SIGGRAPH 2010 Courses

This year, SIGGRAPH is making a very strong push to include more game and real-time content.  A lot of the programs are yet to be published, but the full list of courses is now up on the conference website, and many of them are of interest. The courses have always been the SIGGRAPH program with the most relevant material for film and game production; this year the game side is particularly strong. If you are doing game graphics, the courses by themselves are reason enough to attend the conference.

Full disclosure – I am organizing two of these courses, so my description of them may not be fully objective :-)

The courses which are most directly relevant to game developers:

  1. Advances in Real-Time Rendering in 3D Graphics and Games – this full-day course, organized by Natasha Tatarchuk, has been a highlight of SIGGRAPH since it was first presented in 2006 (the name’s a bit clunky, though). Each year Natasha solicits top-notch game and real-time rendering content for her course. SSAO was first presented at this course, as were cascaded light volumes and many other important techniques. This year includes presentations from game powerhouses Bungie, Naughty Dog, Crytek, DICE, and Rockstar, among others.
  2. Beyond Programmable Shading – another very strong full-day course, now in its third year. Like Natasha’s course, this course includes brand-new material every year. Focusing on GPU compute APIs such as CUDA, DirectCompute and OpenCL, the presentations tend to skew towards GPU vendors but have also included some groundbreaking game developer talks on topics like sparse voxel octrees (by id software) and parallelism in graphics engines (DICE) . This year, besides the usual suspects (NVIDIA, AMD, Intel, Microsoft),  there will be a talk by Johan Andersson from DICE (he gave the parallelism talk last year and I can’t wait to hear what he’s been up to since), one from Kayvon Fatahalian from Stanford (who has been doing some fascinating research on GPU-accelerated micropolygon rendering), and finally one from Luca Fascione of Weta. Hopefully Luca will be talking about the GPU-accelerated PantaRay system he helped design to render the jungles in Avatar. PantaRay is used to precompute occlusion; a very game-like thing to do.
  3. Stylized Rendering in Games – in recent years, games have started to explore the universe of possible styles beyond photorealism. The course is organized by Morgan McGuire, who is also chairing this year’s NPAR conference, and includes presentations by the developers of some of the most prominent stylized games.
  4. Physically Based Shading Models in Film and Game Production - this is one of two courses I am organizing. This topic has fascinated me for years and was a major focus of my work on RTR3. Physically based shading is currently a hot topic in film production, making this a natural film-games crossover topic (my primary focus on the conference committee). I’ve been able to get speakers with really strong film production backgrounds, so I’m optimistic that this course will turn out well.
  5. Color Enhancement and Rendering in Film and Game Production - this is my other course. Most of my work in this area is more recent than the physical shader stuff so RTR3 doesn’t have as much material on it; perhaps I can remedy this in RTR4. Although this topic is well-established in film production (a field from which I’ve been able to get good speakers for this course as well), it is still an area of active development in games, as attested by the excellent GDC 2010 talk by John Hable.
  6. Global Illumination Across Industries – this is another film-games crossover course, with presentations by top people working on global illumination in both industries (the games side is represented by Illuminate Labs for precomputed GI and Crytek for dynamic GI).
  7. An Introduction to 3D Spatial Interaction With Videogame Motion Controllers – between Microsoft’s Project Natal, Sony’s Playstation Move, and the Wii MotionPlus, motion controllers are an extremely timely topic. The speakers include Richard Marks, the brains behind the Eyetoy, Playstation Eye and Playstation Move.
  8. Recent Advances in Real-Time Collision and Proximity Computations for Games and Simulations – this is an important area, and the speakers are leading researchers in the field. Among other topics, the course will cover the the collision detection systems in the PhysX and Bullet libraries.
  9. Advanced Techniques in Real-Time Hair Rendering and Simulation – while this topic is a bit more of a niche, it is of interest for many games and the speakers have done some of the leading work in this area.
  10. Volumetric Methods in Visual Effects – one of the main differences between game and film graphics is the amount and quality of atmospheric effects. Film VFX houses have been actively developing their own systems for modeling and rendering clouds, fog, fire, ocean spray, etc. This course includes a stellar cast of speakers from Digital Domain, Sony Pictures Imageworks, Rhythm & Hues, Side Effects (developers of Houdini), PDI/DreamWorks and Double Negative; anything these people don’t know about volumetric effects isn’t worth knowing. This course is likely to have lots of good ideas for stuff that isn’t possible in real-time yet, but will be in the near future.
  11. Filtered Importance Sampling for Production Rendering – another film rendering course which is likely to yield good medium- and long-term real-time ideas. Importance sampling is crucial for efficient, high-quality reflections from arbitrary BRDFs and lighting; it can be used with environment maps as well as ray tracing. Filtered importance sampling is a more general, correct, and expensive version of the common game trick of prefiltering cubemaps for glossy reflections. It has recently found wide use in film production, a topic about which the speakers (from major visual effects houses such as ILM, Image Movers Digital and MPC) are well-qualified to speak.
  12. Perceptually Motivated Graphics, Visualization, and 3D Displays – Understanding human visual perception and how it relates to graphics is important for knowing which corners can be safely cut and which ones will yield distracting artifacts; 3D displays are a timely topic for game developers as well, now that TV and console manufacturers are getting into the act.
  13. Gazing at Games: Using Eye Tracking to Control Virtual Characters – I’m not aware of any commercial games that use gaze tracking as an input method (the course is presented by academic researchers). If existing cameras such as Playstation Eye and Project Natal can track eyes with sufficient precision, this may be an important trend going forward, but if new equipment is needed this might not be relevant for a long time (if ever).

Although not as directly relevant, some of the other courses appear to be informative and fun, such as Andrew Glassner’s course about the Processing graphics programming language, and the course on how to Build Your Own 3D Display.