Siggraph 2009, network your senses


The motto of this year’s 36th Siggraph in New Orleans was NETWORK YOUR SENSES.
And for a newbie like myself, it indeed was a feast for the senses – with lots of inspiring talks, lecture-demonstrations, stimulating art shows, and intriguing new inventions.

This 5 day-immersion in computer graphics and animation offered a comprehensive overview on new technologies that I am now eager to explore further.

SIGGRAPH is the world’s preeminent annual conference and exhibition for computer graphics and animation. The event is produced by ACM SIGGRAPH: the Association of Computer Machinery’s Special Interest Group Graphics—i.e. professionals, educators, artists and academics working in computer aided graphics, animation and interactive technologies.

Setting up shop in a different location each year, this year’s edition opened its doors at the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center to thousands of participants from around the world.

SIGGRAPH 09, like in previous years, was divided into a number of subsections; ranging from the Exhibition Floor, for commercial companies and education outlets to present and promote, the Job Fair for established and emerging professionals, prominent Daily Key-Note speakers, the Computer Animation Festival, Production Session and Panels, Technical Talks and Courses, all the way to a number of Art and Emerging Technology Exhibitions.

Kudos to Carlye Archibeque, this year’s Computer Animation Festival Executive Producer, and her team for providing high quality content for everyone attending the Siggraph Animation Festival. Regardless of your technical knowledge, you would find something satisfying in the experience. Knowing that everybody on the festival production team had given their expertise and time voluntarily is worth another round of applause.

There was so much offered during this five day festival, that I can only highlight my very personal selection:

Game designer Will Wright (SIMS and SPORE), one of this year’s key note speakers, gave a whirlwind presentation titled PLAYING WITH PERCEPTION and took the captivated audience on a roller coaster ride through some of his philosophical musings and findings – always entertaining, always thought-provoking and never leaving anyone behind. His talk started with a slide show of his own cute kitten and ended with a presentation of New York City’s pneumatic mail model – conceived in 1897 to connect all of New York’s underground but has since become part of New York City’s subway system.

More hands-on, but just as engaging, was NY times Graphics Director Steve Duenes—another featured speaker during the conference. Duenes demonstrated and explained how his team visualized world-gripping events for the print, as well as the on-line edition, of the New York Times. His excellent examples included a graphic of the Diaspora after Katrina hit New Orleans, the complex statistics of voter turn out during last year’s presidential election, the wide range of new locations for companies that lost their offices after September 11, or the gripping animation and commentary of the world’s most difficult downhill ski slopes, the HAHNENKAMM in Austria.

Duenes closed his information packed presentation with the remark that the mission of his highly qualified team of 30, which includes researchers, cartographers, programmers, graphic designers and animators, is to not only tell the reader what happened, but also how it happened.

Over the course of the conference, the popular Computer Animation Festival presented more than 140 animation shorts, ranging from student to studio works. A few shorts that should be mentioned:

This year’s winner the of Best in Show Award was FRENCH ROAST, by French filmmaker Fabrice O. Joubert. An engaging tragic comedy about a French businessman who finds himself without his wallet—and the extreme trouble he goes through by trying to hide this embarrassing situation.

The 2009 Student Prize went to PROJECT: ALPHA, by the Danish team of Matthias Bjarnason, Christian Munk Sørensen, Nicolai Slothus. This black and white short film features a rhesus monkey trained in the lab to become the first ape in space. However, when he returns back to earth to meet some of his fellow species, all of his elaborated education quickly fades away.
Another noteworthy Best in Show contender was ANGLE AFOOT, by German animators Jakob Schuh and Sascha Unseld. The work provides a sweet short about Waltraud, an angel who has fallen upon earth and needs to earn back her wings by helping others.

Each conference day focused on a different subject matter, such as sound in animation, the gaming industry and stereoscopy (the technique that allows us to view films three dimensionally with the aid of special glasses). A whole day was dedicated to presentations on production with different teams talking about their 3-D-stereo films, like Pixar’s most recent UP, Dreamwork’s MONSTERS VS ALIENS, Disney’s G-FORCE, Laika’s CORALINE, and Sony’s upcoming CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS.
To round it up, SIGGRAPH 09 had put together an amazingly entertaining and educational 3Dstereo reel of short films, promos, sneak previews as well as scientific demos; opening and closing with Pixar’s latest short films TOKYO MATER and PARTLY CLOUDY. These are two, very entertaining animation shorts: the former, a short and speedy sequel to Pixar’s CARS, about a car race between an old station wagon and a high-end race car in pop-culture colored Tokyo; the latter about the misadventures of a stork destined to deliver the more dangerous baby animals like alligators, porcupine or electric eels. Placed in between these two highlights were shorts and clips demonstrating how well 3D stereo can be applied to the field of animation, live music entertainment, sports, and science.

And last but not least, in addition to the commercial exhibition space, some space was reserved for the art and science exhibitions. BIOLOGIC – A NATURAL HISTORY OF DIGITAL LIFE, was one of the art exhibitions. Canadian architect Philip Beesley’s piece titled HYLOZOIC SOIL was particularly striking; an intriguing interactive tree-like installation, creating its own futuristic, yet organic world.
The audience is invited to enter the space and, through motion detectors and sensors, the sculpture acts and reacts to the movement of the audience by gently curling up its branches. It leaves one pleasantly surprised and evokes a sense of wonder and poetry.

The above only skims the surface of this very comprehensive conference—so for more information on this year’s event, please check SIGGRAPH’S website – and consider visiting SIGGRAPH 2010, taking place between July 26 and 30th in Los Angeles!


About Author

Tanja Meding

Tanja Meding :Since moving to New York from Germany in 2003, Tanja Meding has worked as a producer for Maysles Films and other independent production companies. Amongst others, she produced SALLY GROSS-THE PLEASURE OF STILLNESS by Albert Maysles and Kristen Nutile which aired on WNET/Thirteen and Channel 25 and is now available on DVD from Since 2007, Tanja has been producing short films by Rosane Chamecki, Andrea Lerner and Phil Harder: JACKIE & JUDY premiered at DANCE ON CAMERA at LINCOLN CENTER was awarded with a PEARL at the POOL 2010 Festival in Berlin. Upcoming this September is a video installation of two new shorts: BOXING and THE COLLECTION at NY's newly opened New York Live Arts building in Chelsea. In addition, Tanja is the co-producer of Gabriella Bier's LOVE DURING WARTIME, a documentary about an Israeli dancer and her Palestinian husband. The film had its US premiere at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival and is distributed in the US through 7th Art Releasing. Furthermore, she is the US co-producer of Pascale Obolo's documentary CALYPSO ROSE, LIONESS OF THE JUNGLE. Currently in development with Claudia Brazzale is RETRACING STEPS, a portrait documentary about a group of international dancers and choreographers and their lives 20 years after they first met in NYC.

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