SIGGRAPH Heads to Beantown

Annual computer graphics/animation confab to combine ethics, cutting edge tech


(click thumbnail)"Bubble cosmos," by Masahiro Nakamura of the University of Tsukuba Shiratori in Japan, will be among the emerging technoloiges demonstrated at SIGGRAPH, July 30 - Aug. 3.
A fusion of art and technology along with ethical and legal issues in digital imaging will highlight the 33rd annual SIGGRAPH conference and exhibition, at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, July 30-August 3.

Attracting about 25,000 computer graphics and interactive media professionals from six continents along with 250 exhibitors, SIGGRAPH 2006 will feature technical and creative programs on video games, animation, video special effects, film, software, digital tools, research, computer science, and interactive technologies.

"This year we've put together a five-day experience that will be fully immersive," said John Finnegan, full conference chair for SIGGRAPH 2006 and associate professor of computer graphics technology at Purdue University in New Albany, Ind.


The digital art gallery, for instance, will host an extensive retrospective exhibition featuring the works of computer graphics and animation pioneer Charles A. Csuri, presented in tandem with the 2006 SIGGRAPH Computer Animation Festival, which will debut of the world's largest Etch-A-Sketch. The popular SIGGRAPH Sketches program, meanwhile, will offer 20-minute presentations on digital imaging innovations. The digital animation festival and Sketches program attracted record-breaking submissions this year.

Another fusion event will be a "wearable computing" fashion show. "The East Coast is a major academic center for computer science," Finnegan said, "and it's in the heart of the fashion district, so working with the MIT Media Lab lets us present a fashion show with a very different flavor than the punk style on the West Coast."

Finnegan said he's happy the 2006 conference is on the East Coast for the first time. The 2007 conference will be back on the West Coast in San Diego; "we'll try to alternate between east and west coasts, so everyone in the industry can participate," he said.

Joe Rohde, executive designer and creative vice president for Walt Disney Imagineering will keynote the event on July 31. His speech, "From Myth to Mountain: Insights Into Virtual Placemaking," will explore Rohde's work as the lead designer of Disney's Animal Kingdom. He was the main creative force behind Expedition Everest, the virtual reality attraction that debuted this year.


Tackling what Finnegan called "the rough subjects" will be six panel discussions "that will not shy away from hard questions," he said

Atop the list is a session on digital rights management (DRM), called "Digital Rights; Digital Restrictions." The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) supports lawsuits against content piracy, but now companies are trying a more active approach, for example Sony's recent addition of "rootkit" copy-protection spyware on some of its audio CDs. "Where is the line drawn?" asked Finnegan, "and who gets to draw it?"

"DRM technology raises serious concerns about user's rights and privacy," asserted panelist Karen Sandler, counsel at the Software Freedom Law Center in New York City, "Restricting purchasers from legitimate and legal use of media runs counter to creative expression. Additionally, DRM technologies attached to the digital graphics broadcasters use could prevent them from the 'fair use' of images, a right regularly exercised in the news and entertainment media today."

A related panel, "So You Want to Create Content," examines the latest copyright licensing schemes, from "copyleft" to Creative Commons to Version 3 of the General Public License (GPLv3). "As software developers and content creators," Finnegan asked, "should we 'share the wealth' or 'protect our wealth'?"

Another controversial panel, "Ethics in Image Manipulation," asks if the SIGGRAPH community should get more involved in setting public policy on how digital tools are used. Finnegan cited the digital manipulation of an O.J. Simpson photo on a national magazine cover back in 1994, "to make him look more criminal than he might have been."

"Even though new technologies allow the misappropriation of images," said panelist Brian DeLevie, Assistant Professor of Multimedia in the College of Arts and Media for the University of Colorado at Denver, "we need to remember that image manipulation is not new. Touching up news photographs in the darkroom went through the same ethical review. What we're seeing is an expansion of the same moral questions facing us before."

Another session, "Video Games: Content and Responsibility, explores critics' charges that violent video games promote violence in society. "It's time to step up and ask tough questions about our public responsibility. I expect this session to be standing room only," Finnegan said.

The sixth hot topic, divided into two panels, asks, "Is a Career in Computer Graphics Possible?" Media companies increasingly are replacing full-time digital arts employees with independent contractors, according to Finnegan.

"Even the major studios are trimming costs by farming out their digital effects, sometimes with each effect in the same film going to a different contractor. Freelancing is a catch-as-catch-can business," he said, so these two panels are backed up with a SIGGRAPH Jobs Fair, a careers symposium, and plenty of networking opportunities.

Those in the television industry will be especially interested in the technical sessions on such topics as video MPEG advances for on-air logo graphics and Web broadcasting. "SIGGRAPH is focused on the academic research and science behind the new products featured at the NAB show," Finnegan observed. "This is where you can find out how to make digital technology faster and smaller."

"We're seeing this year a greater level of sophistication on what you can create with the latest tools," said Gareth Morgan, Senior Product Manager for Softimage, the Avid-owned company based in Montreal. "Exhibitors like us will address the convergence of interactive graphics and digital effects for movies shot in HD."

More tools in the production pipeline are becoming interoperable, Morgan said, and nowhere is this more evident than in true 3D imaging.

"Cross-platform interoperability is a hundred times harder with fully rendered 3D than with 2D," he said. "The high level of scripted instructions on how all the bits of a 3D model interrelate makes it hard to bundle images within the available bandwidth. We're now seeing some exciting things happen in the standards domain to make it all work together."

SIGGRAPH 2006 will help television content creators understand what ahead for the production pipeline, Morgan concluded. "We must invest in common technical standards so our customers can work on creating really great art."

For more information on SIGGRAPH 2006, visit