SIGGRAPH Asia 2009

Of course, the biggest deal about SIGGRAPH Asia 2009 for me was that I was the Chair of the Computer Animation Festival. A huge thanks go out to everyone on my committee, everyone else on the conference committee, Masa, and the staff at Koelnmesse and Hibino for keeping it all together.

Because I was running around for the Computer Animation Festival much of the time, I didn't see many sessions this year! Thus, I don't have a lot to report on from the direction, but I did get to see most of the Art Gallery and Emerging Technologies areas, which were awesome. Here's a bit of what went on there.

Art Gallery

Yuliya Lanina

I actually got to meet Yuliya earlier when she came with Yuko, the Art Show Chair. She's fun, funny, and interesting in person, and it's reflected in her artwork as well. She puts together wacky ironic dolls out of various pieces. She also makes grander stages out of them, gets the dolls to move in time to music in various ways, and makes movies of the results. It's all really awesome and you can see on her website so if you ever get a chance to see a show of hers you need to go! She's based in New York.

Happy Wear

This was probably the most fun thing in the gallery! Happy Wear was a system where you put on a T-shirt, and the system tracks the position, orientation, folding, wrinkling, etc. of the T-shirt in real time and shows yourself in a 'mirror' with various other fun elements augmenting you and the t-shirt. I don't remember all of the different things you could do, but you could make butterflies come out of your T-shirt, spikes come out, etc.

Check out a bunch of videos posted on the website of one of the creators, Julian Pilet.

One of Yuliya's dolls

Artifical Nature: Fluid Space

This was a complex artifical life demonstration where a fairly deep (but entirely artificial) ecosystem simulation was continuously running, and as spectators you had some ability to interact with the system. There were "plants" that fed on the nutrients, "herbivores" that ate the plants, and "carnivores" that ate the herbivores and decomposed into nutirents.

The spectators could move the camera around and basically scare the carnivores away for a bit. The space was a wrapped cube so no matter where you flew more space came into sight. The color were pretty... but... well, one of the questions posed by the organizers was, "What is the significance of a computational ecosystem proposed as contemporary art?" and after experiencing the installation my answer would be, "nothing." That said, it was more successful to me than...


This was an installation you entered with mostly white walls that had little cockroach outlines on them. The moderator happily informed you that you too were being observed and were "part of the art." After a few seconds, a cockroach would be animated across the walls, running across your shadow.

I guess the idea is that you're supposed to be creeped out and try to smash the cockroach. It must be an East Coast thing, I just watched the cockroach and tried to see if me moving around in the space influenced the cockroach; whether calling out influenced the cockroach; whether moving my arms influenced the cockroach. None of them did.

Eventually the moderator got bored enough to illustrate the point of the exhibit: he tried to smash the cockroach by banging hard on the wall of the exhibit (thus annoying the artificial ecosystem people next door). This caused the number of cockroaches to multiply. You keep hitting them, they keep multiplying. Get it?

Man, talk about trite coexistence messages. The movie "Avatar" is subtle by comparison. There was a spiel that came out at about this time as well, about how cockroaches are really clean, and that mankind's innate bad reaction to them is a maladaptation. They have a website should you wish to read more.

WOW: Lights and shadow

This piece was another highlight of the art show. WOW is "a visual design studio based in Tokyo, Sendai, and Florence" (I've always wondered how places like that get funded... a friend Roger Black once had a studio in SF, NY, and Milan -- that takes real money!). Light and Shadows is a piece that plays out on a long, thin screen (constructed via overlapping projectors). I can't possibly describe it better than they did, so here are their sentences:

This work explores the chaotic beauty of a Tokyo night view. With its peculiar refined scenic beauty, Lights and Shadows is more a sensual rather than a cerebral experience.

There are many more examples on WOW's website, unfortunately mostly these films are meant as installations, and they're really much more affecting in situ than on the web. Ironically, a week after SIGGRAPH Asia 2009, a friend of mine from the magazine 10 here in Tokyo posted a link about WOW.

Kawaguchi-sensei's "Multi-Dimensional Butterflies"

For the last couple of years, Yoichiro Kawaguchi has been making these awesome sculptures of "hypothetical butterflies". They are really awesome and the one on dispay at SIGGRAPH Asia was huge -- it's pictured in the brochure at right. Be sure to grab a chance to see these in person, they're great (the animations of them as video are not so compelling).

A Head of View

Fun things to try: instead of a videogame controller, give people a small model of a head to control a camera, and make your body's position inside the space determine the relative motion. Let the user jump as well to trigger various audio effects. The author suggests that "The results of these actions ... will range from minute alterations of the musical texture to surprising new moments of sonic invention."

My conclusions after trying the fun things: despite liking the idea, there were a lot more minute alterations than surprising new moments. There were also very few indications of the affordances of the space, making it unrewarding to explore.

Emerging Technologies


OK, this was hands-down my favorite thing at Emerging Technologies. Lumarca is a 3D display technology. The medium on which things are displayed as a jittered grid of strings arranged in a volume. The way to get data onto them is to project from a projector; since the strings are mostly translucent, the light coming out is pretty much omnidirectional. The key is that the strings are arranged such that each string falls on a different pixel column of the projector, meaning that they're independently controllable.

Probably that description doesn't sound so great, but the actual item is very cool. One of the really neat things about it is that it could easily be scaled up to be the size of the park using sanded lucite rods rather than strings (and one helluva strong projector).

I can't believe no one approached Matt about using this for illumination here in Japan. People love christmas lights here, except they're not really Christmas-related per se, and they're called "illumination". Lumarca has the potential to create the flat-out coolest illumination ever!

Daichi's Artworking

These guys had the fun idea to use augmenting reality to let you use a physical tool to do virtual woodworking or painting -- probably the most accessible item was painting on the desktop or other objects in the scene. Like most augmented reality, the downside was that you have to wear a headset which isn't so comfortable... still fun to play with though!

Read all about it here (Japanese).

Light Field Copy Machine (Hitachi)

For sheer hardware mass, nothing could top this year's Light Field Copy Machine from Hitachi. I don't have the space here to explain exactly what a 4D Light Field is (come to my introductory CG class at Keio University sometime), but it's both a lot of data, hard to measure, and hard to recreate. But with the aid of 6 digtial cameras on a movable stage plus 93 digital projectors and lenticular sheets, Hitachi produced a machine that can capture and regenerate them... the better to demonstrate "how life will change when light-field copiers are available in homes and offices." I can't wait to have one of these on the desk!

I'm sorry to say I couldn't find these gentlemen's home page to link to, if anyone knows it please contact me.


In the cool-but-slightly-creepy category, some folks from the Kyushu University Graduate School of Design built a sunflower robot ("himawari" means sunflower in Japanese). It uses shape-memory metal actuators to create a robot that can turn towards light or heat, raise and lower itself, etc. Check out all the pictures on their site, the mechanism of the robot is really cool!

Jamming Gear

The IAMAS school had a whole bunch of interesting hardware-hacker type projects on display. One of the ones I really liked was Jamming Gear, which was a musical toy. You could freely arrange any number of the little gear pods on the table, and the controls on top triggered various sequencing options for music. The interplay of the gear sizes and teeth determined the timing relationships. Everything was made on 3D printers, so very home-crafty. Neat stuff, as was some of the other IAMAS work.