Siggraph 1994

I found my write up of Siggraph 1994, and thought I'd post it. At the time I was working for Sanctuary Woods, making CD-ROM based adventure games to compete with LucasArts graphic adventures. I was surprised how consistent my themes have been for the last twenty years - I was going on then about the same things I'm going on about now. In retrospect, I find some of these notes amusing, such as noticing how well Rendermorphics demoed, and speculating about when Microsoft would deliver its own 3D API (which it did, after acquiring Rendermorphics). I was also amused by my focus on ILM & Disney and the fact that I ultimately ended up working with the people I met at the show, and my observation about how nice the people at Pixar were, and they still are today! (Italicized parenthetical comments are from 2007.)

My Summer Trip to Siggraph 1994

Siggraph is the Mecca of the computer graphics and interactive crowd; five days of art shows, electronic theatre, courses, technical papers, discussions, networing, and industry exhibits. This is where the folks from ILM, Disney, Universal, academia, and the computer graphics community in general get together to compare notes and show off.

I arrived in Orlando on July 26, the second day of Siggraph - it was 40 degrees C (97F) and the humidity was hovering around 100%. It's not as muggy as an East Asian monsoon... (2007: We spotted alligators in the hotel's picnic area, and every evening we shooed frogs out of the hotel rooms - somehow they were squeezing in under the door jambs.)

1. The Edge

(2007: Clearly William Gibson's Neuromancer was in vogue with exhibits named The Edge - nowadays the exhibit has the much more prosaic and uninteresting name "emerging technologies".) On Tuesday morning, I visitted the Edge, the place where the stuck all the stuff too fringey to put in the formal track. Fringe, yup. Interestingly, most of things found here would make amazing new games.

A-Volve, Christa Sommerer, Laurent Mignonneau, National Center for Supercomputing Applications. An interactive environment where visitors interact with virtual organisms in the real space of water-filled glass pool. Using a sensor pencil, they draw a creature, which then appears in the tank, immediately alive. The creatures move and swim, and can be modified in real-time. Humans play with the creatures by swishing their hands around in the water. Direct and simultaneous communications between creatures and visitors creates a pool that could be considered a "living system". (2007: Sounds like Spore! This concept has been around for a while!)

Architexture, Michael Saup, Supreme Particles. A big projection screen, a microphone, and a video camera. Something is moving behind the screen, you move, and the "plasmatic being" morphically responds on the screen. You say somthing, it vocodes your voice, turns it around, and plays it back. Pistons behind the screen make it seem like something is behind there clawing at you, trying to get into real space. Very creepy.

Simulation Space Mosaic of Mobile Data Sounds, Christian Huebler, Knowbotic Research. A big black room with nothing to see inside, except for a bunch of speakers all the way around the room. You wear a sensor on your head, and as you move around, you move through invisible things which announce their presence acoustically. It sounds like a really cool idea, but since you can't hear the things until you're actually insde them, you can't use auditory cues to track the things down. With (some acoustic spatialization technology) this exhibit would have been a stunner.

North Water World, Amatul Hannan, ToolBox Productions; Eben Gay, ERG Engineering Inc. A virtual reality environmental simulation. Users start by being drawn into the body of an Arctic wolf on an ice floe. They tip their heads back to howl, tip their heads forward to sniff. After experiencing the wolf, the ice breaks. The user falls through the ice and is transformed into a seal. After the seal, users are drawn up into the ice where they experience life as an acoustic crystal being. (Sanctuary Woods went on to publish Wolf around then.)

The Responsive Workbench, Bernd Froehlich, Dept. Scientific Visualization, German NRC for CS. A large back lit table, The user holds a probe, and wears polarized lenses. A lifesize three dimensional woman appears on the table. Her flesh fades to reveal her skeleton and internal organs. You can move the bones around with the wand, or stick your head inside the rib cage and see the heart beating. You can walk around the table and see the simulation from any angle. An amazing demonstration. I found myself trying to touch the skeleton and feeling somewhat surprised that there was nothing to feel. (Whatever happened to this technology?)

2. The Exhibits

(Too topical to 1994 to record, except for - )

National Center for Supercomputing Applications, Univ. Illinois at Urbana-Champaign makes Collage, Mosaic, Telnet for Mac, Windows, and PC. Available by anonymous ftp at (How quaint, download an early webrowser - Mosaic - via ftp :-)

Pixar will be introducing a new animation package for Renderman this Christmas (or not!) Pixar's people were very impressive, I got the "hey everybody, come and talk to one of our users!" treatment. (Pixar's people are more awesome than ever today.)

Rendermorphics has a 3D graphics engine that literally blows the doors off any commercial 3D graphics package I've seen to date (snip). It was quite impressive, doing texture mapping, environment mapping, and reflection mapping. On a 486DX/66 with a Kubota accelerated graphics card, the Rendermorphics system Gouraud shaded a bust of Beethoven with thousands of polygons and realistic lighting at a framerate of at least 15 frames a second. The system is really fast - it was impreessive even on a little laptop. (Microsoft went on to buy this package and release it as the retained mode of Direct 3D.)

Silicon Graphics ruled the show. They had virtual reality and 3D games on display. Most of their games were networked. They showed Doom; an ostritch game where you race other players down a canyon; a skiing game where you controlled a punk styled Humpty Dumpty and crashed him into frying pans and trees; driving games; and so on. They had a big showcase of TV games being developed using SGI hardware, like Shockwave from EA, and Quantum Gate from Hyperbole. (SGI was barely present at Siggraph 2007.)

(Okay, I admit I only retained the MOST topical topics!)


Content by Nick Porcino (c) 1990-2011