As my collegue, Sergio, pointed out; the Siggraph conference is not really over yet as the on-demand content extends through September. This is a welcome result of the conference going virtual. Another result is that Renderosity was able to send two reporters to cover the conference (myself and Sergio), so readers were able to get varied and different coverage of this massive conference. Thanks to Siggraph committee for making this possible.
Virtual vs Real-Life
As Sergio said, "the virtual conference took away pretty much all of the social aspects of the event". The Siggraph conference was always about two things: brining people together with like interests and sharing the latest graphics technology. The 2020 committee faced a big challenge knowing that the social aspects (half of the event) would be lost. That they were able to bring enough social interacting in the second week to make the conference interesting is a testament to their hard work and ingenuity.
Still, it's hard to make up for the countless standing-in-line conversations or accidental meetings that lead to new ideas and new friendships. I missed being able to meet collegues and discuss new tech with my fellow reporters. That made the conference a little colder than it should be.
Much Easier to Process
Despite the lack of social engagement, I belive the conference was a success. The main reason is that it was so much easier to process. A conference with 15,000 people and multiple buidlings is simply hard to process at times. Over the years I've set up rest periods where I can stop moving/thinking and simply process what I've been seeing and hearing. Plus, the cave-effect happens often for me after spending so much time in closed rooms with flourescent lighting and a too cool A/C. Of course, I'm 65 now and less able to tolerate these kinds of situations.
With a virtual conference, I can attend as much as I want and quit to rest when I want. That made it easier to process some of the technical presentations. That and the fact that many presenters made video-explainers to help viewers understand their tech ideas. I found myself spending a lot of time in the technical papers, panels and presentations. Much more so than any Siggraph I've attended in the past.
Obviously, a lot of thought went into how to present the conference in a virtual setting. A lot of smart people thought hard and ended up choosing to present the conference in a two-week sequence: first week is on-demand, second week is live. This was smart organizing because it eased people into the virtual style and then allowed artists/speakers/panelists to engage fully after the first week. Zoom style meetings can be very effective once you get the hang of how it works. And there was only a tiny amount of technical difficulties. I think out of 20 hours of viewing, there were maybe two events that stuttered a bit. Hats off to the technicians behind the scenes. They and the organizers did a great job.
There were so many enjoyable parts of the conference it's hard to choose highlights. Clearly, though, the keynote address by magician Marco Tempest, was a major event for me. His sense of fun and creative philosphy (through practical stage magic) was entrancing. The best keynote I've ever seen. I urge you to watch it as it has been archived.
The Animation Festival was another high-point for me this year. This hard to attend event somethings eludes me due to schedule conflicts. Not any more though. The films shown this year were so good that I willl make it a priority to attend in the future. I loved the fact that I could stop the screening and take notes. Plus, no long lines!
I also enjoyed the art gallery very much despite it being all virtual. Some of the very best contemporary art was shared in very creative fashion. Also, I was able to interact with the artists more because the events were virtual. Again, their video presentations made it easier to understand how and why they created their art.
Sergion pointed out that he thought the virtual festival should be incorporated into any future live conferences. I whole-heartedly agree. Having a parallel virtual conference that enhances the live conference would be very useful for attendees. For one, it would be cheaper and would pull people from all over the world who couldn't afford to fly to whatever city the conference is being held in. For $50 you could attend the major events instead of having to pay $1,000 for airline tix and hotel. And, I think, a live + virtual conference would allow attendees to see more of this massive conference.
I believe Virtual Siggraph 2020 was a success. According to the official press release, Siggraph 2020 had over 10,000 registrations and an average of 495 attendees per session. For having to come up with a virtual conference on short notice, I think this is a big success.
Another great outcome is the fact that future Siggraphs WILL be a hybrid event like I'd hoped. I'll end with a quote on this from the offical statement:
Looking to the conference’s future, SIGGRAPH 2021 aims to be a hybrid physical and virtual event, both online and in Los Angeles. Conference organizers are excited to offer a choice of attendance options and possibilities for SIGGRAPH events going forward, and SIGGRAPH 2021 — the 48th annual conference — will mark the inaugural rollout of this format. More information on the hybrid event and how to submit content or exhibit will be available through the just-launched website: s2021.SIGGRAPH.org.