The top 5 highlights of SIGGRAPH 2014

We reveal some of the things you may have missed at the world's top event for CG artists.

This article is produced in association with Masters of CG, a contest for creatives in partnership with HP, Nvidia, and 2000 AD. Check out the shortlisted entries here.

The SIGGRAPH (Special Interest Group on GRAPHics and Interactive Techniques) conference and exhibition is the biggest event in the CG artist's calendar, and this year's 41st was no exception.

An eye-watering 14,045 artists, research scientists, gaming experts and developers, filmmakers, students, and academics from 50 US states and 75 countries gathered to experience cutting-edge computer graphics and interactive techniques.

It would take several encyclopedic volumes to cover everything that went down at SIGGRAPH 2014, but here we've picked 5 highlights that will pique the interest of every 3D artist and animator...

01. An inspiring keynote

The impactful keynote presentation by Not Impossible Labs co-founder Elliot Kotek shared a simple message: "Help One. Help Many." In his inspiring speech, which you can watch in full above, Kotek shared tales of how the company is changing the world with tech – such as with Project Daniel, which harnessed 3D printing technology to fit Sudanese amputees with new prosthetic limbs.

02. V-Ray for Modo, Nuke and Katana

Chaos Group and The Foundry, both leading developers of software for the VFX and animation industries, have been working on linking their tools together for some time.

So it caused quite a stir when they announced at the show that V-Ray will be available for Modo, Nuke and Katana. V-Ray for Modo and Nuke is in the beta stage, while V-Ray for Katana is available to buy now.

The new software looks Turtley awesome

"Chaos Group and The Foundry’s products have been cornerstones of Atomic Fiction's workflow since day one," said Kevin Baillie, co-founder and VFX supervisor at Atomic Fiction, the VFX studio behind Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Star Trek Into Darkness.

"Both companies share an obvious passion for making amazing, production-focused tools, and are constantly looking towards the future. We’re excited that their futures are converging to unify our rendering pipeline across our favorite applications."

The products

  • V-Ray | MODO – Provides flexibility and production-proven rendering capabilities for MODO artists creating 3D content. Now in public beta.
  • V-Ray | NUKE – Unifies the pipeline between NUKE artists and 3D artists for unprecedented workflow improvements at all stages of production, while providing access to V-Ray's advanced ray tracing capabilities. Now in public beta.
  • V-Ray | KATANA – First used on 'Captain America: The Winter Soldier' by Industrial Light & Magic, the industry-leading lighting and look development package is now coupled with industry-standard rendering technology. Available upon request.

03. Arnold and Houdini get closer

Solid Angle is bringing Arnold and Houdini together

Also at SIGGRAPH 2014, Solid Angle revealed its Houdini-to-Arnold plugin. We spoke to Solid Angle senior software engineer Frédéric Servant, who told us: "The goal of HtoA is to provide a tight integration of Arnold in Houdini, in a way that is familiar to both Houdini users and Arnold users in Maya or Softimage.

"We support all of Houdini's rendering contexts (render region, render view, mplay, etc.) and provide a dedicated shading network that comes out of the box with 83 utility shaders, to which you can easily add custom ones. In the Houdini spirit, it's very easy to access geometry attributes in this shading context.

"Instancing and the bulk of the Houdini primitives are supported, including particles, curves and volumes, through the OpenVDB format. Special attention was paid to motion blur, including on changing topology with velocity or acceleration blur as well as on volumes."

04. The awards

The SIGGRAPH Computer Animation Festival received more than 450 juried submissions in 2014, and the work on show was truly stunning. The award winners included:

  • Best in show: Box (United States). Directed by Tarik Abdel-Gawad, Bot & Dolly
  • Jury Award: Paper World (Hungary). Directed by Dávid Ringeisen, László Ruska, Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design
  • Best animated short: Home Sweet Home (France). Directed by Pierre Clenet, Alejandro Diaz, Romain Mazenet, Stéphane Paccolat, Supinfocom Arles
  • Best visual effects: Gravity (United Kingdom)
. Directed by Alfonso Cuarón, Esperanto Filmoj
  • Best student project: Wrapped (Germany). Directed by Roman Kalin, Falko Paeper, Florian Wittmann, Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg
  • Best commercial advertisement: Three, 'The Pony' (United Kingdom)
. Directed by Dougal Wilson, Blink Productions
  • Best vizualisation and simulation: Kinematics (United States)
. Directed by Jessica Rosenkrantz, Jesse Louis-Rosenberg, Nervous System
  • Best game: The Crew (France)
. Directed by Maxime Luère, Dominique Boidin, Rémi Kozyra, Unit Image
  • Best real-time graphics: RYSE: Son of Rome (Germany)
. Directed by Chris Evans, Peter Gornstein, Martin L’Heureux, Crytek

05. Real-time motion capture

In recent years, we've become used to seeing actors like Andy Serkis filmed and then turned into apes, monsters and wide-eyed aliens using motion capture. But new tech being demoed at Microsoft at SIGGRAPH 2014 seemed to offer the ability to alter someone's image live (and not a ping-pong ball in sight).

In more technical terms, Microsoft describes it as a combined hardware and software solution that offers markerless reconstruction of non-rigidly deforming physical objects with arbitrary shape in real-time. The system uses a single self-contained stereo camera unit built from off-the-shelf components and consumer graphics hardware to generate spatio-temporally coherent 3D models at 30 Hz.

Check out it out below:

See more videos on the SIGGRAPH YouTube channel.


Ian Dean is editor of 3D World and has been writing about film, video games and digital art for over 15 years. I have the grey hair to prove it.