonly acknowledged fact that the city of New Orleans knows how to throw a good party. Veteran CG fans and professionals who visited the town during previous SIGGRAPH events in 1996 and 2000 may not recall exactly which panels and projects they sat through at the time, but they will tell you that they had a wicked good time.

As members of the CG animation community get ready to convene at the colorful city once again, it’s interesting to see all the new programs and sidebars that have been lined up for the confab this year which will be held August 3-7 at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. While the dire economic climate will surely takes its toll on this year’s event, many of the organizers believe that it will only create a tighter, more convivial atmosphere for those who choose to fly to New Orleans.

‘We’ve ended up with the donors and the sponsors that have been really serious about SIGGRAPH,’ says Carlye Archibeque, this year’s Computer Animation Festival exec producer. ‘Working with a limited budget really made us examine our priorities and I think we ended up with programs that were really vital to the community. We discovered ways of saving money that we should have been doing all along.’

Archibeque says there is a rich diversity of styles and content on display in the projects selected for the festival. In contrast with the 2008 edition which had more Hollywood and studio-based material, this year will go deeper in exploring alternative applications of computer imagery in areas such as public service announcements, medical visualizations, scientific projects, urban planning and architecture.

The selection committee received over 770 submissions from around the world, and ended up picking more than 160 films for the Computer Animation Festival. Both Archibeque and the jury chair, ILM’s Miles Perkins, have selected their favorite projects for the event and will show the highest-ranked works as part of the evening screenings, preceded by real-time animation demos. Archibeque has also programmed special afternoon theaters focusing on educational material, as well as a ‘Too Cool for School’ session featuring all the fun shorts and great commercials which fall under the glitzy eye candy category. There’s also a program of shorts focusing on noirish, darker content.

Another highlight is a program featuring Oscar-winning animator Chris Landreth (Ryan) who is scheduled to screen his latest project The Spine and discuss the creative and technical details of his work with the audience on Thursday, August 6.

Other not-to-miss screenings include a beautiful new Supinfocom short titled Anima, a live-action/CG mix from the talented team at The Mill titled Dix, Digital Media Design Education Center of Taiwan’s Love Child and Chris Perry’s The Incident at Tower 37 (Hampshire College). Archibeque also thinks audiences will get a kick out of Sukwon Shin’s Unbelievable 4, in which ‘superheroes’ George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice and Donald Rumsfeld try to launch a rocket as a preemptive strike to save the world. Frightening, but also funny!

As expected the art and technology of stereoscopic 3-D animation will also be a hot topic. Sony Electronics’ exec VP Peter Lude will reveal the many challenges of bringing 3-D technology to home units, while Pixar’s 3-D guru Bob Whitehill discusses using 3-D to enhance mood and draw audiences further into a film’s story, using examples from Up and the Toy Story movies. In addition, screenings and panels on recent 3-D movies such as Coraline, Monsters vs. Aliens and G-Force and Sony’s upcoming Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs are all part of the mix.

Taking advantage of the vibrant backdrop of New Orleans, the organizers have included a selection of programs that focus on the city’s thriving musical scene. There’s a collection of the city’s popular music created especially for SIGGRAPH (which can be downloaded for $9.99 on the official event site), a special effort to bring local high school students to the conference at no charge, and charitable donations to local high school music programs and computer graphics labs. Northwestern University’s Dennis Miller has also put together a remarkable series of talks and programs focusing on visual music. Also embracing the local community’s needs and recent history are special presentations focusing on how computer-generated imagery has helped rebuild the city post-Katrina and how the Louisiana Dept. of Transportation is using digital tools to map out evacuation plans in case of natural disasters.

Overall, this sizzling edition of SIGGRAPH promises to offer a fascinating snapshot of where we are as a CG society in 2009. As Archibeque sees it, ‘We are on a very interesting path right now. We’re re-acknowledging traditional tools like 2D animation and are less impressed with glitzy visuals that claim to be cutting edge. What we’re seeing more than ever before are interesting uses of hybrid tools ‘ and putting the applications of technology to interesting use in all aspects of our lives. I think you’ll see reflections of all of that in this year’s programs.’ Not to mention a whole lot of fine Cajun flavors and red-hot music to feed the soul!

For more info, visit www.siggraph.org/s2009.