I’m alway happy to have the chance to cover SIGGRAPH, and this year was no different. This annual interdisciplinary educational experience showcases the latest in computer graphics and interactive techniques. It was held earlier this month at the Los Angeles Convention Center with over 16,500 attendees from around the world. It offers a unique opportunity to see and interact with the latest innovations including virtual, augmented reality, and artificial intelligence. These are the technologies at the cutting-edge of cinema, game, and multi-media content creation.
Of particular interest to me is Virtual Reality, and SIGGRAPH is a gathering like no other, where you can actually have a variety of immersive experiences in one place at one time. It is hard to get a grasp on VR, and the progress it is making, if you don’t experience it first hand, both in terms of hardware and content. Such systems might be set up at conventions like CES, but even with press credentials, it is hard to cut through the throngs, and the wait time in line can be measured in hours instead of minutes. SIGGRAPH, by contrast, is much more exclusive and aimed at visual computing professionals, so the size and focus is kept reasonable. I was able to take in numerous demos and even attend a VR short film festival in a theater filled with spinning chairs outfitted with tethered head mounted displays.
One demo, called “Hanger Over”, might have an answer for the challenge VR content creators face when they need to direct where the viewer looks in a 360 environment in order to follow the story. Pneumatic pressure is applied at key receptive points around your temples via air pockets in the headset. This causes a physical sensation known as a hanger reflex to turn your head in one direction or the other depending on which side the subtle pressure is applied. I was very surprised at how effective it is.
There was also a very interesting first person shooter VR game demo featuring HP computers powered by NVIDIA GPUs where players can roam unencumbered in a roughly 60’x60’ VR environment with the heavy computational processing done by a 10 pound, wearable PC backpack. Each player’s movement is tracked by sensors which are read by receivers in the grid above them so that their 360 POV includes the other players moving about the grid. NVIDIA technology was also on display in the area of Artificial Intelligence. The world of computing is going through an incredible change. With deep learning and AI, computers are learning to write their own software for everything from self driving cars, robotics, and pure research in the medical and other industries. This acceleration is made possible by the GPU, NVIDIA’s core product.
In our industry, for example, AI can be used to dramatically speed up rendering, which is necessary to move around in a VR environment, and in graphics, AI can be trained to smooth out rough edges and help quickly transform sketches into photorealistic renderings. An interesting demo had the computer analyze the style elements of famous artists to recognize and simulate the characteristics that make a Van Gough, different from a Monet, or even a Picasso…all in real time. The photo shows me standing me standing in front of the computer’s camera holding a DCS promo card as it processes the image as if it were painted by Van Gough. It probably works better on faces, but you get the idea.
These transformative technologies are not just revolutionizing the entertainment industry, but the whole world around us. DCS will keep covering it as best we can, so stay tuned for more. An no, VR is not just a flash in the pan or a passing fad; it is here to stay and improving every day.