True, SIGGRAPH (Special Interest Group for Graphics and Interactive Techniques) conference may not receive a lot of mainstream media attention. Yet, it is massive and international renowned: If you are an Agency Creative Director, Consumer Product Marketer, Industrial Designer, Technology CEO, Game Designer, Hollywood Director or an Technology Investor, and you want to understand the next disruptive trends before your competitors do, than you have to visit the largest annual computer graphics conference in Los Angeles, for the last 40 years.

Be forewarned: Siggraph can be a highly technical event.  The people managing the exhibitor booths are often very friendly and enthusiastic techies, temporarily relieved from their often 80-hour project weeks working on the next groundbreaking CGI-enriched Hollywood blockbuster or marketing campaign.  So they love to talk and explain in algorithmic detail how their latest innovation works. But half-way through you may realize that you should have brought a techie-talk translator or at least an acronym dictionary.

So, yesterday I did this for you.  I braved my way through half of the booths (Thursday I will visit the other half) at the Los Angeles Convention Center, including the small ones where often the 'yet undiscovered' big ideas are.  After translating and decomposing the technical descriptions, I summarized my findings and thoughts of how these innovations could be applied in real-world industrial settings creating interesting competitive advantages. Note that my focus is primarily on industrial & consumer product company applications rather than media and entertainment.

After the first day, I saw three major trends:

  1. Augmented Reality (AR) - The technology and art of blending virtual reality objects within real environments.  Perhaps the best known commercial application of this is in sports broadcasts, where only the TV viewer sees additional (virtual) advertising boards along the field that have been blended into the live broadcast. AR is on the rise due to the emergence of tablets and devices such as Google Glass, that are ideal for AR. But many of the commercial applications so far have been clunky, too obvious or too gimmicky. So the search at Siggraph is for groundbreaking, beneficial and stable applications.  Austin-based Image Metrix using its sister company's Faceware software seem to have done so and crossed into the mainstream with their very realistic and robust L'Oreal MakeupGenius app. This is a company to follow for anyone interested in Virtual-Try-On e-commerce solutions.
  2. Virtual Reality (VR) - The technology that puts the user in a completely virtual environment that is alive (moving video or interactive) and all around (you can turn and view 360 degree).  Although VR has been around for decades, it is suddenly receiving feverish R&D attention with the emergence of low cost consumer VR devices from Facebook, Google, HTC, Microsoft and Samsung.  Although many companies at Siggraph had noteworthy VR demos, some of which I will mention in my next posts, the VR videos from Google using their super low cost $10-$50 Cardboard device were the most impressive (they were very realistic, yet not complicated or hard to emulate, and therefore all the more exciting in terms of mainstream potential).  It showed you inside a moving ski gondola in the midst of your fellow gondola passengers or on a mountain trail as part of a  expedition, shot with 360 degree cameras.  This is a trend to follow if you are a Agency Creative Director or Movie Director and you want to be one of the first to create a first-person point-of-view (POV) live action film or ad campaign. Each person in the audience is transported into the middle of each scene as a observer with the freedom to look around at any time - just imagine how a Director could use this in a suspense movie.  The potential for completely disrupting how we watch movies or advertisement in the near future is enormous.
  3. VFX Studios Productizing their Secret Sauce - A very noticeable trend is that many traditionally service-only oriented CGI and VFX studios were offering their proprietary in-house developed software as a licensed or a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) subscription offering. In my next post I will highlight several companies that are worth mentioning in this trend.  For illustration, I spoke to BUF, a well-regarded Paris-based VFX studio, famous for its development of the 'bullet-time' effect in the Matrix franchise. They have released their own sequence playback software, BView, this week, followed later by the rest of their software suite.  Of course, transforming your in-house proprietary software into a commercially viable product is a very hard task, and therefore many of these will not become a commercial success. But this trend is still very healthy and exciting, because it opens all this know-how and technology to mainstream creative artists.  And that is certainly an interesting development to follow if you are an investor, because several of these products will become the next unicorns.

Tell me your thoughts and feel free to contact me if you have any questions. Which visual computing trends you see in your personal and work life?