I’m not sure if this was my 4th or 5th Siggraph. I’ve been attending the conference since I began using Blender professionally, invited by Ton to help work the booth and chat with people about using Blender for visual effects. Siggraph become one of the highlights of my year. I’ll be completely honest with you, though – I’m probably not the best person to write about Siggraph. I do not take full advantage of the convention. I don’t go to talks, don’t attend the parties, don’t get to visit every booth on the exhibit floor, and I don’t pick up a Pixar teapot.
The first few times I went, I was really excited about sharing Blender with people – showing some of my personal demo projects and talking about how I use the program. The last few years, though, it’s been all about the people. We have such a fun time! We hang out at the booth, catch up on what we’ve all been up to, and most evenings we go out for dinner and drinks.
Siggraph starts on Sunday with the Birds of a Feather meetings. According to the website, “Birds of a Feather are graphics-related, attendee-organized, informational discussions of shared interests, goals, technologies and/or backgrounds.” They are free to attend and are just for getting together people who are interested in the same thing. The Blender Foundation always has one, and it’s where we all meet up for the first time of the week. This year I caught up with Jonathan and Wes from CG Cookie a few minutes before the meeting started. Ton showed up shortly thereafter and got busy setting up the computer and projector, while Jonathan showed me some of the upcoming features of RetopoFlow. It’s getting an amazing overhaul and a great new workspace!
I also got to catch up with Hjalti, Francesco, Sergey, and my friends from the local Los Angeles Blender user’s group. And as always, got to meet a bunch of new people.
Ton starts off the meeting by giving a quick run down of what the Blender Institute and Animation Studio has been up to over the past year, and what’s coming up. Then he goes around the room and everyone introduces themselves and shares their interest in Blender. It’s really inspiring to see the variety of people who attend. It’s especially cool to see the people who haven’t yet started using Blender but have only heard about it and are dropping in to see what it’s all about.
After Birds of a Feather, we stay in the same room for the Blender Spotlight, hosted by Theory Studios founder (and my old co-worker) David Andrade. People have a few minutes to do a short presentation and show what they’ve done using Blender. For example, here’s Patrick Crawford‘s presentation on using analytics to improve Blender add-ons.
After that, food. Most folks head out to a restaurant where everyone can fit. More often than not we’re at multiple tables, and people rotate and move throughout the evening. That first evening a few of us headed over to the AMD party. It’s kind of like a timeshare – first you have to sit through a long presentation of them patting themselves on the back and pitching you their latest products, then afterwards there’s a reception with food, a DJ, and so many people you can barely move. The presentation was painful, to be honest. Don’t get me wrong, AMD makes great stuff, but this presentation was long and awkward. At one point the founder of RED, Jim Jannard, came on stage and gave a brand new RED camera to the host, who then gave it to the director of Baahubali 2, the highest grossing Indian film ever. I was hoping they would pull someone from the audience to give it to, but nope, give it to the guy who already has access to those types of cameras. At the end, they introduced this supercomputer, then did absolutely nothing with it. Very awkward. When it ended, we fought our way through the overcrowded party and left.
Monday we began setting up the booth, which was already mostly done by JT, Ton, and the AMD guys. (AMD sponsored the computers we used there, the monitors, and the huge 4-panel 8K demo screen.) There wasn’t much left to do, so we transferred files to the booth computers for demoing and chatted a lot. Eventually Mike Pan, Jonathan Denning, and Colin Levy showed up, as well. Bart Veldhuizen and Paul Chambers also hung out with us a lot, when they weren’t tending to their own Skethfab booth. Speaking of Sketchfab, did you check out their VR animated short “Lily & Snout” yet? Pretty cool!
Monday night Jonathan and I headed to the Electronic Theater. It’s a selection of really great short films. Some are professional visual effects breakdowns, some are student films, and some are simply clips demonstrating new technologies. I’ve gone once or twice in the past and found it to be hit or miss. This year it was great! You’ll find some of them at the bottom of this blog post (although some are only a trailer or a “making of”, as the full films aren’t online yet).
Working the booth during the convention was great, as it always is. People stop who are long time Blender users and want to see the latest stuff, and some people stop by because they’ve heard of it but haven’t yet taken the plunge. From my own point of view, showing off the vfx stuff, I notice that people continue to be surprised by the fact that Blender can do rotoscoping and compositing. A few people this stopped by and challenged me to convince them that Blender is the way to go. Blender blew them away every time. 🙂 If the smoke sim tools, tracking, and greenscreen tools didn’t convince them, I’d pull out the secret weapon – dynamic paint! Dynamic paint never fails to impress. And I always stressed that I wasn’t trying to convince them to ditch all other software and only use Blender. I was trying to convince them that Blender is powerful, and because it’s free, there’s absolutely no reason to not give it a shot.
Of course, Eevee, Blender’s new realtime viewport engine, was in the spotlight during our demos. I didn’t get to explore the new Eevee viewport until we actually starting showing it to people. Wow! Have you tried it yet?! It’s insane! Full volumetrics in the viewport in realtime! That blew me away. And motion blur! Hahaha, that was fun to show off. I would go to a frame that was motion blurred as the camera whipped around a model, then I would select the model and move it around, and it would remain motion blurred. Crazy!
With that big monitor (loaned to us by AMD) we got to do some live demos this year, which was a first for us. I got to do one on keying, tracking, and marker removal, Jonathan did some modeling demos, Hjalti showed some animation stuff, JT gave us some new fracture modifier examples, and David did a very well-attended showcase of the work done by Theory and Barnstorm VFX on Amazon’s “Man in the High Castle”.
I had a couple chances to walk around the exhibit floor, once pretty quickly, just kind of glancing at things, and a second time when my wife came down for the afternoon. Usually I enjoy watching things at the Maxon Cinema4D booth or the Foundry booth, but this year I didn’t get to watch any live demos. I chatted with the Nvidia folks and the Boxx folks (I’ve been a Boxx customer since about 2006). I checked out the Emerging Technologies area, which is fun, but sometimes it’s difficult to see the practical applications of some of the tech in there. But yeah, anyway, it was fun to see it all.
Unfortunately I didn’t get to check out any other open source software at the convention. In the past, Natron and Krita have had booths, but not this year. I didn’t get to check out much commercial software, either. I was very interested in Blackmagic Fusion 9. They’ve lowered the price on the full version to only $299, and that’s great! (The free version is still available, as well.) But I didn’t get to stop and see the new features, if there even are any.
Every day after the trade floor closed, we’d all head out to dinner, either in one big group or in multiple smaller groups. That’s the real fun of Siggraph. There couldn’t be a better bunch of people to hang out with than this crew. On the last day of the convention, Keir Mierle arrived, and he, Patrick, Sergey, and I managed to get away to a quieter restaurant to chat about some things to improve in Blender. I’ve been chatting with a friend of mine at work, Joseph, a tracking/matchmoving artist, about ways to improve Blender’s tracking features for use in a professional production environment, and wanted to share these ideas. That night Keir and Sergey managed to implement a couple of the ideas! Talk about fast! The next day, after making sure Jonathan and Wes had a taste of some of the best chocolate in Los Angeles, Keir and Sergey came over to my place and we got into more details for tracking improvements and came up with many more ideas. They even showed me a couple tricks to improve my workflow! I’ll share them below. Finally, a few days later, my wife and I got to grab dinner one last time with Francesco and Hjalti before they headed back to Europe.
Here’s a quick tip on making some set reconstruction a little easier.
And here’s an upcoming tracking feature Keir and Sergey implemented in a few hours!
So that was Siggraph week, at least from my perspective. If you’re part of the Blender community, it doesn’t get much more fun than this. Everyone comes expecting a great time, and it always is. There’s only one event that beats this, and I’ll be heading to that this year, as well. Blender Conference 2017 is going to be great, and I can’t wait to see everyone again!
Below are some selections from this year’s Electronic Theater.
Jury’s Choice – John Lewis “Buster the Boxer”
Best Student Project – “Garden Party” trailer
Tobi Trebeljahr “Pirate Smooch” – One of my favorites!
Polder Animation “Scrambled” Trailer
Best in show – Kariem Saleh “Song of a Toad” Making of – Really cool behind the scenes!
Tomer Eshed “Our Wonderful Nature: The Common Chameleon” – So funny!
Raphael Vangelis “Analogue Loaders”
Canal+ “Canal Kitchen”