Graphics biz gathers at Siggraph

The cavernous South Hall at the L.A. Convention Center on Sunday resembled a studio backlot gone berserk as exhibitors scrambled during the first day of this year’s Siggraph computer graphics confab to finish hammering together show booths in preparation for the arrival of thousands of CGI propeller-heads and Hollywood digital artists.

Two of the most traditional sounds associated with Siggraph — the annual conference/exhibition/schmoozeathon centering around the production of computer-generated imagery — are the clattering of keyboards and the chittering of mice. But during this year’s 22nd edition, there may be quite a different sound in evidence: the deep tromping of multibillion-dollar corporations looking to enter — if not control or dominate — markets relating to, and including, CGI.

“Hollywood is definitely the major catalyst behind the development of computer graphics,” said computer industry analyst Michael Wolf, head of the media and entertainment division of Booz, Allen & Hamilton, a consulting firm. “But there’s quite a lot of businesses interested in the new computer graphics technology because the applications go way beyond film.” Those areas include videogames, interactive online entertainment and even non-entertainment sectors such as medical imaging.

No rest for Silicon Graphics

Silicon Graphics Inc., long the industry standard for high-octane CGI-specific desktop workstations, is looking to extend its control of the hardware market downward by directly challenging lower-cost Macintosh and Windows-standard personal computers. Long respected as a maker and marketer of five-digit hardware suites, SGI will be offering a fully functional version of its O2 system for under $5,000 — an unheard-of price for real SGI computing power.

Meanwhile, Sony Corp. is looking to extend the momentum it worked hard to build up during last month’s Intl. Teleproduction Society (ITS) powwow. Long content to operate within its traditional fields of strength (professional tape and monitoring gear), Sony is now moving aggressively into teleproduction and digital image creation — areas thickly populated with vastly smaller players.

Meanwhile, the Siggraph market itself — back in L.A. after a one-year hiatus — is reflecting the continuing boom in digital imaging (and the growing number of highly competent technicians available for hire) with its first ever Siggraph Job Fair. The jobs annex is the market’s formalization of what has always been one of Siggraph’s main functions: to get folks hired and working.

Ironically, the Job Fair move comes at a time when CGI pros, long a nomadic folk, are settling down to work longer stretches for effects houses and interactive producers.

The Siggraph show is the primary meeting place for academic researchers, entertainment-indie artists and f/x mavens.

“It’s hugely important for students because a lot of different companies converge here expecting to take in applications from the attendees,” said Jim Barry, who teaches computer graphics at the California Institute of Technology.

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