SIGGRAPH, Autodesk Take Time Tunnel Through Computer Graphics History On 50th Anniversary

SIGGRAPH – the giant gathering of technologist, engineers, researchers, artists, game-creators, Hollywood visual effects gurus and others who’ve transformed the world’s computer graphics – is celebrating its 50th anniversary in Los Angeles this week with a “time tunnel” immersive experience showing where CGI has been, and where it’s going.

The organization partnered with graphics software giant Autodesk and a student team at the University of California, Santa Barbara, to create the tunnel, which opens today in the Concourse Foyer of the Los Angeles Convention Center, where the broader SIGGRAPH conference will be held through Thursday.

“The idea is to highlight the evolution of CG (computer graphics) hand in hand with the conference over the past 50 years, as well as looking at what the future is,” said Jocelyn Moffatt, Autodesk’s senior manager, media & entertainment audiences marketing. “We were excited to take part. It’s a really an exciting way to celebrate artists, studios, and technology.”

The tunnel includes contributions from major visual-effects pioneers such as Industrial Light & Magic
, like that fearsome and terrifyingly lifelike T. Rex in the first Jurassic Park movie, the killer cyborgs in Terminator, and the revisionist histories of Forrest Gump, Moffatt said.

Pixar contributed material from classics such as the first Toy Story and that hopping lamp, Luxo Jr., whose first short film debuted at SIGGRAPH and announced a different way to do animation, a computer-generated approach that’s now pretty much everywhere.

“It was fun,” gathering the historical material, Moffatt said. “There were moments for me that were very ‘Ah, hah’ too.”

The biggest such experience, perhaps, is something that goes to the heart of SIGGRAPH, a melding of art, commerce and engineering science. Over the past half century, that collision has really reshaped so much of how films, TV, animation, visual effects, games, virtual and augmented reality, immersive experiences, advertising and much else are envisioned, created, distributed and displayed.

Many Time Tunnel displays are part of LED walls (a relatively recent development reshaping virtual production). The walls featur an ever-shifting backdrop of abstract surfaces where individual displays on various topics swim into visibility, like buried treasure revealed in the shifting sands.

Other segments of the Time Tunnel are, unsurprisingly, deeply SIGGRAPH-specific, like displays of the conference’s T-shirts and posters through the decades, and an archive of the organization’s proceedings.

Other areas impacted by development of sophisticated computer-graphics software include architecture, engineering, construction, product design, and manufacturing. The exhibit spotlights surprising applications like Coral Maker, about using graphics software to rebuild the Great Barrier Reef, and Notre Dame, which is using software to envision the reconstruction of the Paris cathedral devastated by a 2019 fire.

SIGGRAPH will feature panels, tech demonstrations, research paper presentations, awards, spotlights on best practices, a job fair, dozens of industry exhibitors, and much else. Before the pandemic, the main gathering (there’s also a SIGGRAPH Asia gathering) routinely drew between 15,000 and 20,000 attendees from around the world to Los Angeles or other host cities, though the event has been at least partly virtual the past three years.

“It’s a really big part of our year every year,” said Moffatt. “It’s where we’ve shared our biggest news. SIGGRAPH is just such an important forum for the industry. People look at it as a conference where people go to look at the trends on the horizon. What are the pivotal pieces of tech that are going to change what we do for film and TV?”

SIGGRAPH, is a (very large) section within the Association of Computing Machinery, the foundational organization for all things computer engineering. SIGGRAPH itself is shorthand for Special Interest Group on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques, one of nearly 40 special interest groups within ACM.

Autodesk is one of a handful of computer-graphics titans – including Apple, Disney-owned Pixar, Adobe and NVidia – that just announced the Alliance for OpenUSD, an attempt to create better ways for graphics creators to collaborate through the cloud on major projects. A unit of the Linux Foundation will be administering the alliance.

Widely adopted open standards on graphics formats and other software have become increasingly important for visual effects and game creation companies, as cloud computing allows organizations and creators scattered around the world to work on big projects together. Companies such as Autodesk and Adobe are also knitting artificial-intelligence tools into their software, with a focus on reducing the most drudgerous components of computer image creation for artists.

Autodesk is also one of numerous companies sponsoring panels at SIGGRAPH. The company will showcase presentations and panel discussions in its Vision Series on Tuesday and Wednesday, featuring speakers from Autodesk and companies such as Weta FX, Ignite Animation Studios, Rising Sun Pictures, NVidia, Adobe, and others. They will speak on issues such as AI, OpenUSD, and the future of computer graphics beyond what the Time Tunnel shows.

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