Times have changed for Siggraph

During its relatively humble beginning years in the early 1970s, Siggraph organizers could count on a few hundred computer jockeys and maybe a dozen companies showing up at their annual conference. Things definitely have changed.

This year, as Los Angeles gears up for the 24th Siggraph Conference, organizers expect 40,000 academics, software developers, computer engineers and mathematicians from around the world to make the trek. That’s not counting the hundreds of representatives from the estimated 350 computer hardware and software companies who are scheduled to appear.

Those companies range in size from industry giants such as IBM to minuscule startup ventures here to unveil their latest ideas at a side-show area below the main exhibition hall at the Los Angeles Convention Center. At press time, conference organizers confirmed that they were still selling exhibitor space, in the main hall and downstairs.

High visibility

“It’s an incredibly important part of the conference for us,” says David Scammell, film and effects marketing manager for Quantel, from his office in London. “We tend to show things in more detail at Siggraph than we do at other shows because of the type of people who attend.” Among other things, Quantel execs will be on hand this year to talk to software developers about the company’s previously announced strategy of opening up its long-closed architecture to Java programmers.

Siggraph largely is staffed by volunteers, up to 2,000 this year, who come from Siggraph chapters across the country and around the world. “The logistics are incredibly complex,” says G. Scott Owen, this year’s volunteer conference chair. “But it’s a fascinating experience. I’m basically the temporary CEO of a virtual corporation with a multimillion-dollar budget and hundreds of employees.”

When it comes to actually coordinating the setup of the exhibition hall, lecture sites, registration areas, parties, hotel rooms and the conference transportation system —that’s left largely to two Chicago-based firms: Hall-Erikson Inc., a trade show and conference management company; and Smith Bucklin, a firm specializing in management services for nonprofit organizations.

This year’s exhibition hall will be close to 180,000-square-feet, almost 50% larger than last year. The main reason for that rapid growth is that last year’s confab was held in New Orleans. “Los Angeles obviously is a prime location for us now because so much of what exhibitors are exhibiting is geared for the entertainment business,” says Barbara Voss, executive vice president at Hall-Erikson. “When we come here, more companies are interested in being represented on the floor.”

That even goes for many of the small startup companies that can get a cut-rate exhibition booth in Startup Park in the convention center’s basement Kentia Hall. Applied Science Laboratories for example, makes equipment that monitors eye-movement at its small plant in Bedford, Mass., and will be at Siggraph for the first time this year. The company will be sending its sole sales representative to the conference with a mock-up of some of their equipment and a box of company literature. Company officials say their devices can be used to help the computer industry design software and hardware by literally seeing how people use various systems.

Playiing with the big boys

Meanwhile, upstairs on the main exhibition floor, it’s basically industry heavy-hitters only, such as Bay Area-based Silicon Graphics, Inc. SGI and its subsidiaries will be featured in no less than five booths this year— a main SGI booth, another dedicated to the company’s new desktop O2 line called “O2 Experience” and booths for Cosmos Software, Alias/Wavefront and Open GL. Over 200 company employees will be manning the battle stations. Crystal VanBrug, SGI’s manager of trade shows and events says her company will truck in 12 to 15 tractor trailer loads of equipment to Siggraph ’97 — including eight video towers and 370 SGI machines. “Siggraph is the main event for us each year,” say VanBrug. “We’ll have the best eye-candy on the floor, claims Patrick Tickle, manager of desktop marketing.

Conference organizers expect to book upward of 8,500 rooms in nearly 50 areas hotels before Siggraph ’97 gets under way. Because downtown Los Angeles can’t handle that volume of room bookings by itself, conference attendees will be staying in hotels near Los Angeles Intl. Airport, in Santa Monica, in Beverly Hills, in Pasadena and in Arcadia.

To bring everybody to the Convention Center every day, Smith Bucklin has plans to put into service a fleet of 75-100 buses that will operate virtually around the clock.

Despite the fairly serious nature of the conference, there’ll be plenty of parties to be shuttled to as well. Smith Bucklin is coordinating about 200 small social events in addition to a beginning-of-conference reception for 3,000 in downtown’s Pershing Square and a similar-size closing bash at the Water Court in California Plaza on Bunker Hill.

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