Siggraph Day 3 report

Day three – HDR Cine cameras, Renderman, GPU. Sphereon launched the hdrv camera at Siggraph. A new cine or video camera capable of filming HD footage with 20 stops of latitude making it the first serious HDR video camera. Also, Pixar had their Renderman User Group Meeting and Nvida proved that GPU capabilities are continuing to climb in creative and technical depth.


09Aug/sig/hdrv1I was not expecting to see a new video camera launched at Siggraph, in fact I walked past it on day one and thought I knew what was on show. At the end of the hall, at the far end of the modest Spheron VR Stand the company is almost showing their new high end hdrv camera. Almost.

The Camera is officially launched and the first camera is sold, the specs are
– HDR video capture
– 20 f stops of dynamic range
– full HD resolution 1920 x1080
– 30 frames per second
– fiber coupled storage unit
– It records 5 hours of uncompressed video data

The camera is in alpha or beta testing, production delivery timetables are not available but from what I could gather it will be in full production by Siggraph next year. The Camera is on the booth but the server that takes the data from the camera and allows it to be viewed is caught in Customs from Germany, by last night it had gotten to within one hour’s drive of Siggraph and the team expect to be hooking it up over night and having live images being filmed on the show floor on Thursday Morning.

Spheron make 360 HDR cameras already with very good results, their SperoCam HDR or hdri cameras are used by high end major effects houses the world over and are also used extensively by police for crime scene photography and set reconstruction. The high end hdri camera takes one full spherical HDR image (360x 180) which has 26 fstops of dynamic range in one single scan. This produces a single EXR of around 50 Megapixels. The output can be a 48 bit (3x 16bit RGB) image but there is also controllers, processing software and a serious workflow and pipeline that extends to stereo derived scene reconstruction and very accurate measurement. I have used this camera on location in Santa Monica and it is impressive, well engineered and innovative. This company is no stranger to high end film sets, with camera at work in places like the Mill in London, Hydraulx in Santa Monica and Brand New School in NY.

09Aug/sig/hdrv3The new hdrv camera has slightly less dynamic range only 20 stops compared to 26 on the stills camera, but while the stills camera takes minutes to scan a scene, the hdrv films at up to 30 frames a second, (so yes it can do 24P) Unofficially it is already shooting at 50 fps and by next year it is hoped to be running at a full 60 fps. The project is still deliberately not releasing much information, they joked with some people that this German company “was not RED”. While the camera is officially revealed they are now seeking to work with a select group of cinematographers to get the operation right before posting wild on the net or issuing official press releases. We did however speak to both the head of the company and also the research team who have bought the first camera, the University of Warwick in the UK. Prof. Alan Chalmers and his team have a long HDR research history and they will be working on refining the software and the compression algorithms. The expect to take delivery in August and start showing their work in September. Prof. Chalmers group WMG at the University of Warrick was recently supported by a statement from British Prime Minister Gordon Brown who said ” WMG work is based on very strong collabration with Industry and provides a prime example of how the knowledge created in our Universities can be transferred to make a difference in the real world”.

The camera works off a non-CMOS new chip which we believe is a 35mm size chip. The camera takes PL mount Cine lenses but has an interchangable mount, University of Warwick will be mainly using Nikon glass for their work. The images are grabbing the entire range of the latitude with a “a single global shutter’ , and measuring the light as on a giant frame, avoiding rolling shutter. The file is then written by a single connecting cable to a server as a full EXR – “raw file” – this generates a huge raw data stream. There is then processing done in the server that allows 100:1 raw compression to provide a workable file for post, while maintaining high quality details. This compression is done all in very fast GPUs to produce the high quality compressed digital negatives.

The monitoring is done using a viewing LUT and also new LCD backlit 24 and 48 ” monitors that deliver stunningly greater contrast ratios and true blacks. The hdrv viewfinder is in development but we have no details.

09Aug/sig/hdrv2The frame rates are published as up to 30fps but we know that 50 is already working in the lab, but moving to 50 or 60 EXR frames a second is a huge data rate. This is why the camera is sold with a special hdrv server. The server does three things, it records – as the camera has no on camera recording, it plays back and it compresses the files for the raw digital negative file format hdrv generates. As this server was yet to be seen as of 6pm Wednesday we can’t discuss much about it or show you any images of it, but if it arrives as hoped we will film coverage of the working camera today and post it in fxguidetv this week.

The camera itself has just the one button, on and off and all controlling of the camera is done from a remote controller. There is no official ISO or rating for the camera. At the moment to set exposure you place a lit 18% grey card in the middle of the 20 stops range and forget about setting the exposure ! More Cinematography style ratings and tools will be provided over time. The camera we played with yesterday had an Arri Super prime 16mm lens on it, with 15mm rods and matte box. Spheron are only focused on the camera and server/monitoring and is not developing lens and accessory kits.


Pixar Renderman User group

09Aug/sig/PUGWideLast night also saw the Pixar Renderman User group meeting, this years Siggraph is down at about 15,000~18,000 attendees from 28,000 in LA last year, but you would not have known that from the impressive turnout at the user group meeting. The largest collection of users were from LA having flown out for the conference and while it has been a slow show for all companies Pixar felt it important to attend and support the event and provided a full user group event to discuss Renderman Server 15 and the new Tractor 1.0 products as well as the always popular Stupid Renderman Tricks – or Rat tricks as they are known.

While the new Renderman Pro Server 15 has been in beta for some while and is widely known (and loved) for the new unlimited threading, I found the new Tractor software really interesting. This is a new product from Renderman that was presented by Dana Batali, Chris Ford and the Renderman team, introduced by Ed Catmull. Tractor is a renderfarm management and scheduling tool. As farms have gotten bigger to the point of having 100s of hosts, which can be 4, 8, or 16 CPUs and jobs are now one to a thousand tasks per job, software needs to manage and schedule 1000s of queued jobs at once. Any software must aim to not only keep the farm busy, but keep the farm responsive, keep the operators and supervisors informed and deal with application and farm failures. The last of these being the most complex and vital to succeeding to met the first aims.

Ed Catmull

Tractor replaces Alfred with a more robust and feature reduced set of operations. It is a reduced set of operations since to make tractor faster and more robust the task has been simplified and made more streamlined. Their are no user desktop queues, just one central single job queue, with plug and play servers all centrally configured. The UI is web based and all “ajax” client javascript, with no plugins required. The Tractor Engine runs on Linux and OSX, the Tractor Blades is pure python 2.5 (Linux, Windows, OSX) and the UI Tractor Daskboard runs on Firefox, Safari, Chrome and IE8 – but tends to work best on Safari and Chrome right now.

Server 15.0 with its new Volume Rendering, Ptexture and major speedups will ship in the fall, RFM 4 & RMS 3 beta also shipping in the Fall. Including the new simpler Unlimited treads per machine – which was a real crowd favourite last night.


We also saw some great lectures yesterday and realtime rendering demos from Nvida. Live Hair and foliage simulations all running in realtime, as well as humans with Sub-surface scattering all generated in realtime often with interactivity and variable controls like wind, lighting and of course camera.





You can see a lot more photos from the day including emerging technology displays and more from Pixar users group in our flickr pool:

Day 4 will be the last of the show floor exhibitions but the lectures continue until Friday night.