Tuesday, June 19, 2018
  • Friday, Jul. 29, 2016
SIGGRAPH’s Hot Topics Include Need For More Female Talent In CG
SIGGRAPH 2016 Experience Hall at the Anaheim Convention Center (photo by Jim Hagarty)
  • ANAHEIM, Calif.
  • --

Amidst the unveiling of new innovations on the exhibit floor, the recognition of great work at its Electronic Theater, backstories and insights into breakthrough projects, the SIGGRAPH confab which wrapped today (7/28) at the Anaheim Convention Center also took on a progressive social advocacy tone with a session delving into the underrepresentation of women in the computer animation/graphics workforce.

Titled "50-50: Women In CG"--the "50-50" reference born out of the goal to have women account for half of the CG community of artisans and technical talent, as well as equal representation in related academia--the panel discussion held Tuesday (7/26) featured female industry professionals. But perhaps one of the most astute observations came from the audience when an unidentified CG pro shared her personal course of action to address the hiring disparity. She explained that she simply reached out to her local middle school to speak during career day in the hope that young females seeing a professional in the field will realize that this too is a viable career option for them to consider, perhaps spurring them on to more vigorously pursue studies in science and math. Certainly among the keys to bridging the gender gap is to spark curiosity and a desire for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education among young females.

Panelist Gracie Arenas Strittmatter, a sr. technical artist at EA Bioware in Austin, Texas, noted that women gamers are on the rise, accounting for upwards of 50 percent of the general consumer gaming population. Yet that 50 percent threshold is not close to being reached by women in computer animation art, technology and game development. While she knows of more women moving into tech and related positions, serving as software engineers for example, the fact remains that there’s a still quite a long way to go in order to level the gender playing field.

Towards that end, she cited the efforts of Code.org, a non-profit dedicated to expanding access to computer science, and increasing participation by women and underrepresented students of color. The group is lobbying for computer science to be part of core curriculum alongside courses such as biology, chemistry and algebra. Code.org released figures showing that the Advanced Placement exam in Computer Science has the worst gender diversity across all courses, with 78 percent participation by men and 22 percent by women. Participation by students of color is 13 percent. These underrepresented groups represent 65 percent of the entire U.S. population. K-12 learning is where the diversity problem begins. Among women, according to Code.org, those who try AP Computer Science in high school are 10 times more likely to major in computer science. Black and Hispanic students who try AP Computer Science in high school are seven to eight times more likely to major in computer science

Beyond lacking the proper education, other factors--including unconscious bias in hiring or retention practices--have held back women and minorities in the software, computing and computer science arenas. Raising awareness of that bias is a key to realizing meaningful reform.

Panelist Denise Quesnel who’s from Vancouver, B.C., chaired last year and this year’s SIGGRAPH VR Village community of attractions and resources--and will again in 2017. Quesnel noted that there are many knowledgeable women in the field but they aren’t often as visible as their male counterparts. It’s incumbent upon these women to attain a higher profile, to gain recognition and visibility so that they have more of a role model impact which can only help foster interest among aspiring female students to pursue related studies and develop a healthy ambition to break into the computer graphics ranks.

Jessica Sommerville, a digital artist in the modeling and art departments at Animal Logic in Sydney, Australia, said she’s had the good fortune to be exposed to female role models at that studio. She said Animal Logic has afforded her and other women the opportunity to advance their artistic and tech careers.

Serving as a role model for many is panelist Jinko Gotoh, a 30-year veteran of the computer animation/graphics industry who is currently producing the Lego movie sequel for Warner Animation Group. She is active in Women In Animation, an organization dedicated to advancing women in the field of animation. Its mission statement is to help realize a world where women share equally in the creation, production and rewards of animation. Earlier in her career, Gotoh worked at Pixar and Disney Feature Animation. Her credits include The Little Prince, directed by Mark Osborne; the Academy Award nominated The Illusionist, helmed by Sylvain Chomet; 9, directed by Shane Acker; and the Academy Award winning Finding Nemo, directed by Andrew Stanton. 

Gotoh is also concerned with how--and how many--women are depicted in front of the camera. She cited the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media as effectively advocating that all kinds of women be on-camera characters--that much more is needed than a token female character or two for CG filmmakers to bring forth to audiences.

Maya, 3ds Max, Arnold
On the exhibit floor, Autodesk showcased the latest design animation solutions for Maya 2017 and an update to 3ds Max. Maya 2017 features integrated rendering with Arnold, new motion graphics tools and numerous features and enhancements that help artists work faster and easier. Autodesk is also announcing that Solid Angle’s Arnold renderer will support 3ds Max with a plugin called MAXtoA.

Maya 2017 now includes Arnold as its default renderer. This integration of Arnold into Maya 2017 builds on the popular MAXtoA Arnold plugin and brings advanced rendering capabilities within Maya. For Maya artists, Arnold brings efficiency, power and ease of use, enabling great looking results in a short time.

Autodesk also announced a new MAXtoA plugin allowing 3ds Max users to take advantage of Arnold’s powerful, production proven rendering capabilities. The plugin will be available from Solid Angle’s website where 3ds Max users can also find details on capabilities of the new plugin.

Furthermore Maya 2017 includes a full set of 3D tools for creating motion graphics. The MASH procedural toolset, first introduced in Maya 2016 extension 2, has been improved with new nodes and new capabilities that allow designers to quickly create unique animations and motion effects. Maya 2017 also features a more intuitive UI and improvements to 3D text tools that enable artists work faster as they create complex motion graphics, animations and effects.

Shotgun 7.0
Shotgun Software, developer of the cloud-based review and production tracking software, announced Shotgun 7.0 at SIGGRAPH. Shotgun is laser-focused on solving collaborative review challenges at studios, and making it easier for teams of all sizes to upload, share, view, and then keep track of all of their media on a single, intuitive platform. This latest update expands Shotgun’s review capabilities by introducing editorial cut data into the review process, enabling teams to view their work at any time, in context with the latest cut.

“VFX and animation studios need to constantly view their latest work in context of the cut, and yet editorial makes continual changes throughout the project,” said Don Parker, sr. director for Shotgun at Autodeak. “Keeping up with this process manually takes way too much time and can lead to frustrating delays and mistakes. This release is a major step forward, helping teams understand what has changed and allowing artists and supervisors to look at their work in context of the latest cut, both in our web player and on the desktop with RV.”

Shotgun 7.0 Feature Highlights include: 

•Import Cut: Editorial information is quickly published to Shotgun, summarizing changes that can be shared with anyone on the project. 
•Play Cuts Anywhere: With one click, watch the full cut either in the browser or in the Shotgun RV desktop player. Powerful filtering tools control which shot versions show up in the cut, such as “latest,” “latest animation” or “latest approved.”
•View any Shot in a Review Session in Context of the Cut: Teams working through shot versions in review sessions can seamlessly switch between viewing the shot in the review playlist and viewing the shot in the context of the cut.
•Track Overlapping Cuts: Quickly access a full history of all cuts on a project, including overlapping cuts such as :30, :60, :90 cuts on commercial projects, or both sequence and trailer cuts on film projects. 
•API Ready: A new data model tracking the cut data is fully exposed in Shotgun’s API so studios with development resources can integrate with their pipelines.

Fusion extends reach to Linux platform
Blackmagic Design announced that Fusion visual effects software is now available on the Linux platform. Linux is extremely popular in the world’s leading visual effects production companies and this new Linux release is a major announcement for the visual effects industry. 
This new Linux version of Fusion and Fusion Studio means visual effects artists can select their preferred computing platform, as Fusion is now available on Mac OS X, Windows, and Linux. All project files are common, so customers can work collaboratively, even when different artists are running different platforms on the same job.
In addition to the Fusion on Linux announcement, Blackmagic Design is also announcing that Fusion 8.2 is available as a free software download so customers can immediately download the software and use it for real work today. The Fusion 8.2 software is public beta and available on the Blackmagic Design web site free of charge.
This free version of Fusion can be used on any commercial production without restriction, however the paid edition of Fusion software, called Fusion 8.2 Studio, provides even more powerful features and is available at the low cost of $995. Fusion Studio customers get unlimited free render nodes and other multi user features. The most exciting aspect of Fusion Studio’s paid license is that there are no ongoing subscription, cloud licensing, maintenance fees or additional render node costs.
With full native support of Linux, Mac OS X and Windows, studios can run Fusion projects and workflows in mixed OS environments and easily integrate Fusion in existing studio pipelines using Python and Lua scripting. In addition, Fusion projects can be moved between the Mac, Windows and Linux versions so customers can work on the platform of their choice, or even in studios with mixed platforms.
Fusion has been one of Hollywood’s leading visual effects and motion graphics tools for over 25 years, and has been used on thousands of feature film and television projects, including blockbusters like Thor, Live Die and Repeat, the Hunger Games trilogy, The Martian and more.
Featuring a powerful node based interface, Fusion makes it extremely easy to build sophisticated visual effects compositions very quickly. Its massive toolset consists of hundreds of built in tools so customers can pull keys, track objects, rotoscope, retouch images, animate titles, create amazing particle effects and much more, all in a true 3D workspace. 
Fusion can also import 3D models, point cloud data, cameras or even entire 3D scenes from Maya, 3ds Max or Lightwave and render them seamlessly with other elements. Deep pixel tools can be used to add volumetric fog, lighting and reflection mapping of rendered objects using world position passes so customers can create amazing atmospheric effects that render in seconds, instead of hours.
Since acquiring Fusion two years ago, Blackmagic Design engineers have massively updated the Fusion codebase making it easier for new users to learn, while maintaining the consistency and familiar workflow that long time users expect. Customers currently working with older visual effects solutions will find it easy to make the transition to Fusion on Linux.
Fusion 8.2 Studio on Linux also features a free render node license that can be installed on an unlimited number of render nodes. This allows large studios to create massive render farms at no additional cost, dramatically changing the economics of rendering for effects heavy blockbuster films and television shows. 
Unlike other high end visual effects software, there is no per node render “tax” with Fusion. When customers using Fusion 8.2 Studio need to meet a deadline and render scenes more quickly, they can simply add more render nodes instantly, and at zero cost.
“Fusion 8.2 on Linux gives visual effects and motion graphics artists working in facilities of any size a massive tool set,” said Grant Petty, Blackmagic Design CEO. “Fusion is the only integrated 3D compositing application that can also render 3D models, add volumetric effects, particles and even motion graphics. The most exciting part is that Linux users can download it today free! Then, once our customers grow, they can then purchase Fusion 8.2 Studio without the cost of ongoing subscriptions or render licensing so they can build huge multi-node render farms to speed up their work at no additional charge.”
Fusion 8 for Mac and Windows is free for customers and is now available to download from the Blackmagic Design website. Fusion 8 is a full professional 3D visual effects and compositing system that is suitable for independent effects, motion graphics, and broadcast design artists. Fusion 8 features integrated 2D and 3D compositing and motion graphics software with a massive toolset featuring paint, rotoscope, titling, animation, multiple keyers, an amazing 3D particle system, advanced key-framing, GPU acceleration, and support for importing and rendering 3D models and scenes from other applications.
Fusion 8 Studio is available for $995 and has all of the same features as the free version, but also adds advanced optical flow image analysis tools for stereoscopic 3D work, retiming and stabilization. Fusion Studio also includes support for third-party OpenFX plugins, unlimited distributed network rendering, and Generation for studio wide multi user collaboration to track, manage, review and approve shots when working with large creative teams on complex projects. 

Thinking outside the box
Thinkbox Software has teamed with veteran VFX Producer Joyce Cox (The Jungle Book, The Great Gatsby, Avatar) to develop Vero, a new cloud-based application that simplifies the VFX budgeting and cost management processes. Encapsulating Cox’s proven bidding philosophy and methodology into an accessible, easy-to-use interface, Vero helps estimate and track VFX budgets from script breakdown to shot delivery. Thinkbox demoed Vero for SIGGRAPH attendees.

“VFX is often one of the largest chunks of a film budget; however, the current methods for predicting and tracking the costs of VFX shots vary wildly across the industry. Vero standardizes and streamlines an otherwise overly complicated process, to project and manage the bottom line throughout production as pricing fluctuates with scene changes,” Cox explained. 

Thinkbox Sofware founder Chris Bond added, “We’ve focused on alleviating common pain points in all different areas of production and post, so creating a new, secure system for breaking down and planning VFX is right up our alley. I’ve known Joyce for years and deeply respect her expertise, so when she approached us with the idea for Vero, we knew we had to get involved,”

Once logged in, Vero users will be able to easily monitor the granular details and big picture activities of a project, which broken into four distinct stages accessible via the interface: 
•Script Breakdown allows users to import a screenplay file, and the app automatically breaks down the screenplay into scenes and actions. Scenes can then be manually grouped into sequences, and VFX shots can be added to actions manually, or automatically based on action descriptions. 
•Budget Room enables users to manually rate VFX shots based on the level of complexity. The producer can then more accurately estimate generic shot costs and begin to layout the VFX production crew and equipment needs. 
•Market Place empowers users to create custom bid packages that can easily be shared with interested VFX vendors. Receive and compare preliminary and secondary bids, evaluate designation scenarios, narrow list of potential vendors and apply costs to a VFX budget. 
•Contract Room acts as a central hub where bids are awarded and accepted, changes to scope are managed and communicated to vendors and studios, and contracts are archived.

Vero is currently in development, with beta expected to launch this fall. Its functionality is designed with VFX producers in mind but Thinkbox is evaluating how the solution could be extended across the production chain to benefit VFX facilities.

Overall numbers
SIGGRAPH drew more than 14,000 attendees--including 10,600 from the U.S., with the balance coming from 73 other countries. During the course of the conference, more than 635 pieces of progressive content were shared by over 1,760 speakers and contributors.

SIGGRAPH 2016 showcased the wares of over 150 diverse exhibitors on the exhibit floor. Nearly one-third of the event’s exhibitors this year came from outside the U.S., making the SIGGRAPH exhibition a truly global marketplace of products and services from around the world.

Z. Nagin Cox, a spacecraft operations engineer with the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, was the SIGGRAPH 2016 keynote speaker. Cox, who shared stories of her NASA missions, including the Mars Rovers, made attendees rethink their place in the universe by reminding them that robotic explorations of the solar system (and beyond) symbolize all that humankind has the ability to accomplish. Cox inspired thousands of attendees when she declared, “Nothing’s impossible when your ideas are the right kind of crazy!”

Festival winners
The SIGGRAPH 2016 Computer Animation Festival award winners were: 

Borrowed Time (USA)
Directed by Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj, produced by Amanda Jones
A weathered sheriff returns to the remains of an accident he has spent a lifetime trying to forget. With each step forward, the memories come flooding back. Faced with his mistake once again, he must find the strength to carry on.

Cosmos Laundromat (Netherlands)
Submitted and Produced by Ton Roosendaal
In this short, Franck, a depressed sheep, sees only one way out of his boring life, until he meets with the quirky salesman Victor, who offers him any life he ever wanted. The piece was created as a pilot for a feature film project that, if it happens, will be the first free, open-source animated production.

Crabe-Phare (France)                                                                                                            
Directed by Mengjung Yang, Gaëtan Borde, Benjamin Lebourgeois, Clarie Vandermeersch, and Alendandre Veaux
The Crabe-Phare is a legendary crustacean. He captures the boats of lost sailors to add them to his collection. But the crab is getting old, and it is more and more difficult for him to build his collection.