I’ve spent the last week at the first Virtual Siggraph for 2020. I had two live media sessions and viewed a dozen on-demand content including papers, Art Gallery, panels and posters. And although the loss of actually attending these events in person is large, I still had a wonderful and exciting time. The Siggraph crew for this year which includes conference chair, Kristy Pron, have done a superlative job and making this event interesting and informative. It shows just how deep the team spirit is at Siggraph and how the conference was able to cope with the debilitating covid pandemic which you are aware just swept us all up in fear and instability.
Let me share with you some of my experiences and observations of the first week.
Siggraph always treats media well. This year was no different. At the media orientation we were given a lesson on how to navigate the virtual platform and what to look for in various sections of Siggraph. I found this information invaluable and used it to orient myself for the week. Later in the week we had a tour of several sections which was also quite helpful and interesting.
Art Gallery On-Demand
I visited many of the Siggraph art gallery presentations which included videos created by each artist explaining the background and creation of the piece. I love the Art Gallery, but feared the loss of actually experiencing a work in person would be a problem. I did miss the actual experience of each work, but for the first time I got to see and understand the ideas and people behind the works.
“Cacophonic Choir,” an interactive art installation, addresses the ways that sexual assault survivors’ experiences are distorted by digital and mass media and its effect. The installation is composed of distributed agents in space that individually respond by becoming visually bright, semantically coherent, and sonically clear, revealing original testimonies of survivors."
By far, the most outstanding work at the Art Gallery was Cacophonic Choir by Hannah Wolfe, Alex Bundy and Solen Kiratli . The video the artists made was absolutely fascinating. Essentially they have created an empathy machine with survivors of sexual assault telling their stores in such a way that you must listen to them to experience the installation. The way the creators solved the technical challenges in creating the installation was extremely interesting. Their is an online version of the installation (created in Unity, by the way) which gives you a sense of the installation, but I have a feeling it’s much better live.
I also thoroughly enjoyed Glass Entanglement I and II by TOBIAS KLEIN. His video laying out his years-long efforts to combine tradition glass making with 3D printing was amazing
Technical Papers On-Demand
This year I explored this section in ways I haven’t in the past. Some of this is due to the fact that the authors have created explainer videos that go a long way to helping the non-specialist to understand their work. This was very helpful and helped me understand just how amazing the work that is being submitted to Siggraph is.
My favorite paper was One Shot 3D Photography. This is a Facebook feature that is live now. Presented by Facebook Director MICHAEL COHEN, the webpage and accompanying video was very interesting. It showed how they overcame size and processing issues using creative coding and teamwork.
Posters are usually posted on large stands at an open location at Siggraph. This year they followed the basic idea of a single poster explaining the technical idea visually for each poster, but there was more information. Some poster authors chose to make videos, and like the technical papers, this was very helpful in understanding their ideas.
One of the most interesting papers for me was A Feast for the Eyes: Representing Synesthesia Through 3D Printed Artefacts by Meijia Wu and Oliver Mag Gingrich. Outstanding webpage with an equally superb video showing the creative process and technical problem solving behind depicting a rare form of synesthesia - seeing objects when tasting food. This is the kind of art/science work presentation that makes Siggraph so great.
Since lines to any Pixar or Disney talks are so large, I avoid them. This year, however, because the conference is virtual, I was able to catch the ‘Frozen 2’: Creating the Wind Spirit’ talk which was fabulous. The video created shows the incredible level of detail and teamwork that goes into what looks simple. This was my favorite event from the first week of Siggraph 2020.
Immersive Pavillion On-Demand
There were many interesting on-demand selections in the virtual Immersive Pavillion. All of them are well-presented and fascinating. The Mogao Caves by Greg Downing and Eric Hanson was my favorite. Despite not being able to experience it in VR, I got a very close second with an excellent video on the construction process.
If any convention was going to solve the problem of going from physical to virtual it would be Siggraph. Their achievement, at least in this first week, surpassed my expectations. Their decision to move to a two-week convention and then breaking it down into on-demand and live was brilliant.
Their menu and schedule system for the virtual conference was also very well designed. It seemed like and much expanded version of their cell phone app, so the interface was familiar and easy to use. I was also struck by how many different parts of virtual Siggraph I explored as compared to a physical Siggraph.
While you do lose something in not actually being present at the convention, you do gain a level of ease and clarity that is most welcome. No big crowds and noise to deal with. Hearing every speaker clearly and not having to jostle crowds at panels. No worries about too hot or cold rooms. And perhaps the biggest advantage is the ability to attend many more events and presentations since you can on-demand everything at your own pace and schedule.
I enjoyed this first week of Siggraph very much and I hope next year’s committee (if it is live) considers including aspects of the virtual conference with the live one.