Conference targets regional content

Nobody likes to talk about it this way, but the very existence of the Siggraph Asia conference represents a small victory for Al Qaeda’s efforts to undermine the U.S. economy.

American visual effects and animation companies have struggled for years to import top talent from abroad since the State Dept. clamped down on visas following the 9/11 attacks. The problem was even worse for scholars and researchers hoping to attend Siggraph.

Now leading computer graphics researchers from outside the U.S. can simply skip that visit to the States and find networking and recruiting opportunities elsewhere.

“In 2006, we had 2,200 attendees from Asia, but only 100 total from China and India, because it’s very difficult for them to get visas,” says G. Scott Owen, the prexy of parent org ACM Siggraph.

At the same time, he says, “The amount of research on information science and computer technology (in Asia) was increasing rapidly. It was increasing slowly in Europe and North America.

“So to use the old phrase, if we can’t bring Mohammed to the mountain, we decided to bring the mountain to Mohammed.”

To be fair, though, American visa restrictions aren’t the only reason for a second Siggraph event in the Far East. The cost of travel to the U.S. was too great for some of the nascent companies and CG communities in the region, even if they could obtain a visa.

Asia is also home to many of the world’s top computer graphics re- searchers, so there was plenty of local demand.

There was no shortage of computer graphics conferences and events in the region, but nothing like Siggraph.

“Siggraph is unique in that it combines the highest-quality technical and creative (professionals),” Owen says.

And while many of the films in Siggraph’s Computer Animation festival were from Asia, ofttimes the animators themselves

couldn’t get there — especially student animators.

So some Asian members of ACM Siggraph approached the org’s leadership about the possibility of a second event.

“Clearly the amount of high-quality work is rapidly increasing in Asia,” says Owen. “We went to several countries, and in every country the governments are spending huge amounts of money on content creation: computer animation, games, different applications of computer graphics. So that’s the primary reason we decided to do it.”

So well before the main Siggraph conference is held for the first time outside the U.S. — 2011 will see it in Vancouver — it will have an overseas sibling.

The event’s content will resemble that of the mothership confab: tech talks, a Computer Animation Festival, a computer art gallery, a new-technologies section.

There will be a tradeshow and plenty of recruiting behind the scenes.

Siggraph has long been a vital recruiting event, where the top young computer graphics grads are wined, dined and signed by the likes of Industrial Light & Magic, DreamWorks Animation and Pixar.

Recruiting will be a big feature at Siggraph Asia, too, judging by the response of Lucasfilm spokesman Emilie Nicks.

“We’re excited the first Siggraph Asia is taking place in Singapore — the same place we base our overseas operations — from a recruiting point of view, as artists from all over the world will be in our backyard,” Nicks says.

Many of the most important companies doing CGI for the entertainment industry have already set up shop in Asia, be it in India (Rhythm & Hues, Sony Pictures Imageworks and others) or in Singapore (Lucasfilm Animation).

Sebastian Sylwan, senior industry manager for film at Montreal-based software giant Autodesk, tells Variety his company feels Siggraph Asia represents an important step forward for the industry.

“The industry is at a crossroads, at a turning point. It has been an industry fueled by passion, and it needs to keep growing. The passion and the participation of people in it need to be fostered. To make it grow, you have to make it global as well, I believe.”

Like its U.S. sibling, Siggraph Asia will be nomadic. Next year it will be in Yokohama and the year after in Seoul, with each year’s conference chair from the host country.

And the North American Siggraph will continue as well.

“I’d expect the U.S. (Siggraph) will still be very international,” says Owen, “but the Asian will have more of an Asian bent.”

TIP SHEET

What: Siggraph Asia

When: Dec. 10-13

Where: Suntec Singapore Intl. Convention & Exhibition Center, Singapore

Don’t miss: Computer Animation Festival

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