You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Grand illusionists

CG masters gather to recognize, recruit

The computer graphics community convenes for its annual confab in Los Angeles to chat about all things digital, including creating photorealistic characters and environments.


  • Over 300 exhibitors are expected to fill the show floor, covering all aspects of computer graphics for film, television, videogames and the Internet.

  • Siggraph digerati will focus on ways to make things like hair and clothing appear more convincing. That’s even true for companies like Pixar, whose films don’t reflect photorealism but do strive for believability.

As the curtain rises on Siggraph 2001 in Los Angeles this weekend, someone should check Southern California’s power grid. The special f/x industry’s annual confab will once again light up thousands of computer screens at the Los Angeles Convention Center, displaying the year’s best in digital graphics.

This year, over 300 exhibitors are expected to fill the show floor, offering every computer bell and whistle imaginable. Siggraph is short for Special Interest Group in Graphics, and in this age of digital entertainment, that’s become a pretty large group.

While Siggraph is a serious trade show presented by the Assn. for Computing Machinery, its proximity to Hollywood this year will undoubtedly give it a glitzier tone than 2000’s presence in New Orleans.

Countless media types – from filmmakers to videogamers to Internet geeks – will come to see the latest breakthroughs in computer graphics imagery. As usual, the show will once again provide an opportunity for all of the major f/x players to recruit talent as well.

Filmmakers will show off imagery from a year that includes an unprecedented three all-CG features: PDI and DreamWorks will field questions about their blockbuster “Shrek”; Square/Sony’s “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within” will trigger debates about virtual actors; and Pixar Animation Studios will entice the crowds with tidbits from its upcoming Disney release, “Monsters, Inc.”

Those films will be highlighted in Siggraph screenings alongside live-action f/x-heavy shows like “The Mummy Returns,” “Cats & Dogs,” “Pearl Harbor,” “X-Men,” “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” “Cast Away,” “Dr. Dolittle 2” and “Jurassic Park III.”

But for CG aficionados, Siggraph will not only reflect the state of the business but the state of the art, too.

One hot topic will be computer-generated characters.

Industrial Light & Magic’s Dennis Turner will attract crowds when he presents the animated dinosaurs of “Jurassic Park III.”

“The breakthrough is achieving creatures with bones and muscles moving under their skin,” Turner says. “We’ve got behemoths biting and dragging each other around. We’ll show how it represents a leap forward for CG creatures. We’ve definitely moved the bar up, though our competitors are nipping at our heels.”

Two such competitors, Sony Pictures Imageworks and Rhythm & Hues, will actually collaborate on Siggraph session Virtual Stars. Led by multi-Oscar winner Ken Ralston, f/x supervisors Rob Legato, (“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”) John Dykstra (“Spider-Man”) and Bill Westenhofer (“Cats & Dogs”) will discuss photorealistic characters. Imageworks supervisor Jerome Chen hopes to preview two new CG stars from “Stuart Little 2.”

“They’re birds with photoreal feathers, something that hasn’t been done to this extent before,” Chen says.

Rhythm & Hues prexy Richard Hollander notes, “We’re really at the beginning of this kind of work. We’re giving things that aren’t human all the affectations of a good actor. It’s one thing to make a creepy monster, and another to have CG characters delivering funny dialogue. That’s a major step.”

Because the devil’s in the details, Siggraph digerati will focus on ways to make things like hair and clothing appear more convincing. That’s even true for companies like Pixar, whose films don’t rely on photorealism but do strive for believability.

Pixar prexy Ed Catmull reveals that in “Monsters, Inc.”: “We have long flowing hair, and cloth interacting with it. We actually went to a next-generation tool to achieve this.”

The software tools for creating convincing CG are a core consideration of Siggraph, whose attendees always ask, “How did they do that?”

Digital Domain’s Doug Roble will discuss simulating natural environments, using examples from “The Grinch” and “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”

“I’ll also talk about borrowing techniques from other fields and manipulating them for production,” he says. “When Siggraph’s in L.A., movie people can encounter serious R&D.”

Catmull thinks Siggraph’s agenda demonstrates “that the nature of research is changing, which is healthy. The surprises will come from two areas – simulating the real world and productivity.”

Creating CG cost-effectively is paramount to Hollywood, and several event sessions will explore procedures that yield believable-looking effects in streamlined or automated ways.

Hollander observes, “There’ll be an emphasis on tricks and methodologies, which isn’t much different than building fake movie sets. Films require large volumes of shots, which we must do efficiently in order to compete.”

Bringing CG onto movie sets where filmmakers can interact with them is one innovative strategy that will be demonstrated at Siggraph.

ILM’s Seth Rosenthal will show how Steven Spielberg directed his actors against computer-generated backgrounds while filming “A.I. Artificial Intelligence,” noting, “This enabled Steven to make very specific decisions about the choreography of his camera.”

Also presenting “The Mummy Returns,” Rosenthal will demonstrate how the motion-captured performance of actor Arnold Vosloo was translated into a CG mummy in real time integrated with background photography.

Filmmakers’ needs aren’t the only ones being considered at Siggraph, however.

The conference slogan is “Create Interaction,” and real-time videogame animation will receive significant attention.

One session will explore emerging animation procedures, where Imageworks’ George Suhayda says, “We’ll focus on expanding the worlds inside games. Imagine being able to get into a virtual jet fighter and fly for miles in any direction while the terrain keeps changing. This simulation approach takes a lot of R&D, but the payoffs are immense.”

Armed with turbo-charged gaming consoles like Microsoft’s upcoming Xbox and Sony’s PlayStation 2, game developers will be unveiling real-time graphics of unprecedented quality, according to Sherry McKenna, CEO of Oddworld Inhabitants.

Oddworld’s game animation will be shown at Siggraph, and McKenna hopes “to attract animators who care about doing great animation.”

Capping each day will be screenings of the show’s annual Electronic Theater program, a juried, best-of-show compilation chosen this year from a record 679 entries.

Watch for some surprises here, including work-in-progress character animation directed by ILM’s Tom Bertino.

From the fanciful to the photoreal, it’s a safe bet that the diversity of images at Siggraph will be dazzling. Ed Catmull, who’s been creating CG for 30 years, considers this diversity a sign of maturity.

“That doesn’t mean we’re slowing down, though,” Catmull says. “There are major changes still to come.”

More Digital

  • Fortnite Battle Royale

    Epic Pulls 'Fortnite' Ads From YouTube After Child Predator Controversy

    Epic Games is no longer running “Fortnite” pre-roll ads on YouTube after it was discovered they were playing on videos alleged predators used to exploit children, according to The Verge. The developer has paused all of its pre-roll advertising, which plays before a video starts on the streaming platform, a spokesperson said. It also reached [...]

  • New Video Shows Off Vive Cosmos

    New Video Shows Off Vive Cosmos VR Controllers

    There’s still much to be learned about HTC’s Vive Cosmos — like release date, specs, and price — but Wednesday the company released a short teaser video giving a slightly better glimpse of the controllers in action. The new controllers look a bit like rival VR headset Oculus Rift’s Touch controller, though reversed in some [...]

  • YouTube logo

    Disney Reportedly Pulls YouTube Ads Over Child-Exploitation Controversy

    YouTube is facing yet another big advertiser backlash, with Disney and Epic Games among the marketers said to have pulled their ad spending after the Google-owned video platform was accused of facilitating what a critic described as a “soft-core pedophilia ring.” Vlogger Matt Watson, in a Feb. 17 video on his YouTube channel MattsWhatItIs, showed [...]

  • Samsung Galaxy S10, Galaxy S10+ Unveiled

    Samsung Announces Galaxy S10, Galaxy S10+ Phones

    Samsung officially announced its new flagship phones, the Galaxy S10 and its larger sibling, Galaxy S10+, at its Unpacked press event in San Francisco on Wednesday morning. The new phone features a punch-hole cut-out for its front-facing camera, which allowed the company to use an edge-to-edge screen design without the notch found on the latest [...]

  • Samsung's Galaxy Fold Unveiled at Unpacked

    Samsung Announces Galaxy Fold, a $1,980 Foldable Phone

    Samsung officially announced its new foldable phone, dubbed the Galaxy Fold, at its Unpacked press event in San Francisco Wednesday morning. The device features two screens that unfold to a tablet-sized slate. “We are giving you a device that doesn’t just define a new category, it defies categories,” said Samsung senior vice president of product [...]

  • ABC-Oscar-Game

    ABC to Launch Oscars Live Play-Along Game With $50,000 Grand Prize

    ABC is hoping to drive viewers to its host-less telecast of the 91st Academy Awards on Sunday by dangling the promise of cold, hard cash to one lucky winner. The broadcaster is launching “The Official Oscar Game,” a live game that will let viewers play along in real time during the awards presentation. The game’s [...]

  • Dave Finocchio - Bleacher Report

    Bleacher Report Co-Founder Dave Finocchio to Exit This Summer

    Dave Finocchio is leaving Turner’s Bleacher Report, the millennial-skewing digital sports company he co-founded in 2005 and led as CEO for the last three years. With Finocchio set to exit in June, Turner Sports has named Howard Mittman as CEO of Bleacher Report to replace him. Finocchio hired Mittman, who has held a dual role [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content