5 things that rocked at SIGGRAPH Asia Tokyo

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SIGGRAPH Asia Tokyo 2018 has just wrapped up, and it was a fantastic week. The attendance was up near 10,000 and you could feel the buzz at the conference centre. Here’s my run-down of 5 of the coolest things I was able to see there.

1. Behind the scenes of Pixar’s Bao

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Bao director Domee Shi.

If you haven’t seen this Pixar short film yet, make sure you do. What was magical about this presentation at SIGGRAPH Asia Tokyo, led by director Domee Shi and several of her crew, was that it revealed a lot about the inspiration and the artistry and technology behind the short. It can just be so hard to capture the amount of work that goes into any animated project, and this presentation had everything – story points, design, cinematography, lighting, effects. The room was jam-packed, too.

2. Mixed reality Pac-man

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The mixed reality view for Pac-in-Time.

There’s always something a little bit whacky at SIGGRAPH Asia. Bandai Namco Studios fitted participants out with mixed reality Hololenses and sat them on Honda Uni-Cubs to produce a real-life version of Pac-Man (it was called Pac-in-town, I think). And lots of fun.

3. From Gollum to Thanos – Weta Digital’s CG characters

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Weta Digital visual effects supervisor Matt Aitken.

Over the years I’ve been able to cover so much of the work of Weta Digital in its crafting of digital characters. VFX supe Matt Aitken distilled all this work down into a fun history of the studio’s achievements in this area, all the way from The Frighteners, through Gollum in Lord of the Rings, Kong, the Apes films, Furious 7 and most recently with Thanos. It was a fantastic talk and one that made you think about how important these characters are in film history.

4. Robots and love

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Kaname Hayashi during our Q&A.

One the last day of the conference, I helped emcee keynote speaker Kaname Hayashi’s talk about his imminent GROOVE X robot, Lovot. While he couldn’t show any pics of the robot, it was particularly interesting to hear about the idea of companionship and emotion that might be able to come from a machine. Audience questions were also fascinating – there was so much comparison to pets (seems obvious now, but I hadn’t thought of it that way).

5. Real-time Live!

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VTubers during their Real-Time Live! presentation.

It’s brilliant that Real-Time Live! is now part of SIGGRAPH Asia. The truth is, there was something a little chaotic about this year’s presentations, but they were all still very watchable. I enjoyed, in particular, Pinscreen’s app, BanaCAST’s anime-like mocap character, and the VTubers and Mimic Productions virtual humans (both of these made use of IKINEMA’s tech for helping to realise CG characters live on screen).

I’m excited to say I’m part of the committee for SIGGRAPH Asia 2019 in Brisbane, Australia, and I would obviously encourage any reader to come down to Oz for the event!

Compulsory viewing: the Computer Animation Festival at SIGGRAPH Asia Tokyo 2018

'Reverie' - SIGGRAPH Asia 2018 CAF 'Best Student Film Award'
‘Reverie’ – SIGGRAPH Asia 2018 CAF Best Student Film Award

Here at vfxblog we’ve already previewed some of the VFX-related talks and dived into the Technical Papers process for SIGGRAPH Asia Tokyo this year. Now we look at the other conference highlight: the Computer Animation Festival.

The ‘CAF’ takes in the Animation and Electronic Theater, and the VR Theater, plus a selection of panels and talks about the latest in computer animation and visual effects. It’s definitely one of the best places to catch up with films from around the world.

vfxblog asked Computer Animation Festival Chair Shuzo John Shiota, who is also is the President and CEO of Polygon Pictures Inc., to tell us more about how the CAF works and what to look forward to this year.

vfxblog: People are always dying to know: what is the difference between the Animation Theater and the Electronic Theater?

Shuzo: The Electronic Theater is a 100+ minute show comprised of the very best 2018 has to offer in terms of computer graphics storytelling. The types of story are quite varied, ranging from short animations, visual effects, game cinematics, music videos, to scientific visualization.

The Animation Theater is comprised of works that didn’t quite make the Electronic Theater selection but are nevertheless worthy of merit, or works that have a longer running time which make them hard to program within the ET. Interesting note is that SIGGRAPH North America no longer has the Animation Theater in its program, so it’s sort of like a lost dialect that only exists in Asia.

Also, don’t forget the VR Theater, debuting in SIGGRAPH Asia for the first time, which showcases the vest VR storytelling pieces of the past year.

vfxblog: Can you talk about the submission and judging process for the Computer Animation Festival – how did you arrive at the participants and the winners?

Shuzo: We had about 400 submissions from all over the world. They were first reviewed by our online reviewers, comprised of industry veterans, who nominated selections to be sent to the final jury. On formulating the final jury, in addition to the deep knowledge of the art and industry that is expected of any CAF juror, my aim was to 1) bring in an Asian perspective (5 of the 7 jury members are Asian, and another is currently working in China), 2) create a female majority (4 out of 7 are female), and 3) create generational diversity (the jury ranges from members with decades of experience to a young artist in his 20’s who is also a multiple CAF Asia awardee).

The jury made its selection based on the following criteria. 1) Craftsmanship, 2) Relevance, 3) Originality, and most importantly, 4) Does it move you.

'L'oiseau qui danse' - SIGGRAPH Asia 2018 CAF Best In Show Award
‘L’oiseau qui danse’ – SIGGRAPH Asia 2018 CAF Best In Show Award

vfxblog: Do you feel like there were any particular trends in the submissions this year?

Shuzo: On watching the CAF trailer, I think you will find that the look and feel of the selected titles are truly diverse and eclectic. This underscores the fact that computer graphics as a medium of storytelling has truly matured, and is now capable of creating images in a myriad of styles.

vfxblog: What kinds of panels and talks related to the CAF are planned?

Shuzo: We have around 10 production sessions that will no doubt give the audience valuable insights on a wide range of digital production; from Hollywood blockbusters by the likes of Pixar, distinct digital Anime productions by local Japanese studios, VR productions, to 64K intro productions.

We are also planning to hear from the director of this year’s “Best in Show”, “L’oiseau qui danse”.

'Vermin' - SIGGRAPH Asia 2018 CAF Jury Special Award
‘Vermin’ – SIGGRAPH Asia 2018 CAF Jury Special Award

vfxblog: Now that the winners have been announced, are you able to say which of the submissions also stood out for you?

Shuzo: I am very happy about the selections. I think we have a very good Electronic Theater, Animation Theater, and VR Theater. As a Chair, I am not able to personally vote, but ultimately, all the pieces I was rooting for got chosen as the top picks!

You can register to attend SIGGRAPH Asia Tokyo 2018 at http://sa2018.siggraph.org/registration.

Tech papers: the secret to SIGGRAPH Asia success

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Image from ‘3D Hair Synthesis Using Volumetric Variational Autoencoders’, ACM Transactions on Graphics (Proc. SIGGRAPH Asia), December 2018 Shunsuke Saito, Liwen Hu, Chongyang Ma, Linjie Luo and Hao Li.

The Technical Papers section of SIGGRAPH Asia 2018 in Tokyo is shaping up, as always, to be a key part of the conference. But how do authors get their tech papers into a SIGGRAPH or SIGGRAPH Asia conference? And what happens once they do?

To find out, vfxblog asked Hao Li, who is a co-author on two papers accepted at SIGGRAPH Asia this year, how it all works.

Regular vfxblog readers will certainly have heard of Li and his research into digital humans. He is CEO & Co-Founder of Pinscreen, Inc. (which is developing ‘instant’ 3D avatars), Assistant Professor of Computer Science at University of Southern California, and Director of the Vision and Graphics Lab at USC Institute for Creative Technologies.

More about Pinscreen later, but first, the technical papers. This year, Hao is a co-author on two papers accepted to SIGGRAPH Asia:

1. PAGAN: REAL-TIME AVATARS USING DYNAMIC TEXTURES
Koki Nagano, Jaewoo Seo, Jun Xing, Lingyu Wei, Zimo Li, Shunsuke Saito, Aviral Agarwal, Jens Fursund, Hao Li (some more information and links regarding the paper on Koki Nagano’s website)

2. 3D HAIR SYNTHESIS USING VOLUMETRIC VARIATIONAL AUTOENCODERS 
Shunsuke Saito, Liwen Hu, Chongyang Ma, Hikaru Ibayashi, Linjie Luo, Hao Li (information on the paper at Linjie Luo’s website)

These papers are the end results of countless hours (and in fact, years) of research. So where does that process start, in terms of submitting a technical paper?

“The bar for SIGGRAPH and SIGGRAPH Asia technical papers is high and the approach for submitting a paper can be very different depending on the type of projects,” says Li. “They can be theoretical/applied and either solve a known problem or something entirely new.”

What to consider before submitting

Before submitting a SIGGRAPH or SIGGRAPH Asia paper, Li notes that, as a general rule, he considers the following things first:

1. Will the reviewer be impressed/excited by the results – not necessarily high-quality renderings, but will the results have a ‘wow’ effect? What is the first impression?

2. Are the technical contributions and novelties significant enough or is it too incremental?

3. Can I position/differentiate my proposed method with existing papers and show convincing advantages?

4. Is the problem interesting? Am I solving a long standing problem, that couldn’t be solved yet? Is my work achieving the state-of-the-art to a well known problem and making a significant impact? Have I introduced a new field that can inspire more work?

Getting accepted

You can find more on how papers are submitted and reviewed here, but Li of course has some inside knowledge about how to get a paper accepted from several years of working in the field.

He says successful papers usually satisfy those questions above, in that:

1. The reviewers must be impressed by the results.
2. The method is new and there are significant contributions made by the paper.
3. The proposed solution is really different or better than existing ones.
4. The problem is exciting, useful, and/or impactful.

“The reviewers should always be convinced why something cannot be achieved yet with existing solutions, and how/why the presented method can solve it,” says Li. “A comprehensive discussion and clear differentiation with related work is always needed.”

Successful papers, Li adds, are generally very well written with very clear contributions. They are also “presented with polished illustrations, figures, and accompanying videos. The evaluations of the method also need to be very thorough and rigorous.”

Each year, too, there are often industry trends and issues that are timely. Li says this can be “favorable for getting reviewers excited, for example, deep learning, VR/AR, and 3D printing.”

You got accepted – now what?

It’s a lot of work just to be accepted, but there’s more to the Technical Papers section than just the paper itself. Presenting the paper at the conference is a major part of spreading the knowledge and generating discussion. This actually begins in the exciting Technical Papers Fast Forward, where authors have less than a minute to entice conference attendees to come and view their full presentation. The Fast Forward at SIGGRAPH Asia Tokyo takes place on Tuesday 4th December from 6pm to 8pm.

For the full presentation, Li suggests the following flow that has been a basis for him and colleagues for some time:

1. Start with some slides to motivate the audience why they should care?
2. Get straight to what problem we are trying to solve.
3. Explain why it cannot be solved previously while presenting prior work, and why it’s challenging.
4. Either give an overview of the method (top-down) or explain the technique from a simple example (bottom-up).
5. Show insanely cool results!
6. Mention some limitations if any.
7. Discuss what’s next and show some future directions.

“The key,” concludes Li, “is to connect to the audience and speak as if you are explaining the work to a friend or colleague, and not sounding like you are reading from a paper. The audience has to be convinced that you know what you are talking about.

Where it might all lead

Technical papers unveiled at SIGGRAPH and SIGGRAPH Asia are diverse, and often lead to continued research and sometimes even real products. Pinscreen is an example of where Li and his colleague’s initial research into digital humans has been taken further.

The company has released an app that generates digital avatars from a single photograph, with photorealistic hair and clothing options. Pinscreen has also launched a facial tracking SDK along with a demo app.

You can find out more at pinscreen.com, and see Pinscreen’s presentation at SIGGRAPH Asia 2018 Real-Time Live! (Pinscreen Avatars in your Pocket: Mobile paGAN engine and Personalized Gaming) on Friday December 7th at 4pm-6pm. Also, check out fxguide’s in-depth coverage of Pinscreen here.

Good luck in submitting your technical papers in the future, and hope to see you at SIGGRAPH Asia Tokyo!

You can register to attend SIGGRAPH Asia Tokyo 2018 at http://sa2018.siggraph.org/registration.

SIGGRAPH Asia in Tokyo: a sneak peek at the VFX talks

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It’s not long now until SIGGRAPH Asia hits Tokyo. The computer graphics event begins December 4th, and runs at the Tokyo International Forum until December 7th.

SIGGRAPH Asia will have some fantastic talks, papers, displays and experiences for attendees. vfxblog will be there, and I highly recommend signing up now. You can find out more about how to do that right here.

Meanwhile, vfxblog has secured a special sneak preview of some of the VFX and animation-related talks that will be held at SIGGRAPH Asia. These feature some of the biggest studios around, including ILM, Pixar and Weta Digital. Check out the details below.

From Gollum to Thanos: Characters at Weta Digital

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Of course, Weta Digital is another major player in the visual effects world, and they continue to stun audiences with photoreal and emotional performances. VFX supervisor Matt Aitken, who helped bring Thanos to life for Avengers: Infinity War, will run-down how Weta Digital continues to innovate on CG characters.

Production Session by Pixar

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There’s more to CG animated film than just animation, and that’s something that will be explored by Pixar Director of Photography Erik Smitt, who recently worked on Incredibles 2. He’ll break down the lighting and camera work in the film and give an overview of how Pixar managed to make this incredible sequel to the original film.

The History of VFX at ILM from Jurassic Park to Ready Player One

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ILM is a name synonymous with visual effects – the studio has been in existence for more than 40 years. Which is why this presentation from Nigel Sumner, Creative Director, ILM Singapore and Nico Delbecq, Effects Supervisor, ILM Singapore, is a must-see, because it will show all sorts of imagery and give all kinds of details from ILM projects over the years.

Behind the scenes of Solo: A Star Wars Story

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Nigel Sumner, Creative Director, ILM Singapore and Atsushi Kojima, Lead Animator, ILM Singapore, will talk through ILM’s visual effects for the latest Star Wars film, including how a lot of the work included old-school fx techniques combined with the latest in computer graphics and compositing.

Beyond the Uncanny Valley: Creating Realistic Virtual Humans in the 21st Century

Digital humans are currently one of the holy grails of VFX, and they’re also a big part of VR/AR and gaming developments in recent times. Several experts will weigh-in on where we are at in relation to the crafting of virtual beings:
– Christophe Hery, Senior Scientist, Pixar Animation Studios
– Hiroshi Ishiguro, Professor, Director of the Intelligent Robotics Laboratory, Department of Systems Innovation, Graduate School of Engineering Science, Osaka University
– Matt Aitken, Visual Effects Supervisor, Weta Digital Ltd
– Prasert “Sun” Prasertvithyakarn , Senior Game Designer, Luminous Production
– Erik Smitt, Director of Photography, Pixar Animation Studios

Hope to see you in Tokyo, and keep an eye out on vfxblog for more SIGGRAPH Asia previews!