You are currently browsing the archive for the Reports category.

Here’s a book CFP, proposals due right after SIGGRAPH. I have to admit, I was a little skeptical when I heard of this as a book idea. However, OpenGL truly is undergoing a resurgence as of late. Not so much on desktops and laptops, though more games are indeed getting made for Macs. Marc DeLoura has a good article on engines in “Game Developer,” May 2011, noting that 15% of traditional “big game” developers plan on Mac version of their games, vs. a mere 2% in 2009. As it is, most every serious game engine is cross-platform, so OpenGL’s special features (and bugs) are not so vital to engine users. Rather, the handheld market is where OpenGL is the only game in town. So, knowing how to make this API sing is pretty vital if you’re working in that area.

The editors: Patrick Cozzi you probably don’t know (yet), though I did point earlier to a poster for this year’s SIGGRAPH that he coauthored (it’s a clever technique). Among other things, he’s first author on a book that’s not out yet, but will be by SIGGRAPH: 3D Engine Design for Virtual Globes (you can download book samples and the code). Christophe Riccio you may have heard of if you work with the OpenGL SDK. He maintains the OpenGL Samples, GLM (math), and GLI (imaging). These guys look like good people for the job: energetic and intelligent. So, here’s the CFP – you can comment on it at their blog. Me, just reading their list of topics of interest, I’ll get a copy even if they get articles on just a very few of these. If $50 (or whatever) saves us a day of going down a wrong path, it’s worth it.

It is with great enthusiasm that we invite you to contribute to OpenGL Insights, a book containing original articles on OpenGL, OpenGL ES, and WebGL techniques by the OpenGL community and for the OpenGL community: from game programmers to web developers to researchers. OpenGL Insights will be published by A K Peters, Ltd. / CRC Press in time for SIGGRAPH 2012.

Given the wide array of OpenGL platforms, from Mac desktops to Android phones to web browsers, we invite you to submit article proposals on all aspects of OpenGL development, including performance tuning, recent GL features/extensions, application architecture, vendor-specific techniques, WebGL, and interoperability with other APIs. We are interested in proposals based on your unique real-world experience using OpenGL. Some ideas include:

  • OpenGL performance, for example:
    • Best performance practices for using vertex buffers
    • Best performance practices for texture streaming
    • Performance and memory profiling techniques
    • 64-bit performance considerations
    • Multithreading with OpenGL
  • Modern OpenGL 3 and 4 programming, for example:
    • Introduction to tessellation
    • Image load and store
    • Programmable multisampling
    • Using shader subroutines effectively
    • Managing uniform data
    • Strategies for debugging OpenGL applications
  • Application architecture, for example:
    • Porting between Direct3D and OpenGL
    • Writing portable code between OpenGL, OpenGL ES, and WebGL
    • Designing an OpenGL-based graphics engine
    • A testing framework for OpenGL applications
    • Shader architecture best practices, e.g., shader binaries and separate shaders
    • Cross-platform programming with OpenGL
    • Tools, libraries
  • Vendor-specific techniques, for example:
    • Understanding and optimizing for specific hardware and driver implementations: AMD, Apple, ARM, Imagination Technologies, Intel, NVIDIA, Qualcomm, S3 Graphics, etc.
    • Bindless Graphics: GL_NV_shader_buffer_load and GL_NV_vertex_buffer_unified_memory
    • How VAO works on AMD drivers
    • Taking advantage of deferred tile rendering on PowerVR
    • How GLSL compiler works
    • Understanding multithreaded OpenGL drivers
  • OpenGL ES, for example:
    • Best practices for targeting both desktop and mobile devices
    • Targeting multiple mobile device platforms
    • Developing with power consumption in mind
    • Differences between desktop and mobile devices
  • WebGL, for example:
    • Introduction to WebGL for web developers
    • Introduction to WebGL for OpenGL developers
    • Optimizing WebGL applications
    • Writing large-scale software in JavaScript
    • Understanding web browser implementations of WebGL
    • WebGL interoperability with WebCL
  • Interoperability, for example:
    • Hybrid OpenGL and OpenCL/CUDA rendering pipelines
    • Working with both OpenGL and Direct3D
    • OpenGL interoperability with OpenCL and CUDA
  • Inspirational thoughts and experiences:
    • OpenGL’s 20th anniversary: history and evolution
    • ARB members and OpenGL developers interviews
    • OpenGL software making of
    • Daily programmer experiences with OpenGL

These are, of course, examples. Please don’t feel limited to these areas.

The planned schedule is:

August 15, 2011 Proposals due
September 1, 2011 Authors selected
November 1, 2011 Articles due
December 1, 2011 Peer review feedback due
December 15, 2011 Revised articles due, all articles sent to publisher
January 1, 2012 Supplemental material due, e.g., videos, source code, etc.
SIGGRAPH 2012 Book released

Please send proposals to [email protected] using this example proposal as a template by August 15th.

Proposals should include the title, your name and affiliation, a one-page abstract, and anything else you feel helps convey your article such as related images or references. Proposals must demonstrate the author’s real-world OpenGL experience and ability to write clearly. Proposals can have multiple authors, and a single author can submit multiple proposals. There is no required article length, but we expect most articles will be 5-20 pages. Example code can be written in any language on any platform.

Please feel free to contact us for additional discussion. We’re looking forward to putting together a valuable book for the OpenGL community.


Patrick Cozzi and Christophe Riccio, Editors


I3D 2011 Report

This report about I3D 2011 is from Mauricio Vives, a coworker at Autodesk; he also has photos from the symposium. The papers listing can be found at Ke-Sen Huang’s page and at the ACM Digital Library’s page (tabbed version here). The ACM site has some interesting info, by the way, such as acceptance rates and “most downloaded, most cited” for all I3D articles. I should also remind people: if you’re a member of ACM SIGGRAPH, you automatically have access to all SIGGRAPH-sponsored ACM Digital Library materials (which is essentially almost all their graphics papers).

In case you missed them, Naty’s reports (so far) about I3D are also on this blog: Keynote, Industry Session, and Banquet Talk.


Session: Filtering and Reconstruction

A Local Image Reconstruction Algorithm for Stochastic Rendering

In a stochastic rasterizer, effects like defocus (depth of field) and transparency need a very large number of samples (64 – 256) to remove noise and look decent. This paper describes a technique to remove the noise using far fewer samples, through sorting to selectively blur samples. The results look quite good, though it does have the disadvantage of blurring transparency.

Subpixel Reconstruction Antialiasing for Deferred Shading

The post-process MLAA antialiasing technique works to find sharp edges in an image and smooth them. It provides pretty good results. This technique (SRAA) is similar, but operates with supersampled depth and normal data to produce even better results with predictable performance. For example, it looks comparable to 16x SSAA (super-sampled antialiasing) in just 2 ms on a GTX 480 at HD resolution. As with MLAA, only single-sample shading is used, and it is compatible with deferred lighting. [The use of depth and normals means it is focused on geometric edge finding, so the technique is not applicable to shadow edges and NPR post-process thickened edges, for example. – Eric]

High Quality Elliptical Texture Filtering on GPU

Elliptical filtering is necessary for removing artifacts from some high-frequency textures, but is too slow for real-time applications. This is a technique for approximating true elliptical filtering using hardware anisotropic filtering. They claim it is easy to integrate, and they provide drop-in GLSL code to replace existing texture lookups.

Session: Lighting in Participating Media

Transmittance Function Mapping

This is about rendering light and shadow in participating media (e.g. fog, smoke) with single scattering. Two techniques are described: a faster one called volumetric shadow mapping for homogeneous media, and a slower one called transmittance function mapping for heterogeneous media. This is suitable for both offline rendering and interactive applications, but it is not quite real-time (> 30 fps) yet.

Real-Time Volumetric Shadows using 1D Min-Max Mipmaps

This is again about volumetric shadows, but with real-time results for homogeneous media, using only pixel shaders. A combination of epipolar warping on the shadow map, and a 1D min-max mipmap for storage, makes this possible. This is a pretty clever combination of techniques. [This paper was the “NVIDIA Best Paper Presentation”.]

Real-Time Volume Caustics with Adaptive Beam Tracing

This is an extension of previous beam-tracing work to allow for real-time caustics, with receiving surfaces and volumes handled separately. A coarse grid of beams of refined based on the geometry and viewer to put detail where it is needed most. This enhancement is something an effect like caustics certainly needs to look good.

Session: Collision & Sound

Sound Synthesis for Impact Sounds in Video Games

This paper was motivated by having very little memory on a game console to store physics-based sounds, e.g. for footsteps or colliding objects. This uses a combination of modal synthesis and spectral modeling synthesis to produce extremely small sound definitions that could be varied on demand to provide a variety of believable effects. I don’t know much about sound generation, but the audio results (from the only audio paper in the conference) were very good.

Collision-Streams: Fast GPU-based Collision Detection for Deformable Models

Fast Continuous Collision Detection using Parallel Filter in Subspace

Both of these papers address the same problem: how to quickly perform continuous collision detection, which works by interpolating motion between time steps. I am a novice when it comes to collision detection, so I didn’t take away much from these.

Session: Shadows

This is the session that was most interesting to me, as I work on shadow algorithms.

Shadow Caster Culling for Efficient Shadow Mapping

This paper has a simple idea: when rendering a shadow map, cull objects that don’t produce a visible shadow to improve performance. Here occlusion culling is used to determine which objects are visible from the light source, and then these are rendered to produce a receiver mask in the stencil buffer. The stencil occlusion query operation can then be used to skip irrelevant objects. There are a few methods to render the receiver mask, trading off complexity and accuracy. This was mostly tested with city scenes, where it offered the same images at about 5x speed.

Colored Stochastic Shadow Maps

This included a nice overview of the problem, terminology, and existing techniques: how to render colored shadows from translucent objects? This extends existing techniques for rendering stochastic transparency to also support colored transparent shadows. It has a filter that can be adjusted for performance and quality, being based on stochastic techniques. The paper has simple explanations of the algorithm, and it seems from the presentation that this is fairly easy to integrate in a system that already handles basic stochastic shadow maps.

Sample Distribution Shadow Maps

This was the paper I was most interested in seeing, since it is an extension to cascaded shadow maps (CSM), a popular shadowing technique. The idea here is quite simple: reduce perspective aliasing with shadow maps by analyzing the distribution of samples visible to the viewer. This can be used to determine tight near/far planes for CSM partitions, and for tightly fitting the light frustum to just the visible shadow receivers.

The analysis requires a reduction operation, which can be done with rasterization (D3D9/10) or compute shaders (D3D11). Using this algorithm can result in sub-pixel sampling in many cases using a 2K shadow map; see the example below.

Session: Refraction & Global Illumination

Voxel-based Global Illumination

It wouldn’t be an interactive graphics conference without a paper about interactive global illumination, and here is one. The idea behind this technique is to create an atlas-based voxelization of the scene (every frame), and then perform fast ray casting into that grid. Direct lighting can be stored in the grid, or reflective shadow maps can be used; the latter seems to be preferred.

The technique is of course able to capture lighting and details that screen-space methods can’t. However, it can have artifacts that require a denser grid and a tuned offset to avoid self-intersections. Also, as noted earlier, it requires a texture atlas for generating the voxel grid. The results are interactive, if not quite real-time.

Real-Time Rough Refraction

Here the authors a solving the interesting, though somewhat specific, problem of rendering transparent materials (no scattering) with rough surfaces, which is different from translucent surfaces. Glossy reflection has been handled before; this is about glossy refraction. In this case, rays would be refracted twice, entering and exiting the surface, and this provides a fast way to perform what would otherwise be a double integration.

I wasn’t able to follow all of the math in this one, but the results are indeed real-time (> 30 fps), and comparable to what you would get out of a ray-tracer in dozens of seconds or minutes. There is also a cheap approximation for total internal reflection. This paper was selected as one of the best papers of the conference. An example with increasing roughness is shown below.

Screen-Space Bias Compensation for Interactive High-Quality Global Illumination with Virtual Point Lights

One of the problems with using virtual point lights (VPL) for global illumination is that you must apply a clamping above a certain amount of reflection to avoid pin-point light artifacts. This paper presents a fast way to compute the amount of light that was clamped away, which can then be added back to the VPL result. It is done in screen space, which can lead to some issues (as you might expect), but it is fully interactive and easy to integrate into other renderers that already have VPL.

Session: Human Animation

This is certainly not my area of expertise, so I only have a few comments about these papers.

Motion Rings for Interactive Gait Synthesis

This is human walking motion interpolation made more efficient, responding within a quarter-gait, which is necessary for interactive applications. It relies on a parameterized motion loop (called a “ring” here), and uneven terrain is handled with IK adjustments.

Realtime Human Motion Control with A Small Number of Inertial Sensors

This paper describes how to combine high-quality prerecorded motion capture data with live motion from just a few simple (noisy) sensors to enhance what would otherwise be very poor input. This is validated by comparing against the high-quality original data for motions like walking, boxing, golf swings, and jumping.

A Modular Framework for Adaptive Agent-Based Steering

Crowd simulations need hundreds of characters, but often lack local (per-person) intelligence. This paper presents a framework for dynamically choosing between one of several local steering strategies. This is able to handle fairly tight and deadlocked situations, such as two people walking toward each other down a narrow hall, though some of the resulting motion is awkward.

Session: Geometric and Procedural Modeling

Editable Polycube Map for GPU-based Subdivision Surfaces

This is an extension of previous “polycube map” work to allow transferring geometric detail from a high-resolution triangle mesh to subdivision surfaces. A simple modeling system was presented where the user creates a very coarse polycube and sketches a handful of correspondences between it and the high-resolution mesh. The results are really quite remarkable, and you can see the process below.

GPU Curvature Estimation on Deformable Meshes

It is not unusual to perform vertex skinning or iso-surface extraction on the GPU now. However, for some effects like ambient occlusion or NPR edge extraction, it is useful to have the mathematical curvature of the new surface, but this is slow or impossible to read back from the GPU. This paper presents a method for estimating curvature on the GPU in real-time, even for very detailed models, much faster than could be done on the CPU. [This paper was a “Best Paper – Honorable Mention”.]

Urban Ecosystem Design

I have seen several papers at SIGGRAPH and elsewhere about procedurally generating urban environments: basically streets and buildings. This paper procedurally adds plants (mostly trees) to such urban layouts. City blocks are assigned a level of human “manageability” which determines how organized or wild the plants in that block will be. From there, growth and competition rules are applied. Only the city geometry is taken into account, so this can be used with systems where other information (like land use) is not available. It was implemented with CUDA, and as an example, it can simulate 70 years of growth for 250,000 plants in about two minutes.

Session: Interactivity and Interaction

Data Management for SSDs for Large-Scale Interactive Graphics Applications

Here “SSD” refers to solid-state disks, so this is about organizing a graphics database to allow for efficient out-of-core rendering using SSDs instead of traditional hard disks with spinning platters. Since SSDs don’t need data ordering, locally (as opposed to globally) optimized layouts work well with them. The presentation seem to be lacking in detail, but the demo was fairly impressive: a very large scene on disk being displayed and edited very smoothly with very little RAM. For any developers working with large graphics databases I would certainly recommend reading this paper for getting some ideas.

Coherent Image-Based Rendering of Real-World Objects

This paper attempts to generate a depth map from images captured from a few cameras. The goal is to build a virtual dressing room with a “mirror”: the mirror is a display that shows you with different virtual clothes on. The entire system runs with CUDA on a single machine with a single GPU, at interactive rates even with full body movement. It exploits frame coherence, i.e., reusing parts of previous frames, to reduce latency. This was surprisingly the only paper on image-based rendering, despite the first keynote (below) being entirely about IBR.

Slice WIM: A Multi-Surface, Multi-Touch Interface for Overview+Detail Exploration of Volume Datasets in Virtual Reality

Here WIM is “world in miniature,” a technique that presents a small version of a virtual environment to help the user navigate the environment. This paper extends the technique to aid in the visualization of complex volume data generated from slices, especially for medical imaging. The resulting system consists of a large main display, a smaller horizontal touch display through which the user can manipulate the view and slices, and a head-tracked VR display for the WIM. Better to just show you! [This paper was a “Best Paper – Honorable Mention”.]

TVCG Papers

A few papers from IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics were also presented as “guests” of the conference. There didn’t seem as relevant, but I list them here:

  • Interactive Visualization of Rotational Symmetry Fields on Surfaces
  • Real-Time Ray-Tracing of Implicit Surfaces on the GPU
  • Simulating Multiple Character Interactions with Collaborative and Adversarial Goals
  • Directing Crowd Simulations Using Navigation Fields


I didn’t spend much time looking at the posters this year, but I did make note of a few that I would like to investigate further; see below. The full poster list is here [ACM Digital Library subscribers and SIGGRAPH members can download from here].

  • gHull: A Three-dimensional Convex Hull Algorithm for Graphics Hardware
  • Interactive Indirect Illumination Using Voxel Cone Tracing  [This was “Best Poster – Winner”.]
  • Level-of-Detail and Streaming Optimized Irradiance Normal Mapping
  • Poisson Disk Ray-Marched Ambient Occlusion


Image-Based Rendering: A 15-Year Retrospective

This talk was given by Rick Szeliski from Microsoft Research. As the title implies, it was an overview of image-based rendering research, covering topics such as panoramas, image-based modeling, photo tourism, and (in particular) light fields. The fundamental problem of such research is determine how to make a scene from an existing one. At one point he mentioned that Autodesk “probably” has something for image-based modeling, and indeed we do; I sent that link to him after the conference. Naty Hoffman of Activision has a longer discussion of this talk in an earlier blog posting.

From Papers to Pixels: How research finds its way into Games

This talk by Dan Baker of Firaxis was a light “rant” about what researchers should do to get their research into games. For example, they need to consider quality and ease of integration, and realize that hardware advances will make certain techniques obsolete quickly. Most of it was reasonable, but it included a number of controversial points, in my opinion. For example, “nobody uses OpenGL” and there is too much research into GPGPU.

He also started out by stating that the vast majority of the research for I3D is for games, and that everything else is “boring”… calling out “3D CAD” in particular as boring! By the end, I was quite tempted to provide an on-the-spot rebuttal from the Autodesk perspective.

A Game Developer’s Wishlist for Researchers

Chris Hecker, formerly of Maxis, presented his opinion on almost the same topic, i.e. what game developers want from researchers – I liked it better. His priorities are robustness, simplicity, and performance, in that order, but researchers often make the mistake of putting performance first. The nature of interactivity means that robustness is absolutely critical. For example, you can’t afford errors even every few hundred frames when you are rendering 30 fps. He also states that papers frequently exclude negative results and worst-case scenarios, which would be helpful for assessing robustness.

I could say more, but Chris has the full talk available here. See for yourself why he says, “We are always about to fail.”

GPU Computing: Past, Present, and Future

This was the banquet talk, given by David Luebke of NVIDIA. It was a fairly light look at the state of GPU computing, where it has come and where it will go. A lot of it went against Dan Baker’s earlier comments about GPGPU, and David made sure to point that out (and I agree).

Some of this talk had the feel of a marketing presentation for NVIDIA’s CUDA and GPU computing products like Tesla, but it is hard to deny that this area is important. He cited several cases where GPU computing is saving lives, e.g. assisting in heart surgery, malaria treatment, and cancer detection. Of course, he also mentioned graphics, scientific computing, data mining, speech processing, etc. At one point he (amusingly) pointed out that all of this innovation and technology has its roots in humble VGA controller hardware.

Mobile Computational Photography

As someone who recently started going beyond point-and-shoot photography with a DSLR camera, this talk was quite interesting. Kari Pulli of Nokia described an API for controlling digital cameras called FCam… and it’s pretty cool what skilled hands are able to do with this. Note that this isn’t really about high-end cameras: the idea is to allow even cell phone cameras to take great photos.

FCam basically makes a supporting camera programmable, allowing you to do things that the camera normally can’t do. Most of it revolves around taking multiple images and combining them to produce a better result. For example, from his talk and the site:

… take two photos with different settings back-to-back. The first frame has a high ISO and short exposure time, and the second has a low ISO and longer exposure time. The first frame tends to be noisy, while the second instead exhibits blur due to camera shake. This application combines the two frames to create an output that’s better than either.

This is absolutely something I wish I could do with my current camera. Another example he showed was combining a few images with narrow depths of field into a single image with a wide depth of field (i.e. fully sharp). Another automatically took photos until one was captured with minimal camera shake, keeping only the “good” one. All of this is done right on the camera, which is a great improvement over the typical post-processing workflow, and it can leverage metadata that only the camera has.

Tags: ,

There  have been a lot of awards recently of interest to readers of this blog; I thought it would be useful to provide an overview, as well as covering some of the more obscure awards.

The Oscars are by far the most well-known awards, bestowed annually since 1929 by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. Oscars are voted on by Academy voting members (who total about 6,000) in the relevant disciplines (e.g. directors vote for Best Director, actors for Best Actor, etc.). The Scientific and Technical Awards are especially notable; they are given in a separate ceremony in early February, two weeks before the main awards ceremony celeb-fest.

Although some of the Sci-Tech awards are still for “analog” stuff like camera mounts, lenses, and film emulsions, in recent times most of the honored developments have been digital. All except three of this year’s winners were for digital advances (the other three were for computer-controlled camera and prop cable suspension systems, so partially digital as well).

The most directly relevant award was for a development described in a SIGGRAPH paper (the 2004 paper, “An Approximate Global Illumination System for Computer Generated Films”, was even mentioned in the award text). The award was given to Eric Tabellion and Arnauld Lamorlette, “for the creation of a computer graphics bounce lighting methodology that is practical at feature film scale”. This technique (as described in the 2004 paper) is a fast one-bounce GI method that uses interesting approximations for both geometry and surface material. The paper is well worth reading; the technique was highly influential for film rendering and some of the ideas are relevant for real-time rendering as well.

Another computer graphics-related award was given to Dr. Mark Sagar “for his early and continuing development of influential facial motion retargeting solutions”. Dr. Sagar pioneered the use of the Facial Animation Coding System (FACS) for film production, starting with Monster House and supervising its use on King Kong and Avatar; this system is now widely used, with growing adoption by the game industry as well. Dr. Sagar also won an Academy Sci-Tech award last year, for his work on Light Stage.

As seen in the cable suspension case, Academy Sci-Tech awards tend to come in “clumps”. As a particular technology area is recognized as important by the Academy, several different groups who did important work in that area receive awards in one year. For example, a bunch of last year’s Sci-Tech awards were related to the digital intermediate (DI) process. The biggest “clump” this year was for another graphics-related topic: render queues (software used to manage render farms, the earliest  – and still most widespread in film production – form of parallel graphics processing):

The final computer graphics-related SciTech award was given to Tony Clark, Alan Rogers, Neil Wilson and Rory McGregor “for the software design and continued development of cineSync, a tool for remote collaboration and review of visual effects” (cineSync is developed and sold by Rising Sun Research).

Some of the main Academy Awards (announced in late February) are also of interest to readers of this blog; there’s a lot of information about these awards out there so I’ll just mention the winners for Visual Effects (Inception), Animated Feature Film (Toy Story 3), and Animated Short Film (The Lost Thing).

The closest video game equivalent to the Oscars are the Interactive Achievement Awards, bestowed annually by the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences at the annual D.I.C.E. Summit in early February. Similarly to the Oscars, they are voted for by registered AIAS members, who must be working in the appropriate game development discipline to vote on a given award. This year’s awards of interest to readers of this blog include: Outstanding Achievement in Animation (God of War III), Outstanding Achievement in Art Direction (Red Dead Redemption), and Outstanding Achievement in Visual Engineering (Heavy Rain).

The Game Developers Choice Awards are also prestigious, and are bestowed at the annual Game Developers Conference (which takes place in late February or early March). One must be a registered member of the Gamasutra website (owned by United Business Media, which also owns the Game Developers Conference) to nominate or vote, and the advisory committee which oversees the process is chosen by the editors of Game Developer Magazine (also owned by United Business Media) and Gamasutra. The Game Developers Choice Awards are unusual in thus being managed by a for-profit corporation rather than a nonprofit professional organization. This year’s awards of interest: Best Technology (Red Dead Redemption), and Best Visual Arts (Limbo).

Regarding video game awards, one notable event that happened this year (on February 12th) was the first Grammy award for music composed for a video game. The Grammys don’t have a dedicated award for video game music – this award was for a song, Baba Yetu, originally composed by Christopher Tin for Civilization IV and released on the 2009 album Calling All Dawns (which itself won a Grammy in addition to the award for Baba Yetu).

The awards given by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) are almost as well-known in the UK as the Oscars are in the US. BAFTA gives awards for TV shows and video games as well as movies.

The British Academy Film Awards were held in mid-January. Awards of interest: Animated Film (Toy Story 3), Short Animation (The Eagleman Stag – which was stop-motion, not CG), and Special Visual Effects (Inception).

One of the British Academy Television Craft Awards was of interest: Visual Effects (The Day of the Triffids).

The British Academy Video Game Awards were held in mid-March. Awards of interest: Artistic Achievement (God of War III), and Technical Innovation (Heavy Rain). A minor controversy erupted after Red Dead Redemption did not win any awards – it turns out that it was not entered by the developers (Rockstar Games), most likely for reasons related to a perceived snub that Grand Theft Auto IV (also developed by Rockstar) received in the 2009 awards.

The last set of awards I will discuss are perhaps the most directly relevant for this blog, though not as well-known as the ones previously mentioned. The Visual Effects Society (VES) is a professional organization representing practitioners in visual effects and computer-generated animation for TV, film and video games. Among their other activities, they host the VES Awards every year in early February. Due to these awards’ focus, most of them are of interest – the full list can be found here. I’ll highlight some of the most interesting awards categories, but first I wanted to mention this year’s VES Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, Ray Harryhausen. Harryhausen is a giant in the field; his pioneering stop-motion effects work on many films, from Mighty Joe Young (1949) to Clash of the Titans (1981) inspired many of today’s most prominent filmmakers. I’ve been going through his films on recent weekends with the wife and kids; most of them are great fun and well worth seeing. I’m not sure why it took the VES nine years to recognize Harryhausen (even the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, which snubbed him for the special effects Oscars throughout his career, finally awarded him the Gordon E. Sawyer Award in 1992).

This year’s VES video game award winners: Outstanding Real-Time Visual Effects in a Video Game (Halo: Reach; presented to Marcus Lehto, Joseph Tung, Stephen Scott, and CJ Cowan from Bungie – two clips related to the submission are available on YouTube: “work to be considered” clip, “before and after” clip), Outstanding Animated Character in a Video Game (StarCraft II – Sarah Kerrigan; presented to Fausto De Martini, Xin Wang, Glenn Ramos, and Scott Lange from Blizzard), Outstanding Visual Effects in a Video Game Trailer (World of Warcraft – for the Cataclysm cinematic; presented to Marc Messenger and Phillip Hillenbrand, Jr. from Blizzard).

Notable VES feature film-related awards: VES Visionary Award (Christopher Nolan), Outstanding Visual Effects in a Visual-Effects Driven Feature Motion Picture (Inception), Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Feature Motion Picture (Hereafter), Outstanding Animation in an Animated Feature Motion Picture (How to Train Your Dragon), Outstanding Achievement in an Animated Short (Day & Night), Outstanding Animated Character in a Live Action Feature Motion Picture (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 – Dobby), Outstanding Animated Character in an Animated Feature Motion Picture (How to Train Your Dragon – Toothless), Outstanding Effects Animation in an Animated Feature Motion Picture (How to Train Your Dragon).

Recognition of exceptional work is an important part of the advancement of any professional field; it’s good to see that the field of computer graphics is so well-covered in this respect.

Tags: , , , , , ,

A partial, early list of SIGGRAPH 2011 courses has recently been published. SIGGRAPH has published such preliminary lists in previous years, typically representing around half to a third of the final course list.

The list includes six very promising courses:

  1. Advances in Real-Time Rendering in Games: Part I – this is the next iteration in a course series, organized by Natalya Tatarchuk, that has been presented at SIGGRAPH every year (with new content) since 2006. This course has been a highlight of every SIGGRAPH it has appeared in and I’m pleased to see it coming back. The instructors are not yet listed, but Natasha has always been able to round up a top-notch speaker roster, and I am confident she will do so again this year. “Advances…” has always been a full-day course, though since 2008 (when SIGGRAPH canceled the full-day course format) it’s been divided into two half-day courses. Only one of the two halves appears on this list; hopefully this is a simple oversight and SIGGRAPH didn’t reject the other half of the course!
  2. Character Rigging, Deformations, and Simulations in Film and Game Production – I’m always happy to see “X in film and games”-types courses. If well-organized and presented, such courses detail the current cutting-edge of actual production practice in both industries, emphasizing interesting differences and commonalities between the two. Such crossover content is an important feature of SIGGRAPH not found in industry-specific conferences like GDC. The topic is important; many games don’t put enough of an emphasis on animation quality. The speaker list is strong, including Tim McLaughlin (a graphics researcher at Texas A&M University who also has a nice body of film VFX work he did at ILM), Larry Cutler (a character technical director at Dreamworks Animation, formerly at Pixar), and David Coleman (a Senior CG Supervisor at Electronic Arts Canada, where he leads the EA Sports rigging team).
  3. Cinematography: The Visuals & the Story – I’m very happy to see this course on the list. I have become  increasingly fascinated with cinematography over the last few years; there is a lot that video games can learn from cinematography, from creative topics like lighting and composition to technical ones such as depth of field and tone mapping. This course is taught by Bruce Block, a film producer and visual consultant who wrote a very well-regarded and influential book called The Visual Story, about how visual structure is used to present story in film. I’m trying to get a course put together for next year which would cover the topic from a different angle, as presented by working film cinematographers; the two courses should make a nicely complementary pair.
  4. Destruction and Dynamics for Film and Game Production – Another “X in film and games” course on a key topic, organized by Erwin Coumans (AMD; formerly at SCEA R&D, Havok and Guerrilla Games). Erwin is the creator of the open-source Bullet Physics engine, which has been used in many films and games. Other speakers include Takahiro Harada (a GPU physics researcher at AMD, formerly Havok and the University of Tokyo), Nafees Bin Zafar (a senior production engineer at DreamWorks Animation who won an Academy Scientific & Engineering Award for his fluid simulation work at Digital Domain), Mark Carlson (an FX R&D programmer at DreamWorks Animation, formerly at Disney Animation), Brice Criswell (a senior software engineer at ILM), Michael Baker (no affiliation listed – I’m guessing it’s the Michael Baker who teaches at the Art Institute of Las Vegas and develops tools for the Dynamica Bullet Maya plugin), and Erin Catto (a principal software engineer at Blizzard who also developed the very widely used Box2D open source 2D physics engine).
  5. PhysBAM: Physically Based Simulation – Another physics course, but with a different emphasis. It focuses on the the PhysBAM simulation library developed at Stanford University and used by ILM, Disney Animation, and Pixar. Parts of PhysBAM are already open source – since the course webpage refers to “the soon-to-be-released simulation library PhysBAM”, presumably the rest will be available soon. The course is presented by Craig Schroeder (a PhD student at Stanford).
  6. Storytelling With Color – Anyone who saw my color course last year knows that I believe that getting the technical side of color right is important, for both film and games. But the reason it is important comes from the creative side – the way that a selection of colors can drive story or establish a mood. This course covers that topic, and should be of great interest to many game developers. It will be presented by Kathy Altieri (a production designer at DreamWorks Animation who worked on filmsm including The Prince of Egypt, Over the Hedge, and How to Train Your Dragon, and previously at Disney Animation on The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and The Lion King).

If the rest of the content will be nearly as good as this preliminary set of courses appears to be, SIGGRAPH 2011 will be a conference to remember!

Tags: ,

GDC has put a bit of a hiatus in my I3D posts; I better get them done soon so I can move onto the GDC posts.

This post describes a talk that David Luebke (Director of Research at NVIDIA) gave during the I3D banquet titled GPU Computing: Past, Present, and Future. Although the slides for the I3D talk are not available, parts of this talk appear to be similar to one David gave a few months ago, which does have video and slides available.

I’ll summarize the talk here; anyone interested in more detail can view the materials linked above.

The first part of the talk (which isn’t in the earlier version) covered the “New Moore’s Law”: computers no longer get faster, just wider; must re-think algorithms to be parallel. David showed examples of several scientists which got profound speedups – from days to minutes. He covered several different techniques, I’ll summarize the most notable four:

  1. A “photonic fence” that zaps mosquitoes with lasers, to reduce the incidence of malaria in third world countries. This application needs fast computer vision combined with low power consumption, which was achieved by using GPUs.
  2. A military vehicle which detects Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) using computer vision techniques. The speedup afforded by using GPUs enables the vehicle to drive much faster (an obvious advantage when surrounded by hostile insurgents) while still reliably detecting IEDs.
  3. A method for processing CT scans that enables much reduced radiation exposure for the patient. When running on CPUs, the algorithm was impractically slow; GPUs enabled it to run fast enough to be used in practice.
  4. A motion compensation technique that enables surgery on a beating heart. The video of the heart is motion-compensated to appear static to the surgeon, who operates through a surgical robot that translates the surgeon’s motions into the moving frame of the heart.

David started the next part of the talk (which is very similar to the earlier version linked above)  by going over the heritage of GPU computing. He did so by going over three separate historical threads: graphics hardware, supercomputing, and finally GPU Computing.

The “history of graphics hardware” section started with a brief mention of a different kind of hardware: Dürer‘s perspective machine. The history of electronic graphics hardware started with Ivan Sutherland’s SketchPad and continues through the development of the graphics pipeline by SGI: Geometry Engine (1982), RealityEngine (1993), and InfiniteReality (1997). In the early days, the graphics pipeline was an actual description of the physical hardware structure: each stage was a separate chip or board, with the data flow fixed by the routing of wires between them. Currently, the graphics pipeline is an abstraction; the stages are different threads running on a shared pool of cores, as seen in modern GPU designs such as the GeForce 8, GT200, and Fermi.

The second historical thread was the development of supercomputers. David covered the early development of three ways to build a parallel machine: SIMD (Goddard MPP, Maspar MP-1, Thinking Machines CM-1 and CM-2), hardware multithreading (Tera MTA) and symmetric multiprocessing (SGI Challenge, Sun Enterprise) before returning to Fermi as an example of a design that combines all three.

“GPU computing 1.0” was the use (or abuse) of graphics pipelines and APIs to do general-purpose computing, culminating with BrookGPU. CUDA ushered in “GPU computing 2.0” with an API designed for that purpose. The hardware supported branching and looping, and hid thread divergence from the programmer. David claimed that now GPU computing is in a “3.0” stage, supported by a full ecosystem (multiple APIs, languages, algorithms, tools, IDEs, production lines, etc.). David estimated that there are about 100,000 active GPU compute developers in the world. Currently CUDA includes features such as “GPU Direct” (direct GPU-to-GPU transfer via a unified address space), full C++ support, and a template library.

The “future” part of the talk discussed the workloads that will drive future GPUs. Besides current graphics and high performance computing workloads, David believes a new type of workload, which he calls computational graphics, will be important. In some cases this will be the use of GPU compute to improve (via better performance or flexibility) algorithms typically performed using the graphics pipeline (image histogram analysis for HDR tone mapping, depth of field, bloom, texture-space diffusion for subsurface scattering, tessellation), and in others it will be to perform algorithms for which the graphics pipeline is not well-suited: ray tracing, stochastic rasterization, or dynamic object-space ambient occlusion.

David believes that the next stage of GPU computing (“4.0”) poses challenges to APIs (such as CUDA), to researchers, and to the education community. CUDA needs to be able to elegantly express programming models beyond simple parallelism, it needs to better express locality, and the development environment needs to improve and mature. Researchers need to foster new high-level libraries, languages, and platforms, as well as rethinking their algorithms. Finally, computer science curricula need to start teaching parallel computing in the first year.

Tags: , ,

An industry session kicked off the second day of I3D (there were papers on the first day that I’m skipping over since I’ll do a paper roundup post later).

This session was comprised of two talks by game industry speakers – Dan Baker (Firaxis), and Chris Hecker (currently working on the indie game SpyParty). I’ll summarize each talk as well as the discussion that followed.

Dan Baker’s talk: “From Papers to Pixels: how Research Finds (or Often Doesn’t) its Way into Games”

Dan started by stressing that although most interactive graphics research has games as the primary target application, researcher’s priorities and the needs of the game industry are often misaligned. Game developers prize papers that enable increasing visual quality and/or productivity, describe techniques that are art-directable, and that inspire further work.

Dan complained that researchers appear to prize novelty over practicality. Often papers intended to inspire future research instead create things nobody needs, like a cheese grater-mousetrap combination (an actual patent registration). Papers are judged by other researchers who often lack the background needed to determine their utility.

As Dan pointed out, the vast majority of graphics papers over the years have not been used. He illustrated this by contrasting two papers which had citation rates wildly out of step with their actual real-world impact.

The first example was the progressive meshes paper – one of the most widely cited papers in the field, but it had very little practical impact. Why wasn’t it used? Dan identified three primary reasons:

  1. It solved an already solved problem – artists were already trained to create low-polygon models and weren’t looking for automatic tools which they couldn’t control and which would require changes to the tool chain. Building the mesh was a relatively small part of the art asset pipeline in any case.
  2. The process was fragile and the quality of the final result varied.
  3. Hardware advances rapidly reduced the importance of vertex and triangle throughput as bottlenecks.

In contrast, a paper on vertex cache optimization (written by the same author – Hughes Hoppe) had very low citation rates. However, it had a profound impact in practice. Almost every game pipeline implements similar techniques – it is considered professional negligence at this point not to. Why is this paper so heavily used by game developers?

  1. It was easy to implement and integrate into the asset pipeline.
  2. It did not impact visual quality.
  3. It increased performance across the board.
  4. It remained valuable in the face of ongoing hardware changes.

The reason papers languish is not developers apathy; if a paper offers promise of solving an important problem, game developers will try to implement it. Dan mentioned talking to graphics programmers at a game development conference shortly after the variance shadow maps paper was published – all of them had tried to implement it (although they eventually abandoned it due to artifacts). Dan gave three rules to help researchers seeking to do relevant research for game development:

  1. Hardware advances can rapidly render techniques irrelevant, but this can typically be predicted based on current trends.
  2. Give developers something they need – an incremental improvement to something useful is better than a profound advance in an esoteric area.
  3. Radical changes in the way things are done are difficult to sell.

Dan gave several examples of graphics research used by Firaxis in Civilization V (participating media, subsurface scattering, Banks and Ashikhmin-Shirley anisotropic BRDFs, wavelet splines, and smoothed particle hydrodynamics), and suggested that researchers interact more with game developers (via sabbaticals and internships). He ended by listing some areas he wants to see more research in:

  • MIP generation for linear reconstruction
  • Temporally stable bloom
  • Texture compression
  • Shader anti-aliasing
  • Better normal generation from height data
  • Better cloth shading

Chris Hecker’s talk: “A Game Developer’s Wish List for Researchers”

Chris recorded the audio of his talk, and has a flash animation of the slides synchronized to the audio (as well as separate downloads) on his website.

One comment Chris made resonated with me, although it was unrelated to the main topic of his talk. He said he thought games are around where films were in 1905 in terms of development. I’ve been looking a lot into the history of films lately, and that sounds about right to me – games still have a long way to go. Anyway, back to the theme of stuff game developers want from researchers. Chris stated that although it is commonly thought that the top (indeed only) priority for game developers is performance, the top three game technology priorities in his opinion are robustness, simplicity, and performance, in that order. He went into some more detail on each of these.

Robustness: this is important because of interactivity. Players can get arbitrarily close to things, look at them from different angles, etc. and everything needs to hold up. Chris describes several dimensions of robustness: what are the edge cases (when does it break), what are the failure modes (how does it break), what are the downsides to using the technique, is the parameter space simply connected (i.e. can you tweak and interpolate the parameters and get reasonable results), and are the negative results described (things the researchers tried that didn’t work). Published papers in particular have a robustness problem – when game developers try to implement them they typically don’t work. Page limits mitigate against a proper analysis of drawbacks, implementation tips, etc. Now that most journals and conference proceedings are going paperless, Chris claimed that there is no reason to have these restrictive page limits.

Simplicity: Chris stated that games are always at the edge of systemic complexity failure. If the toolchain is not on the edge of collapse, that means the game developers missed out on an opportunity to add more stuff. It’s the classic “straw that breaks the camel’s back” problem – the added complexity needed to implement a given technique might not seem large by itself, but the existing complexity of the system needs to be taken into account. If the technique does not provide a 10X improvement in some important metric, adding any complexity is not worth it. Simplicity, even crudeness, is a virtue in game development. Like robustness, simplicity also has many dimensions: are the implications of the technique explainable to artists, does it have few parameters, is the output intuitive, are the results art-directable, is it easy to integrate into the tools pipeline, what dependencies (code, preprocessing, markup, order, compatibility) does the technique have, etc.

Performance: As Chris described it, this is different than classic computer science performance. The constant matters, typically more than the O() notation. Researchers need to specify the time it takes for their technique to operate in milliseconds, instead of giving a frames-per-second count that is useless since it includes overheads for rendering some arbitrary scene. It’s important to discuss worst case performance and optimize for that, rather than for the average case. Researchers should not just focus on embarrassingly parallel algorithms, and should do real comparisons of their technique’s performance. A “real comparison” means comparing against real techniques used in practice, against real (typically highly optimized) implementations used in the field, using real inputs, real scenes and real working set sizes. The issue of “real scenes” in particular is more nuanced than commonly thought – it’s not enough to have the same triangle count as a game scene. Any given game scene will have a particular distribution of triangle sizes, and particular “flavors” of overdraw, materials, shadows, lighting, etc. that all have significant performance implications.

Chris talked about the importance of providing source code. Researchers typically think about their paper as being rigorous, and their source code as being “dirty” or “hacky”. However, the source code is the most rigorous description of the algorithm. You can’t handwave details or gloss over edge cases in source code. Availability of source code greatly increases the chance of games developers using the technique. Given that only a small fraction of papers are relevant to game developers (and a small fraction of those work as advertised), the cost of implementing each paper just to figure out if it works is prohibitively high.

As for what to research, Chris stated that researchers should avoid “solutions looking for problems” – they should talk to game developers to find out what the actual urgent problems are. If the research is in the area of graphics, it needs to integrate well with everything else. AI research is especially tricky since AI is game design; the algorithm’s behavior will directly affect the gameplay experience. In the case of animation research, it is important to remember that interactivity is king; the nicest looking animation is a failure if it doesn’t respond fluidly to player commands. Perceptual models and metrics are an important area of research – what is important when it comes to visuals?

Chris ended his talk with a few miscellaneous recommendations to researchers:

  • Don’t patent! If you do, warn us in the abstract so we can skip reading the paper.
  • Put the paper online, not behind a paywall.
  • Publish negative results – knowing what didn’t work is as important as knowing what did.
  • Answer emails – often developers have questions about the technique (not covered in the paper due to page limits).
  • Play games! Without seeing examples of what games are doing now, it’s hard to know what they will need in the future.

Following discussions:

These two talks sparked lots of discussion in the Q&A sections and during subsequent breaks. The primary feeling among the researchers was that game developers have a very one-sided view of the relationship. While researchers do want their research to have a practical impact, they also have more direct needs, such as funding. Computer graphics research used to be largely funded by the military; this source dried up a while ago and many researchers are struggling for funding. If it’s true that games are the primary benefactor of research into computer graphics research, shouldn’t the game industry be the primary funding source as well?

Regarding the use of “real” data, most of the researchers are anxious to do so, but very few game companies will provide it! Valve is a notable exception, and indeed several of the papers at I3D used level data from Left 4 Dead 2. More game developers need to provide their data, if they hope for research which works well on their games.

Companies in other industries do a much better job of working with academic researchers, establishing mutually beneficial relationships. Industry R&D groups (Disney Research, HP Labs, Adobe’s Advanced Technology Labs, Microsoft Research, Intel Research, NVIDIA Research, etc.) are a key interface between industry and academia; if more game companies established such groups, that could help.

Tags: ,

Photos from I3D 2011

Provided by Mauricio Vives: feast your squinties. Lots of headshots, which I’m sure the speakers (and their moms) will appreciate. I certainly do; it’s great putting a face to a name.

Also, save the date: as the last slide shows, March 9-11 2012 is the next I3D, in Costa Mesa, California. I’m suitably impressed that next year’s co-chairs (Sung-Eui Yoon and Gopi Meenakshisundaram) already have a place and date. This was possible since they’re colocating I3D to directly follow IEEE VR, which is March 4-8.

One photo, “Carlo’s Models“:

Tags: ,

Today was the first day of I3D 2011. I3D (full name: ACM SIGGRAPH Symposium on Interactive 3D Graphics and Games) is a great little conference – it’s small enough so you can talk to most of the people attending, and the percentage of useful papers is relatively high.

I’ll split my I3D report into several smaller blog posts to ensure timely updates; this one will focus on the opening keynote.

The keynote was titled “Image-Based Rendering: A 15-Year Retrospective”, presented  by Richard Szeliski (Microsoft Research), who’s been involved with a lot of the important research in this area. He started with a retrospective of the research in this area, and then followed with a discussion of a specific application: panoramic image stitching. Early research in this area lead to QuickTime VR, and panoramic stitching is now supported in many cameras as a basic feature. Gigapixel panoramas are common – see a great example of one from Obama’s inaugural address by Gigapan (360 cities is another good panorama site). Street-level views such as Google Street View and Bing’s upcoming Street Slide feature use sequences of panoramas.

Richard then discussed the mathematical basis of image-based rendering: a 4D space of light rays (reliant on the fact that radiance is constant over a ray – in participating media this no longer holds and you have to go to a full 5D plenoptic field). Having some geometric scene information is important, it is hard to get good results with just a 4D collection of rays  (this was the main difference between the first two implementations – lumigraphs and light fields). Several variants of these were developed over the years (e.g. unstructured lumigraphs and surface light fields).

Several successful developments used lower-dimensional “2.5D” representations such as layered depth images (a “depth image” is an image with a depth value as well as a color associated with each pixel). Richard remarked that Microsoft’s Kinect has revolutionized this area by making depth cameras (which used to cost many thousands of dollars) into $150 commodities; a lot of academic research is now being done using Kinect cameras.

Image-based modeling started primarily with Paul Debevec’s “Facade” work in 1996. The idea was to augment a very simple geometric model (which back then was created manually) with “view dependent textures” that combine images from several directions to remove occluded pixels and provide additional parallax. Now this can be done automatically at a large scale – Richard showed an aerial model of the city of Graz which was automatically generated in 2009 from several airplane flyovers – it allowed for photorealistic renders with free camera motion in any direction.

Richard also discussed environment matting, as well as video-based techniques such as video rewrite, video matting, and video textures. This last paper in particular seems to me like it should be revisited for possible game applications – it’s a powerful extension of the common practice of looping a short sequence of images on a sprite or particle.

Richard next talked about cases where showing the results of image-based rendering in a less realistic or lower-fidelity way can actually be better – similar to the “uncanny valley” in human animation.

The keynote ended by summarizing the areas where image-based rendering is currently working well, and areas where more work is needed. Automatic 3D pose estimation of the camera from images is pretty robust, as well as automatic aerial and manually augmented ground-level modeling. However, some challenges remain: accurate boundaries and matting, reflections & transparency, integration with recognition algorithms, and user-generated content.

For anyone interested in more in-depth research into these topics, Richard has written a computer vision book, which is also available freely online.

Tags: ,

Here’s a short guide on creating decent ebooks from scans using Adobe Acrobat. This will not be of interest to 98% of you, but I want to record it somewhere for those of you who may do this in the future. It is written by Iliyan Georgiev, who made the recent PoDIS ebook. Comments are welcome, as usual.

The one piece of software you’ll need that can’t be downloaded for free is Adobe Acrobat, though even this application has a 30-day free trial.

1. Scan the pages of the book using a scanner (a digital camera is a good alternative).

2. Crop the scanned images (and split the pages, if you scanned two pages at once). It’s better for an ebook to have smaller page margins. Also, cropping removes black areas and other artifacts resulting from scanning. An excellent (JPEG-only) batch cropping tool for Windows is JPEGCrops. It has some disadvantages, however, so in practice it’s best to use JPEGCrops to estimate approximate cropping parameters (width, height, x-offset, y-offset) and XnView‘s batch processing mode for the actual cropping. Both applications are free and have portable versions.

3. Assemble all images into a PDF file. Adobe Acrobat has an option to combine multiple files into a single PDF. Use the highest quality settings for the creation.

4. (OPTIONAL) Rearrange/merge/delete pages. Acrobat has excellent tools to achieve these. This can be useful for books that are published in two volumes or for extending the book with additional information, such as errata listings, images, high quality cover pages, etc.

5. Manage blank pages. It might be tempting to delete blank pages inside the book. Such pages are always intentionally left blank by the publishers, as they are important for the printing order. This is particularly important for the first few pages, as well as for the chapters. Many books are created in such a way that all chapters start on an even/odd page, and the large majority have the inner pages typeset for being printed on a specific side (left/right). If you want to optimize the page count anyway, keep in mind how the book would appear when printed out (also using “2 pages per sheet” printing).

6. Number the pages. This is an often-overlooked, but very useful, option. Apart from the default page numbering, the PDF format supports logical page numbering. This can be used to synchronize the PDF page numbers with the actual book page numbers. This is very easy to do in Acrobat and should always be done. To do this, select the necessary pages, right click on them and choose “Number Pages…”.

7. Run OCR (optical character recognition) on the PDF. This is an extremely easy way to make your scanned pages searchable and the text copy/paste-able. Acrobat has a good and easy to use built-in OCR tool. You will find it in the Document menu (Tools pane in Acrobat X). Be sure to disable image resampling, as by default OCR will resample the images, which can easily increase the file size by a huge amount! Keep in mind that OCR is a compute-intensive process and can easily take a couple of hours for a larger book.

8. Optimize document. Acrobat has an option to optimize scanned documents. This runs some image-processing algorithms on the scanned images and compresses them aggressively when it detects text. This is a vital step to keep the size of the document low. It can reduce the file size by a factor of 20! It will also make the antialiasing to look better when pages are minified, if the resolution of the original scans is high enough. This process is also compute-intensive and can easily take an hour for a larger book.

9. (OPTIONAL) Reduce the file size further by using Acrobat’s other optimization options, from which the image downsampling is the most important.

At this point the most important steps are done and you can end here and go to sleep if you see the sunrise through the window. Go on if it’s only 4 AM.

10. (OPTIONAL) Setting the initial view. Open the document properties on the Initial View tab. Here, you can set the initial page, zoom level and which panes (e.g. the bookmarks pane, see below) should be active when the document is opened.

11. (OPTIONAL) Create a PDF table of contents (TOC). The PDF format has a useful (hierarchical) bookmarking feature with a dedicated Bookmarks pane which exists also in Adobe Reader. This feature can be used to reconstruct the book’s TOC for easy document navigation. One simple way to achieve this is the following:
11.a Go to the book’s Contents page, select the chapter title’s text and hit CTRL+B (or right click and choose to add a bookmark from the context menu). Repeat this for each chapter.
11.b Structure the created bookmarks. Rearrange the bookmarks to follow the order and structure of the book’s TOC.
11.c Link the bookmarks to pages. To do this, go over all pages of the book sequentially and every time a new chapter starts, right click on the corresponding bookmark and set the destination to the current page.

12. (OPTIONAL) Create hyperlinks inside the document. The PDF format also supports hyperlinks which can perform actions (e.g. jump to a page or a web site) when clicked. Links can be either rectangles (drawn with a corresponding tool) or text. To create text links, select the text, right click on it and choose to crate a link. There are options to set the link’s appearance and behavior.

You’re done! You have the perfect ebook and you’re late for work!

Tags: , , ,

This video was published by Eurogamer‘s Digital Foundry department about two weeks ago; it shows footage captured from various games in the Gran Turismo series. What is remarkable about this video is that the same cars and tracks are shown on the original Playstation, the PSP, the Playstation 2 and Playstation 3. Since the developer (Polyphony Digital) has a reputation for squeezing the best visuals out of Sony’s platforms, this promises a rare “apples-to-apples” comparison across multiple hardware generations.

To my eyes, the display resolution changes drown out the more subtle differences in modeling, shading and lighting; it is also apparent to me that Polyphony no longer sits on the graphics throne in this generation. Other first-party PS3 titles such as Uncharted 2 and God of War III look better, in my opinion. The shadows are a particular weak spot: in places their resolution seems no higher than on the original Playstation!

More information on how the video was captured (as well as high-quality download links) can be found in Digital Foundry’s blog post.


« Older entries § Newer entries »