SIGGRAPH: Cutting Edge Digital Technologies Conference Hits Vancouver

Embrace your inner tech geek at the SIGGRAPH, an international showcase of emerging computer technologies.

Credit: Elizabeth Oborne.

SIGGRAPH brings 150 tech-savvy exhibitors together to share creative, weird and wonderful technologies with Vancouverites


Some may be quick to write SIGGRAPH (Special Interest Group on Graphics and Interactive Techniques) off as a nerdfest, but after spending an afternoon exploring what the conference had to offer, it became clear that SIGGRAPH is a whole lot more than just super-smart people talking about computers (although there was plenty of that!).


SIGGRAPH is about all things creative in the technological world, from computer graphics to interactive techniques, with people from all over the globe involved; participants included researchers to those in professions like fine arts, computer science, electronical engineering, film production, gaming and music.


Not just a nerdfest: a technology show for techies and the technologically challenged alike

Digitally-minded folk share ideas and inventions at SIGGRAPH. (Image: Elizabeth Oborne)


Pete Braccio, SIGGRAPH’s chairman, says they brought this internationally renowned conference to Vancouver this year because all of the major communities are represented in this city: film and television production, the special effects industry, the gaming industry as well as art and educational institutions.


For someone like myself, who struggles to hook up a router, SIGGRAPH may be slightly overwhelming. But there really is something for everyone at the show, even the technologically challenged.


Braccio says the biggest draws for the general audience include the art gallery, the emerging technologies and the studio venues. Trust me, you don’t have to be a whiz kid to appreciate these offerings.


My favourite exhibitions included 3-D clothing design software, a medical mirror for non-contact health monitoring, interactive gaming tech and an art exhibit called “tele-present wind.”


On the cutting edge: simulated car accidents, 3D fashion design and futuristic medical tech

Who needs scissors and a pincushion? Digital technology: changing the way fashion designers do business. (Image: Elizabeth Oborne)


Have you ever seen a 3D fashion show? CLO Virtual Fashion, Inc. has created a program called Marvelous Designer 2 that makes it possible. The technology is used in both the fashion and entertainment industries to help cut down on wasteful clothing samples. It allows users to create patterns in 2-D, virtually sew their garments and then place the pattern around a digital avatar where the results can be modeled in a virtual 3-D environment.


The Medical Mirror, masterminded by the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, was yet another ingenious invention at the show. Simply look into the mirror and it tracks and displays your heart rate in real time using a basic imaging device—a heart rate monitor but without any chest straps or electrodes to hook up!


The Medical Mirror was a favourite at the show. Simply gaze into the mirror and it will track your heartbeat. (Image: Elizabeth Oborne)


The Disney Research group’s Surround Haptic technology drew a big crowd with their interactive gaming technologies. Using algorithms and models of perception in a cost-effective way (think pager motors in movie seats), they’re trying to make gaming and movie viewing more interactive and engaging.


Whether it’s allowing gamers to experience the sensations of a car crash (by donning a t-shirt embedded with the technology), or letting moviegoers feel imaginary bugs and snakes crawling on them during a show, the Haptic technology is pretty spectacular.


Clever and aesthetically pleasing: SIGGRAPH combines art with science

Other impressive exhibitors included Think Tank Training Centre, an elite animation school in North Vancouver that accepts only 12 students every four months, and King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, with their collaborative infrared software that’s used by scientists to project data sets and surgeons doing robotic surgery.


The software showcases data in a visual form. This was demonstrated by allowing people to paint on huge infrared screens colour-controlled remotely with an iPad.


David Bowen’s exhibit, “Tele-present wind”, uses technology to mimic real plants in Minnesota. (Image: Elizabeth Oborne)


Rounding out my little technological field trip was a walk through the art gallery, filled with digital and technologically mediated artworks. David Bowen, the artist behind the fan-fave “tele-present wind”, built an exhibit featuring a field of dried plant stalks connected to tilting devices.


The stalks in the gallery receive transmissions from another plant stalk connected to an accelerometer in Duluth, Minnesota, Bowen’s home. When the wind blows in Minnesota, it causes the stalks to sway, which in turn transmits the movement to the stalks in the gallery. A captivating interpretation of the art gallery’s theme this year, “Tracing Home.”