Tuesday and we were not disappointed from 8 minutes of the new 3D Tron film to Jim Morris’s keynote – the Siggraph event was delivering on its promise of production relevant sessions.

The show floor opened and as usual the queues for Pixar’s swag were around the block.. or all the way around the hall and were at times about 1000 people long. More on Pixar tomorrow. The Job Fair also opened with long lines of people waiting to talk a a really good and impressive set of facilities this year.


ILMs CTO Richard Kerris discusses and supports collaboration

In one of the most impressive displays of unity, Sony Pictures Imageworks and ILM joined forces to launch “Alembic”, a core interchange format focused on efficiently storing and sharing animation and vfx scenes across multiple software applications. It is to .obj files what OpenEXR is to .cineon files. It is open source, robust, efficient and effective.
Alembic is a data representation scheme for storing computer graphics scenes, that distills the results of artist disciplines for handoff to other artists in other disciplines. it focused on the greatest common divisor between applications, the ‘periodic table of cg primitives’. It ss extensible to support new workflows and new tools

Alembic Is Not…
• A dependency graph, nor a procedural data transformation tool
• A replacement for native application scene file formats
• An asset management application
• A general rigging storage solution

Alembic would be used to bake the results of an animated scene for hand-off to lighting & rendering. To hand off an animated creature for cloth or flesh simulation. As was shown live by the panel at the announcement.
It could also be used store the results of a cloth or flesh simulation for use in lighting & rendering or to hand off animated geometry to a physical simulation engine. In the case of the launch this was an Nivida real time Fluid Sim.
In can also store the results of a physical simulation engine for use in lighting & rendering

Alembic Would Not Be Used…
• To transport complex procedural animation rigs between different applications
• To make lossless round trips out of and into the same computation context
• To construct complex networks of procedural tools

Autodesk was one of the supporting companies in attendance and we asked Marc Petit, SVP, of Autodesk Media & Entertainment about how this related to FBX, as some people have completely incorrectly assumed that Alembic is a substitute for FBX. Petit fully expressed Autodesk’s support for the new format. This is vital given their dominance of the 3D market, he also stated “The Alembic initiative shows again the leadership and vision of ILM and Imageworks. As visual effects and movie making processes are changing rapidly, Alembic enables increased levels of collaboration throughout production”.

Support for the new format has also come from The Foundry, as this is the native format of Katana, as well as Luxology, Side Effects software, Nvidia, and Pixar. Pixar’s Dana Batali VP of Renderman at Pixar ” Renderman has always been synonymous with open standards and we are very excited about the prospect of an industry alignment around Alembic”. A point he repeated at the Pixar User Group the following night.

From fxguide’s point of view, special credit should be given to ILM’s CTO Richard Kerris, and especially to Rob Bredow CTO of Sony Pictures Imageworks. Since Rob became CTO, the shift in Sony’s position on Open Source has lead to a long line of Open Source Initiatives, and while Rob seeks no personal singling out, or special treatment, it is clear that this industry wide move would not have been possible without him.

Iron Man 2 and ILM

In ‘Iron Man 2: Bringing in the Big Gun’, ILM’s Doug Smythe and Marc Chu explored the importance-based lighting techniques used for the digital suits in the film. We saw some great concept art, befores and afters and set reconstructions – especially where ILM replicated the lighting setup for the Stark Expo and kitchen fight scenes. They would shoot HDRIs of the set on Canon 1Ds III and SIGMA 8mm fisheye lenses using 5 exposures, 3 stops apart which allowed for multiple directions to be captured in about 20 seconds. The images were stitched together using an ENV browser and Etherial editor. The Iron Man and War Machine battle against Ivan (Whiplash) in the Japanese
Gardens was a late addition and had to be built up from animated stills of the already-struck set.

Jim Morris Keynote

Pixar’s General Manager and Executive Vice Pesident Production, Jim Morris, delivered a keynote speech on Tuesday. In it, he recounted his experiences working at Lucasfilm and ILM as the methods of effects work moved from practical to digital. We saw some scenes from Always, The Abyss, T2, Death Becomes Her, Jurassic Park and Forest Gump. He
also praised Pixar’s founders for their vision of considering computer graphics as a storytelling medium. Turns out he first met Ed Catmull after a dispute about a RenderMan license (but of course now they are great friends). Significantly, Morris said that so much digital production is not lowering the quality of moviemaking, adding there had always been bad movies around. He started his talk with a clip from the rather dated Robinson Crusoe on Mars, an early career influence, noting that he was currently producing a much newer Andrew Stanton’s John Carter of Mars.

The Making of TRON: Legacy

Tron is released in 3D in December

Hundreds more SIGGRAPH attendees packed in to see a TRON: Legacy panel moderated by Variety’s David S. Cohen and featuring director Joseph Kosinski, producer Jeffrey Silver, DD vfx supe Eric Barba and DD animation supe Steve Preeg. First up we saw 8 minutes of footage in 3D which was pretty spectacular. The 3D is used quite sparingly and the quality of the images on screen was first-rate. Apart from the world of TRON, the light cycles and other vehicles, a significant amount of DD’s work in the film is the youthening of Jeff Bridges to a 35 year old man. These effects, although drawing on the work from Benjamin Button, differed significantly as Bridges’ performance was captured on
set with multiple cameras, including four mounted on a helmet cam aimed at his face. Some interesting comments were made about the challenges of the stereo camera rig, made up of two Sony F35s with full 35mm sensors. Kosinski noted that when shooting at 1:3 the depth of field is more shallow but still very filmic and that it rolls off to a nice background which he found comfortable to look at in 3D. For DD, the issues were sometimes matching convergence points and having to track in 3D.

The queues were long but worth it

Other comments on updating the look of the film from the original were interesting. Designer Syd Mead visited the art department at some point and the original designs of things like the light cycles (with no cockpits this time) have made their way into this film. Jeff Silver said they had hired a lot of ‘fetishists’ in answer to a question about maintaining the look of things once they had been rapidly prototyped. Asked why it was important that it be a 3D movie, Kosinski just said, ‘It’s TRON man.’ He thought that stylistically you could sit longer on a master shot because in 3D it playes more like a stage play and you feel more immersed in the shot without having to cut around it. Kosinski also said the last thing he wanted to make was a film about the Internet, so the world of TRON has been shut off in a server since the late 1980s – ‘there won’t be an army from Facebook’.
Interestingly, more than one person in the audience had worked on the original film and there was definitely a lot of love for all things TRON. December feels so far away…

Mental Images

cloud computing on an ipad

How cool is Mental Images this year at Siggraph? Not only has the company been really kicking goals with the latest releases of Mental Ray, but with its cloud computing iray work, it turned up to Siggraph with a bunch of ipads which were rendering ray traced pictures via Celular broadband and wifi to the virtual renderfarm cloud. Mental Images team members were sitting on the floor beside Starbucks with ipads sending oil rigs, cars and complex models to a virtual GPU renderfarm – producing natural light high quality renders in seconds, actually interactively. They also had two giant touch screens LCD at their booth – allowing anyone to effortlessly control, render and move models with iray. For more on Mental Images and Nvidia check out fxguidetv.

Mental images stand
interactive ray tracing via iray

International Workflow

International workflow was a hot topic

We attended a minor paper at the end of the day yesterday, scheduled after most other sessions had finished, in a small room – at the farthest end of the South Hall, it had no film tie ins, no stereo, not even a decent projector, but the event was beyond packed. This was the International Workflow session, and literally there was no room left on the floor, or in the seats or even to get into the room. It proved to be both a great session and one that ran way over length until the Conference centre literally tossed the speaker out. Several key facilities such as Digital Domain, Rhythm and Hues, Sony Pictures Iageworks and others.

SPI one of several facilities explaining their international issues

Sony Pictures Imageworks, for example has studios at
•Culver City
•Chennai India
•Novato, CA
•Albuquerque NM
•Bristol UK
•Vancouver Canada

The issues ranged from simple timezone problems, to syncing vast amounts of data and even just the problems is ‘assetizing’ all the various forms and spreadsheets so that they could be synced between multiple locations. All agreed that for team participation the most vital thing was good voice / phone communication, but even here companies were writing their own software to improve VOIP and reduce latency.

People were turned away from this small but very popular lecture

Other issues included software version matching, and the impossibility of upgrading over multiple global locations at any actual time that would not cause problems in at least one location, due to the companies effectively working around the clock thanks to timezones and offset days. Furthermore various production databases needed to be maintained and synced and backed up without disrupting ‘normal’ working hours – not that such a thing exists.

The event highlighted just how important this area is, and how much interest exists for addressing these issues. Perhaps next year Siggraph 2011 can find a much bigger room for the meeting as this issue will only grow in importance.