Guerillas in our Midst - A place where the creative spirit roams free
SIGGRAPH is a vast wilderness of technological delight. From the great and hallowed Exhibition Hall, to the jungle of the Job Fair, and the cavernous Electronic Theater, all venues draw droves of travelers from afar. However, some attendees may have missed the Guerilla Studio, a little slice of heaven safely tucked away in the convention center. Allow me to share some of my experiences, as I walked in the midst of these free spirited Guerillas.
Should I bring a banana with me?
Most definitely! The place we are going is so engrossing that you will want to pack a lunch. I covered a lot of ground in the LA convention center, however, somehow I kept finding myself back in room 403 - home of the Guerilla Studio. A quick but important thing to remember: it's “guerilla” and not “gorilla.” A common misconception is that Gorillas inhabit this studio. Although Peter Braccio, Chair of the SIGGRAPH 2005 Guerilla Studio, may look like your typical silverback alpha male (sorry ladies, he is taken), he and his fellow volunteers are in my opinion among the nicest and coolest primates at SIGGRAPH. Furthermore, that planet with the apes has nothing on these bipeds (who have all the latest gadgets, and who are oh so very techno-savvy).
The return of the Guerilla Studio.
Based on this year's turnout, it is hard to imagine that these Guerillas nearly faced extinction only two years ago. However, thankfully, that fate never came to pass. Seeing the passion of both the volunteers at the Studio and attendees using the facilities, it is impossible to deny the value this venue contributes to the conference. Here, visitors are treated to discover a space that captivates the imagination and allows us to fathom the possibilities that new technologies enable. To that effect, the Studio is equipped with multiple workstations which provide attendees with access to the latest versions of various full-featured software packages (for the creation of 2D and 3D graphics and animation). The crew of the Studio, donning cool jean vests (which dually serve to identify them and reinforce their rugged good looks), provide unfaltering assistance to anyone with a curious disposition.
So where do Guerillas come from?
Peter Braccio denotes the print area as the genesis of the Studio. The first incarnation of the Guerilla Studio was in 1993. At that time it was called the Guerilla Gallery, and the only thing that it provided was access to a printer. Back then, it was quite the novelty to print art generated from a computer. Today graphic color printers have become more of a norm, and no crowd surrounded the large format Epson printers as they spat out their multi-colored eye-candy. That being said, they remain very popular. Given that everyone is given the opportunity to print out their own images in large format and high-end quality, the print queue on these printers was a mile long. All you needed to do was hand over a copy of your image files to one of the professional Master printers (who ensured that the final print would be color optimized) and return to claim your print. So how much did this service cost? An arm, a leg, perhaps your very soul? Although slipping these folks a 20 probably wouldn’t hurt, aside from a smile and a thank you, they did it all for free.
Did you miss the memo? It’s now a 3D world.
Sure there were computers set up with the latest in 3D creation and manipulation software, but what about I/O in 3D? One on the most popular gadgets in the Guerilla Studio was the 3D face scanner. This curious contraption scanned and mapped you’re oh so stunning visage after which the friendly technicians handed you your semblance (as 3D file). To gain access to the aforementioned machine required you to sign up for a session (and the signup sheets filled up very quickly). They say smiling creates fewer wrinkles than frowning does. So next year, to avoid being turned disappointed by the inavailability of scanning sessions, remember to sign your face up early (for its own good).
Now you might be asking yourself what can be done if you already have a much wrinkled face, or need a way to help your “friend” (with the huge scare from the incident with the go-go dancers at the Chapter’s Party). What’s the best way to fix such a thing? You could import/open the digital image in your favourite 3D program and mouse away all imperfections (on your nice flat screen monitor). However, that would be so passé, so very old school. The world is all about 3D, so it's only natural that you work in 3D as well. BLUIsculpt, a research project of the Arctic Region Supercomputing Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, allows users to see in 3D and sculpt objects interactively in 3D. BLUi is short for Body Language User Interface and is open source software that allows the user to extrude and erase aspects of a 3D object
I know there are some of you now wondering: "So, you are telling me we can input in 3D and work in 3D? Next you’ll say you can print in 3D". Indeed! Right there in the Guerilla Studio was a Z Corp 3D printer. In just a few hours this machine can take 3D model data and use it to create a solid three dimensional sculpture. The 3D printer works very much like an inkjet printer (using tiny droplets of matter to construct a physical object, from the bottom up, one layer at a time). Many example objects were on display as part of the Collaborative Sculpture Installation (cryptically named CSI for short). The busy machine was only able to create monochromatic objects limited to 8” x 10” x 8” in size. However, it's astounding and inspiring to think back to the simple printer in the Guerilla Gallery of 1993, and see how far things have progressed since then. Who knows, maybe in another 12 years I will be able to print out a life-size version of the dream home I took half a day to design in The Sims!
Two person motion capture sounds kind of kinky.
Oh get your mind out of the gutter! I really need to stop hanging out with these geeky artsy types - they keep getting me into all kinds of trouble. What kind of trouble, you ask? The kind of trouble that has you donning a motion capture suit and recording all your movements for, if nothing else, the sake of posterity. Granted, I didn't personally end up doing that (I think the world will be a better place if I leave such things to the actors, dancers, martial artists and other performers who’s bodily motions are far more graceful than my own), but if I did, it wouldn't have been pretty. For those who really did want their motions captured, PhaseSpace provided their latest Two-Person Optical Motion Capture apparatus at this year’s Guerilla Studio. It was kind of trippy to watch all those lights moving around in unison. Of course, some people were more interesting to watch than others...if you know what I mean. Ok, I think it’s about time someone slapped me.
Let’s make some space for audio.
New to the Guerilla Studio for 2005 was the Audio Area, where the exploration of live audio recording and real-time manipulation was undertaken. Musicians were given access to the latest interactive multimedia software tools, audio recording technologies, as well as good old fashioned instruments (like keyboards and guitars) to play with. Peter Braccio, himself, performed a solo impromptu concert for the Studio, picking up a mandolin after the studio had closed for the day (when the place had taken on a far more relaxed feel). Not only was I treated to some fantastic live music, but I was also exposed to how music and video can come together. Playing on one of the large flat screen Apple monitors was a video that seemed to flow in synch with the music, as if it had been spliced together by a professional. However, it had not been. The video was actually being mixed in real time from clips (reacting were based on the music being input). Amazingly the video ended (actually showing the words “The End” onscreen) just as Peter finished his strumming. Even Peter was taken aback by this occurence, since he was making up his song on the fly. Such moments make you wonder if we are making these computers *too* smart. At this rate Skynet will end up being creative as well as uber-intelligent. What’s next, a sense of humor?
And they said geeks have no fashion sense.
Okay, that last comment is very much open for discussion... Once again, this year the Guerilla Studio provided the location for the Cyber Fashion Show. As the week went on all manner of costumed individuals made their way through the Studio (preparing themselves for the big runway show). Some outfits were crazy, some were classy, others were useful, and still more were just plain frivolous. 'Exotic' and 'erotic' were definitely covered as well. However, one common thread was that all were interesting in some manner. Isa Gordon heads up the Cyber Fashion Show, now in its fourth year at SIGGRAPH. Isa (a.k.a. Psymbiote) is also one of the featured models in the show, showing off her high-tech body apparel on the runway. Kudos must be given to her, not only for organizing the event, but also for having the courage and the figure to pull off black spandex (dream fodder for geeks worldwide).
The secret back room
The Guerilla Studio is a large room brimming with all kinds of technology: exotic input devices, the latest output devices and powerful computers to allow all types of content creation and manipulation. With all this to keep you occupied, many visitors may not have noticed the small area over in the corner, blocked off with a solitary door as access. I am curious by nature (a trait that has gotten me into much trouble over the years). As such, I needed to know what was behind the mystery door. Among the more interesting of my suppositions was that this room contained a mega computer (that controlled everything at the conference), or a "hollodeck"-like virtual room (along the lines of the 'take the blue pill' experience and aftermath). My inquiring mind just had to know the true answer.
This room, which I thought would involve stealth action and a call on my hidden skills as a ninja (untrained and unexcercised skills up until that point) to infiltrate, was actually pretty easy to access. All I had to do was inquire as to what was beyond the doors, and was granted access. To my utter astonishment, there was hardly any technology housed inside. Instead, there were couches, a few tables and some chairs. A few laptops were scattered about, but all these were closed, not being used. Only the Guerilla Studio crew was allowed inside this topsy-turvy place (*gasp*) lacking technology. It suddenly dawned on me - this was a place to seek refuge from the crazy world of SIGGRAPH. I quietly exited and closed the door softly behind me so as not to disturb the current occupants of the room (stealing a quick well-deserved moment for themselves).
While at the Guerilla Studios you can get your nails done too!
The fingernail printer was definitely a very popular service offered at the Guerilla Studio. Every time I entered the room, that area was without fail busy as ever. And yes, you did indeed hear me correctly, there was a printer set up that printed directly onto your fingernails. In fact, it printed onto all five fingernails at the same time. Each time I saw nails being printed on, with some new persons hand inside the printer, I kept having flashbacks to Dune and the 'box of pain'. The thought of placing your hand inside that dark and ominous opening seemed a bit strange to me. However, everyone who tried it seemed to have a great and painless experience.
The process to get your nails done was simple. Step 1: before placing your fingers into the Imaginail printers, apply a base coat (a neutral nail polish, then a top coat). Then you stick your primed nails into the dark recesses of the printer. Hold still as the printer senses the shape of your fingernails (to determine the area to print on and orient the images to be printed). In a few minutes you’ve got yourself one hell of a paint job that lasts just as long as regular nail polish. As far as what image is printed, it’s all up to you to pick from a plethora of designs, or you can even input your very own images.
Unfortunately, no one was on hand to trim, clean and shape your nails (a must for that truly professional nail job). However, you never know what kind of contraptions may be in store for next year. As a sidenote, I asked if I could get my toenails done, instead of my fingernails. I was quickly met with an impressive mean stare. I guess there are some things you really shouldn't ask ;)
People do indeed make the world a better place
Aside from that one minor death-stare incident, the people at the Guerilla Studio were among the nicest bunch of people I met all week. These fine folk were sharp as tacks, with deep knowledge of the plethora of technologies avalable in the room. They were also a highly creative group of techno-savvy artists. Judging from their own personal artwork, as well as how they seemed to imbue visitors with the creative spirit, their passion was palpable. Did I mention how friendly they are? They were, above all, always more than happy to share their knowledge and time with all those who showed interested.
Technology is very much a tool that aids in creation. From my perspective, the mandate of the Guerilla Studio was to place the tools into the hands of people, to provide whatever instruction was needed to use these tools, and to let the ideas flow forth with as few constraints as possible. Indeed the crew of the Guerilla Studio are a smart, creative and personable bunch. They successfully managed to teach, inspire and spread their passion to all those who cross their path. I say this because each visitor that left the room seemed to have a sparkle in the eye, if not a blatant grin, and a look on their face that said “Before SIGGRAPH is over, I really need to visit the Guerilla Studio again!”
Did I mention all the things that I failed to mention?
I spent a lot of time in the Guerilla Studio. However, I did not even come close to seeing and experiencing all it had to offer. It boggles my mind how many interesting things and interesting people can be crammed into a single (albeit, very large) room. The Guerilla Studio is, simply put, an awesome place (involving too much for just one person to write about). Frankly, it’s a space that must truly be experienced in order to fully appreciate. Perhaps next year I’ll come better prepared, and along with my banana, I'll pack a sleeping bag and a tent... take in the full experience by camping out and living in the wild with the Guerillas in their land of wonderment.