The message from Siggraph

The subtext of Siggraph in Vancouver has generally been about the evils and advantages of outsourcing. The whole reason the North American version of Siggraph ever left the U.S. is because so many content creation jobs had moved to Canada – many of them, just up the road from Los Angeles to Vancouver. Just how short that road can become ...

Kathleen Maher

The subtext of Siggraph in Vancouver has generally been about the evils and advantages of outsourcing. The whole reason the North American version of Siggraph ever left the U.S. is because so many content creation jobs had moved to Canada – many of them, just up the road from Los Angeles to Vancouver.

Just how short that road can become evident this year as the clouds smoke from forest fires from British Columbia down to Los Angeles County covered the skies above Vancouver and the cities north and south.

But, in the four years since Siggraph was last held in Vancouver the equation that added up to migrant content creators having to move to where the jobs are, and worse, jobs moving to the places with lower costs of living, has changed dramatically. Large studios have discovered that decisions based on dollars alone does not necessarily equate to quality content. Also, the trend to outsourcing has continued to the point that the industry is even more decentralized. It is an unforeseen consequence of this trend, that talented creatives have more leverage.

The dynamics of the business are changing due to two big shifts. Number one is the rise of streaming video networks such as Amazon, and Netflix, which has created an explosion of demand for content. That boom doesn’t seem to be waning as people have developed a taste for long-form content. (Admittedly, however, as producers race to fill the void for content, the quality is taking a hit and the golden goose isn’t always feeling so healthy.) A supporting trend is the rise of DIY subscription channels as creative people experiment with different types of content to run on YouTube and Vimeo on a subscription basis.

Number two is the ongoing and unstoppable advance of technology, which is enabling remote computing and cloud-based processing. Where one lives has become a lot less important than what one can do.

With that backdrop, Jon Peddie Research has charted a rise in the fortunes of the CG industry, and somewhat surprisingly in the fortunes of Siggraph. 


Traditionally, attendance at Siggraph goes up when the conference is in Los Angeles. However, for the last three years, it has grown, reflecting the continued growth of the CG industry, especially in entertainment. We see the CG market started to flatten out in terms of dollars as costs come down and automation goes up. 


The chart shows the growth in hardware and software, and whereas the software aspects of the market have been slow to flat, the hardware segments have been varied, influenced by consumer products such as game consoles. It’s important to note that software prices are coming down, but the number of people using that software rises proportionately. Price elasticity works dynamically in the content creation industries.

As an aside, Virtual reality, which has gained so much attention, is hardly a factor in either hardware or software, and despite some glowing forecasts, we don’t think it will be for a while. The main point of exploration for VR today is in content creation and design for professionals. 


Lumpy business: the CG business is cyclic and in the US that is tied to elections, sports events, and the unknowable whims of audiences and consumers. This is a worldwide chart, and for the rest of the world, cycles are driven by similar stimuli including the World Cup, holidays, and an increased interest in regional content. The above chart is conservative in its expectation of a rise to 2020, and a slight, natural fall off after that. The rise could be much higher, the fall off much lower, but JPR believes this is a reasonable picture. 


At the annual JPR luncheon discussion, we discussed the evolution of software and content creation especially as companies explore the use of cloud-based resources. Individual users are grappling with the advantages and disadvantages of subscription plans for software versus open source resources and perpetual licenses. One of the consequences of large studios going outside for special effects, and other contract work, is an increase in independent workers who are going freelance or working for small houses. Sometimes, subscription plans, equipment rental, rendering contracts, etc. are designed for large businesses with the ability to distribute licenses throughout their workforce. The payment plans designed for large companies are not likely to suit smaller vendors and individuals who want to access cloud resources for collaboration and remote processors. Subscriptions allow small groups and individuals to ramp up for projects, but it doesn’t allow them to hang on to software and increase their skills during dry periods. JPR believes the gulf between large companies and individuals or contractors is going to be an important topic in the content creation industry. Often, the two sides do not seem to understand each other. 


The panel at Jon Peddie Research’s annual luncheon included: Moderator Kathleen Maher; J.C. Prunier of Pocket Studio; Ton Roosendal, the founder of Blender; Mathieu Mazerolle of the Foundry; independent character creator and 3D portraitist Ian Spriggs; and Jeremy Smith from Jellyfish Pictures. (Source: Roadway Media Productions)


The panel, which included Ton Roosendal, a leading content creation program developer, two developers of virtual studio software – J.C. Prunier of Pocket Studio and Mathieu Mazerolle product manager of Athera, an independent artist Ian Spriggs, and Jellyfish Pictures CTO who builds collaborative system held a range of views on the topic of licensing, but they were unified in their desire for better ways to collaborate and support for independents and small houses. What will happen is what always happens, there will be plenty of options, but employers will call the shots. If they do, however, they will also have to pay the bills for cloud-time and maybe even software licenses. The creative industries are embracing open source because these industries are founded on collaboration and content exchange. Questions of licensing, perforce, adapt to the requirements of the creatives as well as the studios. 

Beyond the panel, JPR sees the demand for programmers, artists, scientists, and designers continues to be strong and we’re seeing startups arrive in emerging and reborn markets such as augmented reality, virtual reality, and casual games. The arrival of new APIs and platforms are also stimulating development. Firms are actively looking for people who can use and exploit these new programs and their associated hardware accelerators.

There is always the fear that as technology becomes more powerful, job resources might correspondingly dry up. There are challenges: companies will be able to hire the best person for the job rather than the person most conveniently located for the job. Automation is going to streamline workflows, and possibly reduce headcount in some areas. But, this is a time of expanding opportunities. Right now, the more work that can be done, opens the way for more work. That may not last forever, but given the news coming out of this year’s Siggraph, there is a solid and healthy period of development and work ahead for the next three years.