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  SIGGRAPH 98 Online.


SIGGRAPH TV/Online: Getting to Know the Animal

Tuesday, July 21, 1998

by Lisa A. Kerscher

The beast reaches everywhere -- on the shuttle buses, at the coconut kiosks and on the Web around the world. Some of its minions roam the conference floors tracking down a story, while others cut up the content, put it together and show it off to the rest of the world.

The heart and soul of SIGGRAPH TV/Online is as diverse as the ways it shows what's happening at the SIGGRAPH conference. This project consists of a full media production office and the professionals and students who give it life -- ranging from reporters, to television crews, to graphic artists, to HTML coders and various managers at all the stages of its development. By the end of the conference, the team expects to have finished about 60 hours of television and several thousand web pages.

All these mediums are "coming together in ways we're just now coming to understand," Dave Tubbs, the SIGGRAPH TV chair says, because people have never wired equipment together in this particular fashion on purpose. Basically, the SIGGRAPH TV/Online process has content flowing through editing, digital and HTML systems which come together on video and storage servers, he says.

Along with Tubbs, Omar Ahmad, the online technologies chair, began creating the vision about 18 months ago. "We wanted to do a complete picture of what is happening at SIGGRAPH," Ahmad says, "and why this conference and the contributors are special." What's going on beneath the surface is very, very interesting, he says, so now the story-tellers are taking their vision to a new level.

Reporters go out with camera crews to investigate events, booths and other happenings during the conference, then bring the goods back to the production office and start feeding it into the system. A story is developed in two different forms -- one for broadcasting and one for the Web. Content goes through the editorial, video, web and graphics production teams, then the 3D animators develop other appropriate art, and the video and web system engineers polish it before the story finally gets sent off to the Coconut Telegraphs, shuttle bus monitors and onto the World Wide Web.

Steve Allison-Bunnell, the SIGGRAPH TV/Online editorial director, says "It's not the individual components of what we're doing that's unique," but the challenge of "trying to assemble a full-blown production team and facility in less than a week, and getting it up and running" to produce two types of media with complementary stories. Web pages most often present text with pictures that describes the story, whereas television can tell the story all in video, Allison-Bunnell says. Tying these forms together to some degree can be difficult, so "we're counting on the individuals and their creativity to rise to the occasion" of producing these stories effectively.

SIGGRAPH TV/Online uses about a quarter of SIGGRAPH's total telecommunications capability. Along with SIGGRAPH TV/Online's share of bandwith, the S98 Graphics NET also serves the Internet Access Room, the Creative Applications Lab and Guerilla Gallery, conference offices, and all of the online exhibits. C.J. Murzyn, the conference networking chair, designed the network in a way that avoids system bottlenecks. To meet this huge demand, Graphics NET connects to the Internet via a fractional T3 (25 megabits per second). Local servers are linked with a combination of copper and fiber optic lines. But, unlike other users, SIGGRAPH TV/Online has two distinct lines that go through the telecommunications center -- one that connects to the Coconut Telegraphs and the other that leads to the Internet. All traffic is controlled from the Graphics NET office, and this design keeps all the bits moving smoothly and speedily.

As expected, this unique beast is evolving like no other multimedia production before it --at SIGGRAPH or elsewhere. For those interested in the conference, attendees and others can get a glimpse of what they've missed. As for similar creations in the future, Allison-Bunnell says, SIGGRAPH TV/Online will likely stand as a model for other "attempts to integrate different types of media production and media organization."