Monday at SIGGRAPH

I think it's a bylaw that everyone has to take a picture of this thing. 

I think it's a bylaw that everyone has to take a picture of this thing. 

Monday was my first day at my first SIGGRAPH conference I've attended. Here's how my day went.

They have a room where you have to register. I arrived at 8:30 and there was a huge line. I thought I'd be there for a long time, I was surprised how fast it went. All you had to do is scan the bar code that was emailed to you and it would print it out. They had a lot of people there to help, but it was a simple process and the line disappeared quickly.

In general I was surprised how well everything ran. There are plenty of volunteers there to organize lines, answer questions and keep things running smoothly.

The first talk I went to was about the making of the LEGO Movie. They started off by giving an overview of the project, and then talked about the animation challenges of working with characters with such limited articulation. It was interesting to see where they cheated the movements (shoulder shrugs and head nods) while trying to keep a LEGO feel. They were trying to stay away from deforming the LEGO pieces and stay true to the toys.

They also spent time talking about the facial controls. While the bodies had to be rigid plastic with only nine points of articulation, the facial expressions had much more latitude.

They hit on several topics, lighting (they used the interrogation scene from Basic Instinct as inspiration for the lighting of their interrogation scene), camera animation, how they used LEGO's Digital Designer as a starting point for their models, export them to Maya and then optimize them for production. Once exported they would have several levels of detail they could choose from. They showed their pipeline tools which looked very artist friendly with a clean, clear user interface.

It was also interesting how they'd optimize the bricks for rendering, removing all the internal detail and just keeping the external shells. At render time they could dial in jitter, adding random gaps between bricks to make everything look more imperfect. They also used several texture maps to add wear and tear to the bricks (oxidation passes, scratching up the edges). Overall, it was a great talk, really informative and well presented, pretty sure it was my favorite of the day.

I had some time to kill so I checked out the Emerging Technology section. As soon as I got there I wished I got there earlier because there were lines for any of the interactive displays. I'll likely go back early tomorrow or Wednesday. Quite a few Oculus exhibits, including one that makes you feel like you're flying. It's almost too much to take in all at once, everywhere you turn there's something cool.

After grabbing some food I went to the Captain America and Guardian of the Galaxy talks. What really stood out to me at the Cap session was Lola's digital make up work, probably because I'm a comper and I can empathize with how hard that can be.

If you're not familiar with the scene, they had a young actress that had to look about 90 years old. It was a very emotionally charged scene, and they were not happy with the prosthetics. They tried all sorts of techniques, but it ultimately came down to tracking on the skin of other elderly actresses on to the young actress. It was impressive work, considering how much deformation was going on. It was crazy. They said that each shot took about 200-300 hours each, and I believe it. I know that digital makeup is Lola's thing, but they really have it down cold. Full props to the artists there, truly masters of their craft.

At the Guardians of the Galaxy talk they had three companies talk about the three digital characters they worked on. Framestore, MPC and Luma Pictures talked about Rocket Racoon, Groot and Thanos. I'm a sucker for looking at the process of getting from concept to final product. It was fascinating seeing how they got from the concept art to what we see on the screen.

I've watched countless breakdowns from companies through the years. These sessions are like watching those breakdowns stretched over an hour and a half with explanations on how they did it. Super interesting.

Spoiler Alert I did cringe from embarrassment when someone asked if there was going to be a Howard the Duck movie now that he's in the Marvel canon. First off, no one on the panel would know, or they wouldn't be able to announce it if they did. Second, how about asking a question about the work? It's not Comic-Con. Just seemed out of place and disrespectful, but maybe I'm just cranky from the jet lag.

Then it was time for the Digital Theatre, which is a CG short film festival. Mind blowing awesome work. Not too much to say, just inspiring stuff.

After that I met up with some former students of mine and grabbed a late dinner. Great first day.