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Tempests in tea pots, real time

Posted: 07.17.13

Siggraph is almost here. For some this is a small show – and tragically it’s getting smaller, but it’s our favorite show in the world. It’s where our roots are. Over the years the show has been dominated by the Hollywood forces; more’s the pity. Their money is surely green enough, but all their flashy effects and bottom line obsessions overwhelm the real thrill of Siggraph, and that’s the revelation of pure visual magic that’s possible through science and research.

It’s easy to get distracted by the show floor, but the real action is still going on in the classes and presentations where people explain just exactly how you can simulate hell freezing over, and here you can see the movie people getting right down into the geeky bits themselves.

Siggraph offers a preview of their papers in a 3 minute video. It’s kind of hilarious since you can’t possibly understand what they’re talking about as it all flashes by. It’s a mish mash of big words, the occasional equation, and a quick flash of a cool visualization. Still go have a look. It’s fast and there are some useful hints. This year it looks like simulation and new photographic techniques are obviously going to be important themes at Siggraph.

There is also a sampling of papers at http://s2013.siggraph.org/attendees/technical-papers-video-preview. Again, there are quite a few papers on photographic techniques including light field photography, volumetric lighting, and 3D content creation. That’s always been the sort of things we’re interested in here at JPR – ways to make 3D content creation easier, better, prettier, faster.

But, the world of computer graphics is taking a surprising turn as the ideas about direct manufacture take off. People who had absolutely no interest in learning how to create a 3D model are suddenly interested when they think about the ability to create a little statue, or a part to repair their car. I think it’s interesting the ways in which different people get inspired to create. It’s as if there are different kinds of brains at work and some people really want to make something they can touch and others really want to make something they imagine.

Up to now, the people imaging things have been holding sway at Siggraph, but that is changing. The rise of 3D printing has dramatized the shift, but photography, motion sensing, touch, are all different parts of the same thing – digital reality.

In this issue we talk about Microsoft’s new found interest in open APIs. I won’t bore you, much, with ancient history, but Microsoft tried for a long time to kill open standards for graphics. The company once participated in OpenGL before it decided it could move much faster and much more efficiently on its own and the world was given DirectX. And you know what else? Microsoft was probably right at the time. The visualization gods were struggling with scientific visualization as well as gaming, and design, and simulation. A company that knew what it wanted and knew how to get it, might be well advised to go it alone and rule the world. That left OpenGL as the alternative for everyone else and it has evolved in strange and beautiful ways. Beautiful enough for Microsoft to come back around and play with the other kids on the school yard. It’s taking advantage of WebGL and in the process it’s giving people another reason to want to create 3D content.

One of the ways in which we’ll see what Microsoft can do is in an improved version of Photosynth, the company’s technology that turns photos into 3D images. A few months ago, the company announced Photosynth for Windows 8, which is just going to be a really fun phone app, I bet. A mobile phone is just the perfect device for 3D content creation. Really, the lightweight, always with you device can be swept around to capture a rock or the entire universe. Now that’s digital reality.

Khronos gets down

Speaking of the geeky bits, it doesn’t get much geekier than Khronos, the standards body that brought you OpenGL ES and all sorts of other OpenThingies including WebGL. The group has big plans to celebrate the 10 anniversary of OpenGL ES which was originally unveiled at Siggraph. Siggraph is a major milestone for the group because it’s a gathering where most of the far flung members can come together and discuss their latest works and the group tries to introduce their major API releases at the conference. Jon Peddie and I will be MCs at this year’s BOF Blitz evening. The BOF sessions will run all day on Wednesday, the 24th of July. In the evening, the work will give way to play. We’re thrilled to be invited and we hope to see some of you there. We’re also having our annual Siggraph Luncheon for press and analysts so if you fall into that category, come have lunch with us. We’ve got a great panel planned around the theme: Democratization, is it a good thing?