Siggraph theatrics—pushing limits

Electronic Theater award winners, VR storytelling, and Production Session highlights.

Karen Moltenbrey

Siggraph has always been a place to learn and explore the latest in CG and interactive techniques. The highlight of the conference has always been the Electronic Theater, Siggraph’s premier event showcasing exceptional works across the various fields encompassing animation. Prizes have been awarded to a trio of selections ahead of the conference, with a fourth to be awarded later at the event.

Another popular event is the VR Theater, which will feature a wide range of virtual reality storytelling. And, for those wanting in-depth, behind-the-scenes information relating to several cutting-edge projects, there will be 10 individual Production Sessions that will focus on the technology and challenges associated with the featured productions.

(Source: Siggraph)

The Siggraph Electronic Theater is an event not to be missed. This yearly showcase of animated works from artists and researchers has been the highlight of the Siggraph experience for decades. Once an eye-catching display of CG advancements, the Electronic Theater has evolved into a celebration of computer graphics as a cornerstone of the mainstream mediums of animation, visual effects, gaming, scientific/data visualization, and storytelling.

The juried selection features groundbreaking contributions from across the globe, with prizes awarded in three categories. This year’s winners are:

(Source: Moshe Mahler, Siggraph)

Best in Show— “The Art of Weightlessness
Moshe Mahler, Carnegie Mellon University
An animated short film documentary that chronicles the evolution of artist and performer Bill Shannon. Born with a degenerative hip condition, Bill developed new ways to express himself through dance and skateboarding on crutches.

(Source: The team from Ecole MoPA, Siggraph)

Best Student Project—“After Grandpa
Juliette Michel, Swann Valenza, Florian Gomes Freitas, Axel Sence, and Victoria Leviaux, Ecole MoPA
Haunted by the terrifying ghost of his grandpa, Loup, a little boy obsessed with insects, will have to overcome his fear to discover why it came back.

(Source: Alex Glawion, Siggraph)

Jury’s Choice—“Patterns
Alex Glawion
Struck by a barrage of intrusive encounters on his weekly commute, a perceptive traveler struggles to uphold the positive mindset that wards against the ever-lurking grayness.

A fourth prize, the Audience Choice award, will be presented after the premieres.

The Siggraph Computer Animation Festival is also bringing back additional screening opportunities in the Animation Theater Daytime Selects. These will be two independent show reels that will also accompany the main Electronic Theater show.

Electronic Theater show times will be held Monday, July 29, and Wednesday, July 31, from 6:30 pm–8:30 pm. The one-hour Animation Theater Daytime Selects will be held on Tuesday, July 30, and Wednesday, July 31, from 12:30 pm–1:30 pm.

The Electronic Theater is a qualifier for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Some previous Best in Show winners have received Academy nominations and wins for Best Animated Short Film at past Oscar awards.

“Given how much buzz is going around with generative AI, it’s more enhanced. I think when the audience sees the show, they will hopefully appreciate the aesthetic value in choices made to use those tools beyond what is traditionally known as the process of putting text-prompted imagery into a project,” said  John Kalaigian, Siggraph 2024 Electronic Theater

director. “Sometimes, the results could be jarring and very obvious. So I think the most important thing is the caliber of which Siggraph holds the content that it presents [which] is increasingly getting higher.”

VR Theater

In addition to the prestigious Electronic Theater, Siggraph attendees have popularized the VR Theater, one of the hardest-to-get tickets at the conference in years past, and with good reason. Introduced in 2017, it showcases amazing examples of virtual reality storytelling through a curated selection of short-form narratives. The main program will run about an hour and will be shown in what Siggraph describes as a high-end, seated, panoramic, multi-viewer immersive space. Siggraph is enhancing the experience this year with a mixed reality Siggraph-branded lobby that showgoers will enter prior to each experience.

Siggraph says it wants to provide attendees with a fresh perspective on innovative, important, and inspiring virtual reality stories that are diverse in nature, ranging from a musical journey aboard a space train, to an immersive empathy documentary about losing and regaining sight. Storytelling is one aspect of these projects, with the other being technical innovation.

Among the VR pieces being presented are:

“Spots of Light”—A piece that puts you in the situation of someone who has lost their sight, regained it, and then lost it again. It’s a personal journey of acceptance and hope.

“Astra”—This mixed reality experience turns your living room into a life-size spaceship that takes you to explore and understand the composition of different materials on different planets.

 “Draw for Change”—A powerful experience about femicide in Mexico, walking in the shoes of a woman in Mexico who is resisting and raising awareness on the problem through beautiful mural work.

 “Traversing the mist”—A poetic journey of discovery of a gay man that takes you with them to the bathhouse, as you discover a deep sense of loneliness and reflection.

 “Emperor”—A spectacular piece about the condition of Aphasia, told in a bigger-than-life way, with intuitive interactions that move the medium forward.

“More than any other year, the pieces we’re involving carry more serious topics. I would say it’s a reflection of the world, as well. Art reflects the pulse of the world. For example, one of the pieces we are showcasing is about femicide in Mexico, a problem they are using VR as a medium to really put you in the seat of a woman in Mexico. When creators make a VR

experience, it’s very important to ask yourself, Why am I making this into a VR experience and not, let’s say, in a flat medium? So, I think these pieces answer that question very clearly,” said Siggraph 2024 VR Theater Director Yangos Hadjiyannis. “I’m glad to see the medium’s evolution in that way. In the early days, I thought creators would sometimes make experiences to test out the VR space. Now, it’s like I’m doing this more purposefully, considering the best ways to tell a story spatially.

“We experience our world in 3D and that is starting to be reflected uniquely in this medium, particularly with an emphasis on presence. I think that’s what really makes it unique,” he added.

At the conference, a VR Theater Best in Show award will be presented.

A number of VR Theater presentations are scheduled. There will be an hour-long presentation starting at 10 am, 11 am, 12 pm, 2 pm, 3 pm, 4 pm, and 5 pm on Monday, July 29, and Wednesday, July 31; on Tuesday, July 30, with the exception of the 5 pm show; and on Thursday, August 1, at 10 am, 11 am, 12 pm, 1:30 pm, and 2:30 pm. Also, there will be VR Theater kiosks available throughout the day, from 10 am–6 pm, on Monday, July 29, and Wednesday, July 31; from 10 am–5 pm on Tuesday, July 30, and 10 am–3:30 pm on Thursday, August 1.

VR Theater tickets are required, even for the kiosks. Tickets are also required for the Electronic Theater. The price of each ticket is $45. Virtual tickets can be purchased for $30 for access to the Electronic Theater.

The full VR Theater schedule can be found here.

Production Sessions

In addition to the Electronic Theater and VR Theater, Siggraph has several Production Sessions scheduled, which take attendees behind the scenes of some of the more technically innovated projects recently and explore the challenges these productions presented.

In all, 10 projects out of a field of 30 submissions from film, games, VR/MR/XR, and other industry segments will be detailed in hour-long sessions at various times during the conference. These include the following, among others:

  • Monkeys, Chimps & Gorillas: Wētā FX’s (r)Evolutionary Work with Primates
  • Oozing Hand Crafted 2D Illustration Into a 3D Ninja Turtle World
  • Visual Data Stories for Climate Action: The Making of NASA’s Earth Information Center Public Exhibits
  • Yin and Yang: The Balance of Animation in Kung Fu Panda 4
  • Pushing the Limits: Crafting an Immersive Mega-Canvas for Phish’s Music Shows at Sphere

“We’re seeing a wide variety of new tools being developed for all sorts of different aspects of production, whether it’s grooming fur and hair or virtual production tools. It’s across-the-board different workflow improvements that we’re seeing,” said Jonathan Nitiparsong, Siggraph 2024 Production Sessions chair. “Siggraph showcases some of the most cutting-edge tools and interactive techniques that make things better, and Production Sessions are often the first place where people are able to see some of these new technologies and production skills in use.”

The full conference schedule is available here.