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Siggraph ’97: Here The Digital World Comes To Congregate And Contemplate

Siggraph '97: Here The Digital World Comes To Congregate And Contemplate

by Joshua Moss

It’s a good thing John Travolta decided to save the LA Convention center
from doom in “Face/Off” or else 30,000 computer graphics/multimedia
professionals wouldn’t have had a place in which to strut their stuff.
The 1997 Siggraph computer graphics convention kicked off in LA
filling all five of the convention center’s state-of-the-art halls to the
brim with excited young professionals, all on the cutting edge of f/x
technology. Part trade-show, part job convention, Siggraph serves the
entire film/television/multimedia community, in an effort to bring together
all the facets of production to see how things can be done better, faster
and cheaper.

Fighting 98 degree temperatures, attendees seemed a little lost on the
first day. Softimage, the leading software for 3-D development, held their
user-group meeting in the Westin Bonaventure hotel, displaying new user
interfaces and easier-to-understand graphics. Douglas Adams (“Hitchhikers Guide
To The Galaxy”) gave the keynote address, speaking passionately about
the power of digital graphics used by artists to express themselves.

“Now that we have the power to do anything, we have to choose carefully
that we do what should be done creatively and narratively,” Adams lectured
in his affable British way, as hundreds of 20-somethings from many of the
major digital effects companies applauded wildly.

One thing many people at the conference seem to be realizing is that
Softimage, Alias and 3D Studio, once only the terrain of the rich and
powerful, are gradually winding their way down to cheaper and smaller post

With Silicon Graphics‘ unveiling of the powerful O2 computer priced under
$5,000.00, it is only a matter of time before digital effects become as
cheap and as available an option to the independent filmmaker as adding
fades and dissolves at the lab. The technology seems to be less and less of
a financial burden, allowing the artists even more freedom to use this
technology to create their art. Judging by the students swarming the Career
Center, more and more digital artists are coming into the business looking
for projects to work on.

Having talked to a variety of animators here at Siggraph, most seem to
sense the shifting and broadening of computer based effects, and seem to
feel that the independent community remains a largely untapped market for
this sort of work. The main obstacle seems to be a perception problem —
most low-budget filmmakers automatically assume they can’t afford to make
“Jurrasic Park” and thus immediately nix any idea involving computer graphics
based effects. However, if a post-f/x house is brought in during
pre-production, live-action effects can often be less expensive, less time
consuming, and are more likely to be done well. Many animators
commented to me that most indie directors seem to feel post-work sullies
the purity of the production process, and often proclaim effects based work
as “Hollywood.” But it seems inevitable that with the falling price of
digital f/x, computer graphics will emerge to the forefront of the
indie community, as they already have in Hollywood.

[For more from Siggraph ’97, read Joshua Moss’2nd report from Los Angeles.]

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