SIGGRAPH 2020’s conference chair Kristy Pron hopes this year’s virtual attendees will get everything they always get from the event — with the exception of the physically being in a major urban conference hall. Pron, who is a media arts and pipeline developer for Walt Disney Imagineering, says that while it was a bit challenging to have to switch gears and start planning a virtual event in light of the COVID-19 situation, she is confident that the experience, which kicks off August 17, will be a positive and enriching one.
“We were lucky because we had a couple of months to make a decision and that’s why we pushed back the date from July to August, because we had so much content to deal with,” Pron says. “We talked to several other events which had made the switch to virtual and learned from their experiences. Time zones, for example, are a huge issue to deal with, since we’re trying to find the best solution for everyone to experience the conference, regardless of where they live around the world.”
The organizers were able to pivot around the original theme of the event, “Think Beyond,” and applied it to the new virtual, stay-at-home situation. “We wanted everyone to really think beyond the usual areas of animation and production and expand the focus to CG in the world of science, automotive, theme parks and education,” explains Pron. “But when we went virtual, the theme lent itself to how we deliver content as well. In fact, I think attendees are able to get a lot more out of the experience this year, because you can see more things and if you miss any of the live sessions, you can watch them in playback.”
One of the areas that will benefit from the new format is the Technical Papers section of the confab. According to Pron, the papers will be released on demand during the first week of the event, and during the second week, four authors will be available to participate in special Q&A sessions. The Computer Animation Festival will also get a bigger than usual reach since a wider at-home audience will be able to take in the selection than the customary conference theater arena.
Pron and her team are also working hard to retain the job recruitment and mentorship aspects of the program. “We will be engaging students through a special virtual job fair in the exhibition area of the website,” she notes. “I was a student volunteer myself, so I recognize what a vital part of the experience it is. We’re working at connecting volunteers with mentors in the industry and to encourage the community and networking aspects of SIGGRAPH online.”
And what kind of tips does the conference chair have for at-home attendees of the confab? “I would say, try to pace yourself,” Pron notes. “During the first week, go through the material and get the lay of the land, since the show will be on for two weeks this year. Then, you can go back and catch everything during the second week. Most of the content will be available 60 days after August 28, so there are plenty of opportunities to take in the content and also to keep the conversation going for the rest of the year. I hope everyone gets the inspiration that they usually get from SIGGRAPH. The event is all about community, learning and the opportunity to experience new things. That’s what I want everyone to have until next year when we can have SIGGRAPH in person again.”
A Digital Cornucopia
SIGGRAPH’s Computer Animation Festival director Munkhtsetseg Nandigjav answered a few of our questions about this year’s lineup:
How long have you been working on curating the festival this year?
From early on, I wanted this year’s Electronic Theater program to be driven heavily by stories that are dramatic, entertaining, educational and inspirational. I also hoped the selections would speak truth in the ways that they’re engaging and inviting our diverse audience in.
Between early January with the opening of submissions and mid-July with finalizing the lineup post-jury, I spent many nights and weekends watching the content repeatedly. It was a process that ran about seven months. This length of time was also partially due to the pandemic causing us to adjust our timeline for the conference.
What are some of the big highlights of this year’s program?
One of the biggest highlights of this year is that we are presenting the show virtually to a global audience, which is something we’ve never done before. While it was a bit disappointing to cancel the in-person show, I’m excited to see how we might be able to reach a larger audience than we thought possible. Continuing last year’s efforts to focus on diversity, we made significant progress in 2020. I’m proud that not only is our program content diverse — representing a number of different categories — but the characters presented and stories told are diverse. Furthermore, when it came to reviewing the content, we had nine female reviewers out of 20 total, who offered varying expertise in advance of the jury, and a 50 percent female jury, each of whom are amazingly accomplished, inspiring women.
In an effort to acknowledge the work of often-underrepresented categories, we have established a “Special Recognition” designation for which the jury selected the honoree. The chosen piece to be recognized with this designation in 2020 is “Stem Cells: The heroes in Crohn’s perianal fistula treatment,” which falls within the “Visualization (Conceptual Animation)” category.
Since its early days, the SIGGRAPH Computer Animation Festival has been home for showcasing advances in computer graphics and the best computer-generated imagery of the past year. Many well-known and well-regarded short films have even premiered at SIGGRAPH conferences. In keeping with this tradition, I’m excited to be presenting three world premieres in 2020: Windup from Unity Technologies, Automaton from Pixar Animation Studios and Visual ASMR from Onesal Studio.
Last but not least, we will be offering a virtual Directors Panel following the streaming premiere on Monday, 24 August. The panel will take place at noon Pacific on Thursday, 27 August, and will be available to Ultimate pass holders. Get ready to hear from five directors as they discuss the making of their incredible work.
Do you have any personal favorites?
I’m proud of all of the pieces that will be presented in the show this year, and think each is great in its own way. Each selection adds significance to the greater story of the Electronic Theater, and several of them have inspired and connected with me on a deeper, personal level, including:
To: Gerard from DreamWorks Animation – This short film represents a lovely story about how a simple act of kindness can make such a huge impact in the lives of others and in oneself. Especially during this time, I think a story like this brings hope by beautifully showcasing the goodness in humankind.
Loop from Pixar Animation Studios – Loop tells its story with bravery and positivity, acknowledging what it’s like to both be and know a person with autism, and suggesting a perspective we all could learn something from. It is a hugely educational piece that I think will help to make positive changes in conversations all around in our society.
Worlds Beyond Earth from the American Museum of Natural History – This data-driven scientific visualization is absolutely astonishing with breathtaking scenes! It tells a beautiful story about the dynamic nature of worlds around the solar system. I find it exciting to see how more complex information can be communicated through such high-quality visuals.
Windup from Unity Technologies – One of the world-premiere selections, this short film was rendered in real time and is one of the pieces that I continuously find myself crying over … even after watching it multiple times. The young girl’s struggle with health and her father’s every effort and unwillingness to give up to save his daughter was a story of my early life. Not to mention, my dad also is an engineer. It’s incredible to see this beautiful story come out the year I’m directing the show. Windup is also a strong representation of how quickly we’re advancing with real-time technology and the possibilities in uses of real time in filmmaking.
How long will the shorts and panels remain on the website for the virtual audience?
The show will premiere on the evening of Monday, 24 August and will remain available throughout the week worldwide. However, ticket holders will need to unlock their tickets by Friday evening (28 August), by 8:59 pm Pacific to be exact. Once a ticket is unlocked, each ticket holder will have 48 hours of access to the show reel. Our streaming partner, Eventive, will allow our audience to view the show on their smart TVs and just about any other device.
What is your take on the CG animation scene in 2020? Did you notice any significant trends?
Year after year, we have stronger photorealistic CG animation, both in feature length films as well as in game cinematics. In particular, I noticed a trend that a significant amount of work was done on digital human faces, such as age manipulation, in films that came out over the past year. Beyond digital humans, I’m impressed to see the quality of scenes coming from students. In particular, a hyper realistic world in The Beauty, our Jury’s Choice award winner, was exceptionally well done. The level of production process these students are working through to create films is truly impressive, not to mention their unique approaches to storytelling.
What are some of the big VR offerings this year and how are they different from previous years?
Our SIGGRAPH 2020 VR Theater Director Monica Cappiello has prepared 10 powerful pieces as part of the lineup this year. Something that’s unique about the 2020 VR Theater selections is that many of the pieces are emotional, inspirational and have strong cultural contexts to their stories. In addition to some incredible VR documentaries, there are some truly stand-out approaches to story, including Battlescar – Punk Was Invented by Girls from Atlas V and Feather by Keisuke Itoh. A piece I am particularly excited about is 1st Step – From Earth to the Moon, which follows the story of the Apollo mission. In this VR documentary, viewers can see and experience space through the eyes of the astronauts. Aligned with this content, we also have Apollo 13 View of the Moon in 4K as part of the Electronic Theater lineup.
Any tips for animators who’d like to see their shorts featured next year?
Solid story is still key to any strong work, followed by successful execution of the idea. I hope this year’s show will inspire storytellers and young, emerging animators around the world about the impact that creators can make through the stories we tell. As the world evolves, the festival will continue to appreciate stories that are mindful, stories that are inclusive, stories that engage their audience and, hopefully, stories that touch hearts and lives and ultimately inspire positive actions in others.
You can find out more about this year’s virtual event at s2020.SIGGRAPH.org.