Report From SIGGRAPH 2005

Posted by Jonah Brucker-Cohen | Mon Aug 8th 2005 12:41 a.m.

Report from SIGGRAPH 2005
Los Angeles, CA
July 31-Aug 4, 2005
by Jonah Brucker-Cohen (jonah_at_coin-operated.com)

In the heat of the LA summer, SIGGRAPH 2005 opened its doors to
50,000+ computer graphics technologists, animators, musicians,
artists, geeks, curators, and digital media professionals. This
year's Art gallery and emerging tech sections featured hundreds of
projects that aimed to showcase the "future" of computer graphics and
interaction. Since I was active in this year's conference, I didn't
get a chance to visit every presentation or try every demo, but here
is a report from the projects and talks that I saw.

This year's main event was the keynote address by acclaimed filmmaker
and special effects innovator, George Lucas. Widely considered as the
"father of digital cinema", Lucas proclaimed himself as a storyteller
before anything else. In order to realize the worlds he envisioned he
turned to computers as an enabling technology. He calmly stated that
he was "not a computer person" and had "no idea what SIGGRAPH people
do." He referenced Akira Kurosawa as a filmmaker who triumphs in
creating an illusion that fantasy worlds exist and proclaimed the
secret to this as "immaculate reality." Lucas's humble moment was
when he admitted to the audience, "I don't know how you do this
stuff, but it allows me to tell a story so I'm happy you're doing it."

On the ground floor of the convention center was the SIGGRAPH Art
Gallery: "Threading Time", which featured a wide range of interactive
and other digital artworks from artists around the world. On the wall
in a red frame was Boredom Research's "Ornamental Bug Garden" a
small, animated screen-based ecosystem that reacted as visitors
approached. Also interactive was Camille Utterback's "Untitled 5:
External Measures Series", a collage of painterly shapes and images
that animated according to visitors movements tracked from overhead.
On the opposite was John Gerrard's "Watchful Portrait", a 3D portrait
that followed the sun's ascent and descent. On the other side of the
wall Gerrard's "Saddening Portrait" was another 3D figure who's face
gradually saddened over a 100-year period. Perry Hoberman's "Art
Under Contract" consisted of a large metal case on the wall with a
small, motor controlled shutter door. After each visitor clicked the
"agree" button of a simple contract, the door would open exposing the
art, but then suddenly shut after the viewing time was over. This
project was a good example of a piece of media art controlling its
viewing audience.

In the "Emerging Technologies" section, projects ranged from new
types of interactive displays to tactile control mechanisms for
interacting with the screen to more artistic uses of technology. The
highlight of the show was Japanese artist Toshio Iwai's (in
collaboration with Yamaha) "Tenori-On" a physical interface that
allows people to create musical compositions visually by pressing on
a dense array of lighted buttons. The instrument's simple, yet
elegant output was a nice reminder that the increasing complexity of
digital interfaces often clouds basic creativity. Other interesting
creative projects included "Exhale: Breath Between Bodies" a series
of networked skirts that collected the breath of the wearers and
transmitted the data to fans in corresponding skirts.

Upstairs from the keynote, art galleries, and other lecture rooms,
the Guerrilla Studio was a place where visitors to the event could
create projects from various different media. I co-ran a workshop
there with Katherine Moriwaki called "DIY Wearable Challenge",
co-hosted by the Ludica Gaming Atelier, where we invited conference
attendees to create simple wearable projects in a few hours from
basic electronics and sensors. The best creations made their way to
the cyber fashion show, hosted later on at the event. This type of
dynamic creativity was evident in other areas of the studio where
visitors could create board games, 3D prints of designs, and even
on-the spot motion capture animations.

As the conference continued, I managed to attend a few of the panels
and presentations. The ISEA 2006 meeting was an organizational
meeting and open forum for the upcoming ISEA symposium and media art
event in San Jose at the end of 2006. The panel featured curator
Steve Dietz, Cynthia Beth Rubin, Peter Anders and others involved
with the conference's organization and curation. In addition to
speaking about the ISEA event, the panel was also meant to launch "01
San Jose", a new, US based bi-annual media arts festival to take
place in San Jose. The prospect of a larger festival occurring in
northern California is nice evidence that there is still money left
in Silicon Valley.

Moving into West Hall B, the "Extreme Fashion" special session
included speakers working with fashion and technology from varied
disciplines. International Fashion Machines (IFM) founder Maggie Orth
began with a presentation about the definition of extreme fashion and
how the true fashion technology object includes input, processing and
some type of display mechanism. She gave the example of the "Voltaic
Jacket" which includes solar panels on its back to harness power to
charge portable data devices worn on the body. Orth saw the main
roadblocks to wearable technology as 1) No standards of wash ability
2.) Little commercial activity and 3.) lack of good display
materials. Professor Thad Starner of Georgia Tech spoke about his
"Free Digiter", proximity sensing device can detect simple movements
of its wearer and be mapped to control functions such as volume
levels on car and portable MP3 players. Dr. Jenny Tillotson spoke
about her "Second Skin Dress" which attempts to "create a personal
scent bubble around the wearer". This would help to prevent bad moods
and add an emotional quality to everyday experience. Elise Co of
Minty Monkey showed some of her current work including the "Lumiloop"
bracelet that illuminates based on patterns created by its wearer and
the UFOS shoes that light up according to specified movements. "Your
outfit shouldn't be the technology, this is something that could go
with the rest of your stuff" explained Co. Also on the panel was
Katherine Moriwaki who spoke about her PHD work into "Social
Fashioning" and several of her projects that monitor the environment
and attempt to create social relationships between people occupying
similar spaces.

This session ended as the "SIGGRAPH Cyber Fashion" show began. The
show, hosted by wearable tech artist and enthusiast, Isa Gordon of
Psymbiote, featured a collection of wearables that resembled
everything from a post-Tron utopia to a trip to the Sharper Image.
Every model on the floor had a piece of electroluminescent glow wire
as standard garb. Some of the highlights included Luisa Paraguai
Donati's "Vestis: Affective Bodies" a full body suit with tubes
surrounding the wearer that expanded and contracted as personal body
space and "comfort zone" was infringed upon. Similarly, Simona Brusa
Pasque's "Beauty and the Beast" is a pair of plexiglass shoes that
include a stun gun embedded in the toe of one, and an alarm system in
the other activated by wearer stamping their feet. Overall there was
an interesting mix of clothing that reacted to outside stimuli and
those that protected its wearer.

As SIGGRPH 2005 came to a close, the conference seemed to be stuck in
a continual challenge between how to smoothly integrate the corporate
graphics world into the fringe artistic spectrum. This was evident
with the chaotic scene at the Cyber Fashion show and the low level of
artistic input into the Electronic Theater. The panels seemed more
dense with artistic input this year, but the separation between
disciplines seemed more evident as crossover participation waned.
Perhaps if the new ZeroOne conference in San Jose is successful it
will draw the artistic spectrum away from SIGGRAPH and let it regain
focus back onto the graphics industry. I guess time will have to be
the instigator in that debate.

--- Jonah Brucker-Cohen (jonah_at_coin-operated.com)
  • Jim Andrews | Mon Aug 8th 2005 1:50 a.m.
    > This year's main event was the keynote address by acclaimed filmmaker
    > and special effects innovator, George Lucas. Widely considered as the
    > "father of digital cinema", Lucas proclaimed himself as a storyteller
    > before anything else. In order to realize the worlds he envisioned he
    > turned to computers as an enabling technology. He calmly stated that
    > he was "not a computer person" and had "no idea what SIGGRAPH people
    > do." He referenced Akira Kurosawa as a filmmaker who triumphs in
    > creating an illusion that fantasy worlds exist and proclaimed the
    > secret to this as "immaculate reality." Lucas's humble moment was
    > when he admitted to the audience, "I don't know how you do this
    > stuff, but it allows me to tell a story so I'm happy you're doing it."

    It is certainly reassuring to know that a humble storyteller can be the main
    event at SIGGRAPH.

    He *is* a humble storyteller, right?

    Is this an "immaculate reality"?

    ja?
    http://vispo.com
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