Posted Aug 15

From USD to diversity, here are 5 takeaways from Siggraph 2019

by Jane Bracher
From USD to diversity, here are 5 takeaways from Siggraph 2019 by Jane Bracher


What software is now increasingly being adopted by more VFX studios? What’s the status on the Academy Software Foundation initiative? And what is The Pipeline Conference all about?

Catch up on trends and innovations relevant to the VFX industry with five of our most interesting takeaways from Siggraph 2019, the massive annual computer graphics and interactive techniques conference.


Diorama as a powerful tool for creating environments

A Unity-powered tool, Diorama allows for the rapid, real-time creation of environments for films. It was created to provide a powerful system for artists to design and build large-scale environments.

Diorama, which is now part of Technicolor’s Virtual Production platform Genesis, was the main point of discussion in a session called “Unity at MPC Film: Real-Time Set Dressing with Diorama”, with Alex Jenyon, Head of Environments and Digital Matte Painting for MPC Film, and John Vanderback, Software Developer for MPC Film, as speakers. Utilised in previous MPC Film shows, the presentation discussed Diorama from both technical and artistic perspectives.

Using a procedural-based system, Diorama gives artists full control over the final layout in an intuitive and visual manner. The tool also enables direct object placement by hand and speeds up the workflow.

USD usage and adoption as an emerging trend

There appeared to be an emerging trend in the usage and adoption of Pixar’s USD (Universal Scene Description) system at Siggraph 2019. USD was discussed extensively throughout the conference. According to the Autodesk Shotgun Industry Survey, approximately 15% of the studios that responded were using USD in one way or another, with 60% wanting to implement it over the next 12 months.

USD, a system first presented at Siggraph 2013 — according to Architosh — and has since been made open source, enables the standardisation and transfer of complex scene data and assets. At last year’s Siggraph, it seemed only a few studios have taken to integrating USD within their pipelines, but this year it looked like more VFX studios are generally headed towards utilising USD.

Software vendors are also picking up on the trend, as they’re beginning to offer support for USD within their products and services for better integration. Foundry, a leading software developer for CG content creation, published on its website in May that USD “is set to have a seismic impact on the VFX industry”.

ASWF is gaining momentum

A year since the launch of the Academy Software Foundation or ASWF, the initiative already seems to be gaining momentum. The ASWF was founded for the purpose of establishing neutral ground for open source software developers across the film industry, allowing them to share resources as well as collaborate on innovations and technology. At Siggraph 2019, ASWF had a full Open Source day where open source projects in VFX and animation were presented.

A new initiative called OpenTimelineIO was also added. Created by Pixar, OpenTimelineIO is “API and interchange format for editorial cut information used in production at a variety of studios”.

Interest surrounding new The Pipeline Conference

An interesting new initiative launched this year was The Pipeline Conference. This event took place on the first day of Siggraph 2019 and brought together VFX, animation, gaming, and immersive media industry professionals to discuss developments in the CG production pipeline.

The full, one-day conference tackled USD, cloud usage, and the procedural pipeline, among others. MPC Film Principle Architect Francesco Giordana was also part of a panel that discussed real-time technologies for film pipelines.

Diversity in VFX

Aside from tech, innovations and software, our final key takeaway from Siggraph 2019 was the focus on diversity in the VFX industry — and even in animation and gaming — with a range of sessions and talks devoted to it.

Siggraph hosted its own Diversity and Inclusion Summit with a range of speakers that explored and fostered diversity in the industry. Mill Film’s own Global Managing Director Lauren McCallum was a panelist for a session called “Diversity, Collaboration, and Building Toward an Inclusive Organization”.

The day before Siggraph 2019, McCallum also participated in a fireside chat during the Business Symposium that looked at “diversity and equity as business imperatives”. In addition, there was a Women In Animation Summit on a separate day, where McCallum was also a panelist. —

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