SIGGRAPH 2015: Dream It, Build It

Ken Turkowski

Ken Turkowski

September 10, 2015

I had the pleasure of attending SIGGRAPH 2015 in Los Angeles. The Association for Computing Machinery’s Special Interest Group in Graphics (ACM SIGGRAPH) community is not constrained by real-world limitations. They are bound by the philosophy that “if you can dream it, you can build it.” The culmination of the community’s effort is showcased at the annual SIGGRAPH Conference on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques.


Interactive immersion and photorealism

The community has mainly been evolving along two fronts: interactive immersion and photorealism.

Interactive immersion was first demonstrated in 1967 by Ivan Sutherland’s head-mounted motion-tracked stereo-optic display of a wireframe cube, but has been frustrated by the lack of real-time rendering hardware for decades, until recently with the advent of inexpensive virtual reality (VR) displays such as the Oculus Rift, Google Cardboard and others. There has been an explosion of interest and applications in the past year.

Screen Shot 2015-09-04 at 3.02.25 PM

Photorealism has been advancing steadily since Bui Tuong Phong developed a mathematical model of specular (shiny) highlights in 1973, by incorporating a ton of mathematics and physics: ordinary and partial differential equations, manifolds and topology, radiative transport, reflection, refraction. This year brought major advances in the photorealistic rendering of human skin, hair, and fluids.



Interoperability: Science and art, gaming and film

The SIGGRAPH community is an unlikely coalition of left-brained and right-brained people where the scientists are inspired by the creations of the artists, and the artists are enamored with the technology developed by the researchers. Similarly, the game industry is blown away by the realism achieved by film industry developments, and the film industry is anxious to incorporate the game industry’s cheating hacks to dramatically reduce their frame rendering time.

The community has its reach in:

Film production
Virtual reality
2D printers
Virtual human actors
Fluid simulation
2D & 3D scanners
Character animation
Material science
Inverse kinematics
Solid modeling
Image processing
Light transport
Performance capture
Biped & quadriped locomotion
2D graphics
3D printers

Technical, creative, and emerging advancements

The core of the conference is in the technology developed in the academic and industrial labs, as illustrated in the Technical Papers trailerAttendees learn new algorithms and insights from the presenters, and many of the papers the presenters use are still available. One of the highlights of the technical program is the “Papers Fast Forward”, where researchers and speakers present the essential points of their research in 30 seconds. It takes two hours to go through 160 papers!

The Animation Festival highlights advancements in creative techniques. Various ACM SIGGRAPH local chapters will  be screening the Electronic Theater – the best of the animation festival. Make sure to see it when it comes to your area!

Advances in interactivity is exemplified by the Real-Time Live event. Games have an obvious need for real-time interactivity, but so do medical, scientific and data visualization, and avatars acting as personal assistants.

The Emerging Technologies exhibit is our portal into the future. It displays the latest interactive and graphics technologies that are transforming the way we view and live in the world. This year, the Emerging Technologies had a VR Village section, where you could experience virtual reality on inexpensive devices, such as Google Cardboard, which transforms your cell phone into VR goggles for a few dollars.

SIGGRAPH Studio and exhibition

The SIGGRAPH Studio offers hands-on experimentation right at the conference. Here you can build interactive widgets to amuse your friends.

There is also the SIGGRAPH exhibition, where manufacturers of graphically-related products display their wares. These were my personal favorites:

Screen Shot 2015-09-04 at 3.27.13 PM


On the Kinoma team, we utilize the techniques and insights from applications of computer graphics to improve the utility, robustness and speed of our graphically-related APIs.

Of particular relevance to my current work were sessions on scalable graphics, including scaling variations of icons, vector graphics animation, techniques of robust numerical computation, and the new Vulkan high-speed graphics API.

SIGGRAPH provides a vision of future applications; we then get a head start on new development. This ensures the Kinoma developer community has mature and reliable software ready for deployment when new applications come out of the labs and into the mainstream.

Additionally, SIGGRAPH enables us to keep abreast of developing standards, as well as influence their evolution.

Upcoming SIGGRAPH events

SIGGRAPH was an incredible experience. They recently released a few videos from the conference, including the inspiring Keynote Address by Joichi (Joi) Ito, Director of the MIT Media Lab.

If you want to see all the great things that SIGGRAPH has to offer in person, the next few SIGGRAPH events are:

  • SIGGRAPH Asia 2015 in Kobe, Japan, 2-5 Nov 2015
  • SIGGRAPH 2016 in Anaheim, CA, USA, 24-18 July 2016
  • SIGGRAPH 2017 in Los Angeles, CA, USA, 30 July – 3 Aug 2017


I hope to see you there!


Ken Turkowski is a Senior Software Engineer on the Kinoma team at Marvell. He specializes in 2D & 3D graphics, digital video, image processing, computer vision, image compression, signal processing, dynamics, and numerical analysis. Over the course of 24 years, he served as Chair, Vice-Chair, and Treasurer of ACM SIGGRAPH’s Silicon Valley Chapter. Ken has worked for or consulted for Dolby Laboratories, Google, Apple, Adobe, Fakespace Labs, Intuitive Surgical, and Stanford University. He has published several papers, and hold seven patents. Ken received his B.S. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; and his M.Engr., Elect. Engr. & Com. Sci. from University of California at Berkeley.

Photo credits: Interactive 3D Modelling in Outdoor Augmented Reality Worlds: A Research Thesis for the Degree of the Doctor of Philosophy, By Wayne Piekarski. Single-View Hair Modeling Using A Hairstyle Database, by Hu, Ma, Luo & Li; Detailed Spatio-Temporal Reconstruction of Eyelids, by Bermano, Beeler, Kozlov, Bradley, Bickel &Gross; Codimensional Non-Newtonian Fluids by Bo Zhu; Disney•Pixar’s “Lava”: Moving Mountains; An Auto-Multiscopic Projector Array for Interactive Digital Humans; Sensel; 3D Systems.