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Live from SIGGRAPH

August 11, 2004

In the tradition of my running update during SXSW earlier this year, I’ll be covering the SIGGRAPH experience as I’m here in LA today and tomorrow.

Though SIGGRAPH is focused on an industry somewhat tangental to most of what’s discussed on this site, there is a web graphics path, which is why I’m here (if you’re attending, I’m speaking in the web graphics room [501AB] on Thursday, Aug 12th sometime after 1:45pm — probably closer to 3pm. Come say hi).

The main difference between SIGGRAPH and every other conference I’ve been to so far is scale. This one is huge. 20,000 people huge. It’s the largest conference in the computer graphics industry, and ‘there are an overwhelming amount of things to do and see.

In reverse chronological order, here are some of the more interesting encounters so far. (Pardon any broken links, wireless here is spotty and slow due to volume, I’ll fix them as I can.)


10:30pm — It’s official: dead logic board. Luckily still under warranty, unluckily meaning that SIGGRAPH came and went without another update. Next year.


3pm — Dammit Apple. Not this. Not now.

I travel with my older iBook because it’s tiny and actually fits on a plane’s tray table. Not to mention that it’s less valuable.

The same iBook that, based on serial number, definitely isn’t supposed to be affected by the logic board problem plaguing older models. The same iBook I’ve already been burned twice by. The same iBook that is now randomly freezing with blurry lines filling the screen, and refusing to actually turn the screen on upon reboot.

My presentation is backed up on this server, so at least I don’t have to go into emergency panic mode. Updates may not be as frequent as I thought though.

11am — I sat in on a few web graphics sessions revolving around navigation. The one that jumped out at me was a project called ‘Okinawa Wonder’ which required intelligent interaction with over 10,000 pages. Though it wasn’t clear to me what the data was for, the problems were universal, and the metaphor they used particularly clever.

All data is mapped as a galaxy, each point a ‘star’. Over time the frequently accessed data points spiral out toward the edges, becoming more prominent, and the less-accessed pages float to the center and eventually disappear. There must have been some magic happening I missed because the ‘stars’ themselves were images, and even though it was a minimal interface, 10,000 images stored in memory and rotating around a central axis in real time feels like a long shot.

The metaphor was expanded with further user-configured mapping techniques, notably ‘constellation’ and ‘planet’ modes which weren’t explained, but almost don’t need to be.

The demo was an interesting way of seeing how other people see data. It’s this sort of application that the up-and-coming web application war needs to address; at the moment the only feasible technology to deploy the system on is Flash, or a custom plug-in like they’ve used in this case.

10am — A quick run through the Emerging Technologies exhibit tells me I’ll need to go back and see more. Some of it was yawn-inducing, but there were some majorly impressive demonstrations.

A company I just noticed is also from Vancouver called Sunnybrook Tech is demoing an amazing new LCD technology. Your average LCD monitor is considered good if it has a 600:1 contrast ratio; theirs does 40,000:1. The images are ultra-vivid, especially in the darker ranges where traditional LCDs fall down. The secret is individual pixel darkness control instead of a backlight, and 16-bit brightness control (as opposed to 8-bit on a regular monitor).

There were a lot of 3D demonstrations, some visual, some tactile. Of note was a prototype of a moving platform which I can only describe as ‘intelligent stepping stones’. Which movie was it, Star Wars Ep. 1 X-Men!, where there was a scene with someone walking across thin air, floating platforms rushing out to catch his feet just in time. It’s sort of like that — three platforms with wheels rush into place to catch the person’s foot, basically allowing them to walk in place without going anywhere.

One I didn’t get to try was a tactile feedback simulator using air jets instead of wires and objects. A 3D scene was projected onto a table, allowing some basic interaction with resistance generated by compressed air, simulating actual objects.

A couple of LCD panels were mounted on poles, allowing someone to rotate them 360 degrees. For every degree of rotation the scene altered accordingly, simulating a complete walkaround of various objects.