SIGGRAPH 2016 report

Anaheim, 23 – 28 July 2016

This year was the 25th anniversary of my SIGGRAPH membership (I am a proud member since ’91)! It was also my 18th visit in a row to the annual convention (since ’99). We didn’t have a booth on the trade show this year though. Expenses are so high! Since 2002 we exhibited 7 times, we skipped years more often, but since 2011 we were there every year. The positive side of not exhibiting was that I finally had time and energy to have meetings and participate in other events.

Friday 22 – Saturday 23: Toronto


But first: an unexpected last minute change in the planning. Originally I was going to Anaheim to also meet with the owners of Tangent Animation about their (near 100% Blender) feature film studio. Instead they suggested it would be much more practical to rebook my flight and have a day stopover in Toronto to see the studio and have more time to meet.

I spent two half days with them, and it was really blown away by the work they do there. I saw the opening 10 minutes of their current feature film (“Run Ozzy Run”). The film is nearly finished, currently being processed for grading and sound. The character designs are adorable, the story is engaging and funny, and they pulled off surprising good quality animation and visuals – especially knowing it’s still a low budget project made with all the constraints associated with it. And they used Blender! Very impressive how they managed to get quite massive scenes work. They hired a good team of technical artists and developers to support them. Their Cycles coder is a former Mental-Ray engineer, who will become a frequent contributor to Cycles.

I also had a sneak peek of the excellent concept art of the new feature that’s in development – more budget, and much more ambitious even. For that project they offer to invest substantially in Blender, we spent the 2nd day on outlining a deal. In short that is:

  • Tangent will sponsor two developers to work in Blender Institute on 2.8 targets (defined by us)
  • Tangent will sponsor one Cycles developer, either to work in Blender Institute or in Toronto.
  • All of this full time and decently paid positions, for at least 1 year. Can be effective in September.

Sunday 24: SIGGRAPH Anaheim

blenderbof162 PM: Blender Birds of a Feather, community meeting

As usual we start the meeting with giving everyone a short moment to say who they are what they do with Blender (or want to see happen). This takes 25+ minutes! There were visitors from Boeing, BMW, Pixar, Autodesk, Microsoft, etc.

The rest of the time I did my usual presentation (talk about who we are, what we did last year, and the plans for next year).

You can download the pdf of the slides here.

3:30 PM : Blender Birds of a Feather, Spotlight event

Theory Animation’s David Andrade offered to organise this ‘open stage’ event, giving artists or developers 5 minutes of time to show the work they did with Blender. It was great to see this organised so well! There was a huge line-up even, lasting 90 minutes even. Some highlights from my memory:

  • Theory Animation showed work they did for the famous TV show “Silicon Valley”. The hilarious “Pipey” animation is theirs.
  • Sean Kennedy is doing a lot of Blender vfx for tv series. Amazing work (can’t share here, sorry), and he gave a warm plea for more development attention for the Compositor in Blender.
  • Director Stephen Norrington (Blade, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) is using Blender! He showed vfx work he did for a stop motion / puppet short film.
  • JT Nelson showed results of Martin Felke’s Blender Fracture Branch. Example.
  • Nimble Collective premiered their first “Animal Facts” short, The Chicken.

Afterwards we went for drinks and food to one of the many bar/restaurants close by. (Well close, on the map it looked like 2 blocks, but in Anaheim these blocks were half a mile! Made the beer taste even better though :)

Monday 25: the SIGGRAPH Animation Festival, Jury Award!

Selfie with badge + ribbon

Aside of all these interesting encounters you can have in LA (I met with people from Paramount Animation), the absolute highlight of Monday was picking up the Jury prize for Cosmos Laundromat. Still vividly remembering 25 years ago, struggling with the basics of CG, I never thought I’d be cheered on and applauded by 1000+ people in the Siggraph Electronic Theater!

Clearly the award is not just mine, it’s for director Mathieu Auvray and writer Esther Wouda, the team of artists and developers who worked on the film, and most of all for everyone who contributed to Blender and to Blender Cloud in one way or another.

Wait… but the amount of surprises weren’t over that day. I sneaked away from the festival screening and went to AMD’s launch party. I was pleasantly surprised to watch corporate VP Roy Taylor spending quite some time talking about Blender, ending with “We love Blender, we love the Blender Community!” AMD is very serious about focusing on 3D creators online, to serve the creative CG communities of which Blender users are one of the biggest now. If AMD could win back the hearts of Blender artists…

Theory Animation guys!

After the event I met with Roy Taylor, he confirmed the support they already give to Blender developer Mike Erwin (to upgrade OpenGL). Roy said AMD is committed to help us in many more ways, so I asked for one more full time Cycles coder. Deal! Support for 1 year full time developer on Cycles to finish the ‘OpenCL split kernel’ project is being processed now. I’ll be busy hiring people the coming period!

Later in the evening I met with several Blender artists. They got the award handed over by me to show my appreciation. Big fun :)

Tuesday 26 – Wednesday 27, SIGGRAPH tradeshow and meetings

Not having a booth was a blessing (at least for once!). I could freely move around and plan the days with meetings and time to attend the activities outside of the trade show as well. Here’s a summary of activities and highlights

  • Tradeshow impression
    This year’s show seemed a bit smaller than last year, but on both days it felt crowded in most places, the attendance was very good. Best highlights are still the presentations by artists to show their work on larger booths such as Nvidia or Foundry. Also for having an original Vive experience it was worth the visit. Google’s Tango was there, but the marketing team failed to impress demoing it – 3d scanning the booth failed completely all the time (don’t put tv screens on walls if you want to scan!).
  • USD-1Pixar USD launch lunch
    Pixar presented the official launch of the Universal Scene Description format, a set of formats with a software library to manage your entire pipeline. The  USD design is very inviting for Blender to align well with – we already share some of the core design decisions, but USD is quite more advanced. It will be interesting to see whether USD will be used for pipeline IO (file exchange) among applications as well.
  • Autodesk meeting
    Autodesk has appointed a director open source strategy, he couldn’t attend but connected me with Marc Stevens and Chris Vienneau, executives in the M&E department. They also brought in Arnold’s creator Marcos Fajardo.
    Marcos expressed their interest in having Arnold support for Blender. We discussed the (legal, licensing) technicalities of this a bit more, but for as long they stick to data transport between the programs (like PRman and VRay do now using Blender’s render API) there’s no issue. With Marc and Chris I had a lengthy discussion about Autodesk’s (lack of) commitment to open source and openly accessible production pipelines. They said that Autodesk is changing their strategy though and they will show this with actively sharing sources or participating in open projects as well. I invited them to publish the FBX spec doc (needs to get blessings from board, but they’ll try) and to work with Pixar on getting the character module for USD fleshed out (make it work for Maya + Max, in open license). The latter suggestion was met with quite some enthusiasm. Would make the whole FBX issue go away mostly. 
  • Nvidia
    It was very cool to meet with Ross Cunniff, Technology Lead at NVIDIA. He is nice down-to-earth and practical. With his connections it’ll be easier to get a regular seed of GTX cards to developers. I’ve asked for a handful 1080ies right away! Nvidia will also actively work on getting Blender Cycles files in the official benchmarking suites.
  • Massive Software
    David Andrade (Theory Animation) setup a meeting with me and industry legend Stephen Regelous, founder of Massive Software and the genius behind the epic Lord of the Rings battle scenes. Stephen said that at Massive user meetings there’s an increasing demand for Blender support. He explained me how they do it; basically everything’s low poly and usually gets rendered in 1 pass! The Massive API has a hook into the render engine to generate the geometry on the fly, to prevent huge file or caching bottlenecks. In order to get this work for Blender Cycles, a similar hook should be written. They currently don’t have the engineers to do this, but they’d be happy to support someone for it.
  • Khronos
    I further attended the WebGL meeting (with demos by Blend4web team) and the Khronos party. Was big fun, a lot of Blender users and fans there! The Khronos initiative remains incredibly important – they are keeping the graphics standards open (like OpenGL, glTF) and make innovation available for everyone (WebGL and Vulkan).

Friday 29, San Francisco and Bay Area

on-highway1Wednesday evening and Thursday I took my time driving the touristic route north to San Francisco. I wanted to meet some friends there (loyal Blender supporter David Jeske, director/layout artist Colin Levy, CG industry consultants Jon and Kathleen Peddie, Google engineer Keir Mierle) and visit two business contacts.

  • Nimble Collective
    Located in a lovely office in Mountain View (looks like it’s always sunny and pleasant there!) this startup is also heavily investing in Blender and using it for a couple of short film projects. I leave it them to release the info on the films :) but it’s going to be amazing good! I also had a demo of their platform, which is like a ‘virtual’ animation production workstation, which you can use in a browser. The Blender demo on their platform was feeling very responsive, including fast Cycles renders.
    The visit ended participating in their “weekly”. Just like the Blender Institute weekly! An encouraging and enthusiast gathering to celebrate results and work that’s been done.
  • Netflix
    netflix_cosmoslaundromatThe technical department from Netflix contacted us a while ago, they were looking for high quality HDR content to do streaming and other tests. We then sent them the OpenEXR files of Cosmos Laundromat, which is unclipped high resolution color. Netflix took it to a specialist HDR grading company and they showed me the result – M I N D blowing! Really awesome to see how the dynamics of Cycles renders (like the hard morning light) works on a screen that allows a dynamic ‘more than white’ display. Cosmos Laundromat is now on Netflix, as one of the first HDR films.
    We then discussed how Netflix could do more with our work. Obviously they’re happy to share the graded HDR film, but they’re especially interested in getting more content – especially in 4k. A proposal for sponsoring our work is being evaluated internally now.

Sunday 31 July, Back home

I was gone for 9 days, with 24 hours spent in airplanes. But it was worth it :) Jetlag usually kicks in then, took a week to resolve. In the coming weeks there’s a lot of work waiting, especially setting up all the projects around Blender 2.8. A new design/planning doc on 2.8 is first priority.

Please feel invited to discuss the topics in our channels and talk to me in person in IRC about Blender 2.8 and Cycles development work. Or send me a mail with feedback. That’s ton at, as usual.

Ton Roosendaal
August 7, 2016