SIGGRAPH 2004 - The 31st international conference on computer graphics and interactive techniques
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  Panel Topics

3D Animation: Difficult or Impossible to Teach?

Custom Software Development in Post Production

Cultural Heritage and Computer Graphics: What are the Issues?Games Development: How Will You Feed the Next Generation of Hardware?

Games Development: How Will You Feed the Next Generation of Hardware?

Careers in Computer Graphics

Building a Bridge to the Aesthetic Experience: Artistic Virtual Environments and Other Interactive Digital Art

Real-Time Shading Languages: Which One Should I Use, If Any?

3D Animation: Difficult or Impossible to Teach?
Teaching the skills needed to animate in current 3D software is a veryy difficult art to communicate. Not computer science, but with many similarities, and not art, but with the same consternations. A seeming hodge-podge of ideas from drafting, particle and Newtonian physics, geometry and puppet animation, the current applications face the student with the most complicated interface of any software. Many figuratively and literally run crying from the keyboard, baffled by multiple slices and dices of the 3D data. Many others are convinced it can't be as hard as all this. Some put in 10-15 hours a day for a year and create 30 seconds of animation. Very few are natural savants whose brain wiring baffles this writer.

How to teach this? Tutorials? Practical experience? Concepts? This panel will convene teachers, former students, and industry professionals to discuss what is being taught and what needs to be taught. The panel will attempt to identify the best means for communicating the ideas needed by the next generation of 3D animators.

Custom Software Development in Post Production
Most post-production and digital effects work these days employs custom software to varying degrees. This software may be a necessity for the high-end work, and it mostly gets the job done, but from the perspective of the artists and other users, it is often poorly written, hard to use, and causes delays and frustration near deadlines when it can be least afforded.

This panel will consist of software developers and artists who have experience in creating and/or using such software to discuss in broad terms what is wrong with it, why it is this way, and how it can be improved.
  • There seems to be a willingness to accept unreliable and poorly written software in our field because the average technical ability of the end users is much higher than in other industries. While it is true that many users are able to work around the problems they find with the software, it is still costing us greatly in wasted time and effort. It also contributes to the overall feeling that CG production is harder and more frustrating than it need be, resulting in longer hours and a less pleasurable experience for everyone.

  • Our industry is maturing, with a larger and more consistent pool of work. However, software development is still generally done in a very amateurish fashion. It is not enough that a piece of software works on one particular project. It needs to then be available as an easily accessible tool for doing similar jobs in the future. We need to provide a more sustainable foundation of tools, rather than simply starting from scratch with each new project.

  • Open-source software is an interesting avenue for improvement, as the nature of development in our field makes this model particularly suitable. Tools can be quickly written to get the immediate job done and then passed out to the open-source community for the robustness and usability features they are often lacking. By the time they are needed again by the originating company, they may have improved greatly with no effort or expense on their part.

  • Making the custom software open source also helps to alleviate the problems of using proprietary tools when a large proportion of the users are highly migratory. Users feel unwilling to dedicate themselves to learning or helping to improve custom software when they know they might be working elsewhere in six months, where those tools will be unavailable to them. However, if the tools were made open source then people will be encouraged to contribute, as they are using and building on something they can use again in the future, and the skills and experience will be appreciated outside their current employer.

Cultural Heritage and Computer Graphics: What are the Issues?
Over the past 10 years, increasing numbers of projects have been using computer graphics on a large scale to document, study, and/or communicate cultural heritage. In many parts of the world, there is increasing financial support for projects that use technology to preserve and communicate cultural heritage, as it is recognized in many countries that cultural heritage is a vital national resource. Is cultural heritage just an interesting area for using graphics, or does it present unique research challenges? How successful have projects in computer graphics and cultural heritage been? Are the basic tools and techniques developed in graphics adequate for use in cultural heritage, or are we missing opportunities?

Graphics projects have included reconstructing historic environments and using scanning technologies to capture artifacts. These projects are appealing to people in computer graphics because of the sheer volume of the data involved, and because of the often breathtaking imagery that results. The results are used in museums and schools as a communication tool. Computer graphics restorations have also become standard in television presentations popularizing history. Are the techniques used for feature film the same techniques that are needed to communicate cultural heritage? Is this just an example of using graphics for storytelling, or are there specific issues in accurately communicating reconstructions? What representations and interactions are needed in these areas? Should the presentations be computer games to engage the public, or is another model needed to communicate heritage?

Somewhat less visible projects have investigated how graphics can be used by a variety of experts such as historians, archaeologists, anthropologists, and architects to study the past. Techniques from data visualization have been used to organize collected data from archaeological sites to provide new insights. Graphic modeling software has been used for visual problem solving to understand how ancient structures were built, and how people may have used them. The experts involved in these endeavors are a much different population than the engineers and technicians that graphics tools have been designed for in the past. Is it just a matter of tailoring interfaces for specific applications? Or do we need fundamentally different ways of interacting with data and models? Are new devices needed? Are drawing and sketching more important than traditional solid modeling? Are different data structures needed? What sorts of rendering are needed in various phases of study? Is it a matter of different software packages being needed, or are completely new algorithms needed?

Computer graphics also plays a role in documentation and preservation of cultural heritage. How do we interact with the cultural heritage community in establishing standards to make data available? How can we contribute to insuring that the images and models generated today will still be accessible 50 to 100 years from now?

The goal of this panel is to bring together the growing population of people who work in the area of computer graphics and cultural heritage. This group includes computer graphics researchers and practitioners, as well as educators, historians, museum curators, and other cultural heritage experts who use graphics. People who have worked on these projects are needed to report on their experiences: what has worked and what has not. We need to move past the current "yet-another-project" phase to understanding the basic issues and start building a formal body of knowledge in computer graphics and cultural heritage.

Games Development: How Will You Feed the Next Generation of Hardware?
In the early 1980s, a video game was a six-to-nine-month job for one person. A typical team size these days is 25-30 people, and it's not uncommon to see games taking over two or three years to complete.

The development process always gets more complex with new hardware, and we once again have new hardware fast approaching on the horizon. Even with extremely conservative assumptions, the next games consoles will be at least 10 times more powerful than today's. And that means that today's teams will not be large enough to build the anticipated art assets within decent timescales. We barely manage it now! Obviously, just because you have access to 100,000 polys for a character doesn't mean that you have to use 100,000 polys. The reality, however, is that very few people will manage to avoid the pressure, by publishers and the public, to make games that at least try to visually represent the power of new hardware.

So what will developers do? How will smaller developers cope? Will everyone expand their teams into the hundreds, take three years to put the title out and then pray that it sells enough to support all those people and salaries?! Simply bloating the old production model will not work. It's time for new solutions.

Loads of options are available to developers. You have the "film industry" option where companies could thin themselves out and farm out tasks to smaller, more specialized companies. Then there is the "procedural" option, which would allow the developer to build bare bones and have everything in between generated automatically, but that might leave the entertainment value largely up to chance. Others might head in the direction of some PC titles that provide a basic game, with clear rules, and offer a level editor for fans to build on the game themselves. That is a worthy option, but how do you make a living if the player makes your game for you?

The one clear solution will have to be a hybrid approach that would see internal teams grow to a size where they can develop powerful internal level and art-building tools that make use of automation and procedural technologies. Work hard, but work hard on tools that make creating game content easy. Hire people, but hire people who will allow the game itself to be created by fewer people overall and in less time.

Game hardware is now allowing game developers to compete with the technical and artistic prowess of the film industry. This topic is attempting to challenge people from the games industry and beyond to start looking at implementing some of the advanced technologies exposed at the annual SIGGRAPH conference. The games industry has to start "playing" with the cutting edge in order to future-proof themselves against the changes ahead.
Careers in Computer Graphics
This panel is to provide a forum for information exchange between those interested in this field and the companies they might work for and will specifically address the needs of the job market today and how to best prepare for entry into the industry.

Large companies have become departmentalized and require a specific set of skills for each department. Smaller companies may rely more on individuals who can apply themselves in multiple areas or on skilled generalists. Depending on the company, its size and area of work, these requirements can vary. We intend to discuss these topics, their differences and similarities, and the advantages of each.

The panel will consist of representatives from large, mid-size, and small companies that represent a variety of disciplines such as visual effects, digital features, commercials, games, and/or television.

Topics of discussion will include skills required and job descriptions for production jobs, production support jobs, entry-level positions, and internships. Additional topics include how to apply for a job, reel and résumé preparation, and typical shortages and surpluses in job categories. Some of the questions from students we anticipate this panel addressing are: What does it mean to pursue a computer graphics career? What is the difference working in digital features versus visual effects? What is the difference between working at a small studio versus a large studio? What should I concentrate on while I'm pursuing my education? What will make me a strong applicant? What kind of position can I expect to get when I finish school? How should I determine my short- and long-term goals?

Building a Bridge to the Aesthetic Experience: Artistic Virtual Environments and Other Interactive Digital Art
One goal of most artists, curators, and museum educators is to create or curate art that viewers can appreciate and enjoy. However, they ideally want viewers to enter into an experience that is immersive and creates a connection with the work beyond the surface of the media. This experience, often referred to as the aesthetic experience, is an instant in which a person may feel "...A combination of interest and pleasure and curiosity...The moment is one of heightened attention to perception, which is what makes it both meaningful and memorable" (Walsh-Piper, 1994, p. 105). For some this means getting lost in the visual elements, and for others it is highly emotional. Although complex and multifaceted, the aesthetic experience for a viewer may be characterized by a finely tuned state of consciousness, or an experience in which the person is in awe, intensely focused, and in pure enjoyment (Dewey, 1934; Csikszentmihalyi & Robinson, 1990a). Csikszentmihalyi also refers to this state as the flow experience (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990b). There are many people who feel that physical interactivity in the form of virtual environments (VE) or other digital technology may facilitate the aesthetic experience for the viewer.

Since the early developments of VE technology, artists have used it to create computer-based virtual environment art installations or artistic virtual environments (AVEs). AVEs are a relatively new medium with new aesthetic, creative, and intellectual problems to solve and questions to ask. In particular, how do AVEs and art that incorporates other kinds of digital interactivity relate to the aesthetic experience? Some might feel that our culture, in general, might feel distant from many traditional art forms and that this technology may build a bridge to artistic understanding. In other words, do VE and other digital technologies speak a contemporary language, one that reaches a now digitally savvy youth?

Still others feel that this equipment not only does nothing to bring viewers (also referred to as participants) closer to a flow experience, but they also feel that the complexity, expense, and accessibility of this genre of installations may confuse and scare viewers away. Certainly, the goal of most artists is not to make art for the sake of a given medium. Instead, they want to express something, and the medium they choose happens to advance that message in the best and most comfortable way.

This panel does not seek to discuss the validity of AVEs and digital installations as an art form or even as a choice medium for artists. Rather, the panel will discuss and debate the effectiveness of this technology to help the viewer experience art in a richer way. We are looking for qualitative and quantitative studies about how best to facilitate the aesthetic experience that argues for, against, or neutrality about using digital interactivity, and also for theoretical musings by artists who work with either digital or traditional media and theoreticians who have strong feelings about how best to provide the aesthetic experience for participants.

Real-Time Shading Languages: Which One Should I Use, If Any?
The last few years have seen a number of implementations of shading languages for real-time graphics, such as Cg, HLSL, and OpenGL 2.0 SL. Developers need to decide which of these languages to support in their tools and platforms, and users need to decide which (if any!) to use for specifying their real-time shaders and effects. The moderator will play the confused user trying to figure out where to spend precious development and training dollars, and will pick the brains of experts on the current available choices to try and sort it out.
The deadline for panel topic proposals was 12 November 2003.

SIGGRAPH 2004 Panel Topics

All position papers must be received by 5pm Pacific time, Wednesday, 17 March 2004.

There is no early feeback deadline. If you are looking for feedback, please contact the Panels chair any time before the deadline.
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Conference 8-12 August, Exhibition 10-12 August.  In Los Angeles, CA