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DAY ONE – THE JOURNEY
And so it began, with three intrepid adventurers setting out from their comfortable office in Norwich to journey across the great ocean expanse to the far-off land of California.
18 hours of journeying, as it turned out, from door-to-door, including a rather epic 12 hour flight, complete with appalling food (which got worse the more you thought about it), strangely coughing men and – thankfully – an excellent selection of in-flight movies.
Having picked up our car the other end, we embarked on a daring night-time drive across Los Angeles, an experience that soon proved to be utterly terrifying, primarily due to the tendency of American cars to handle more like boats. With Tim reading the map like a professional rally navigator (which mostly involved shouting “RED LIGHT!”) and Josh gripping the wheel like his life depended on it (which it did), Jack decided to contribute by promptly falling asleep on the back seat.
30 minutes later we arrived at our hotel, which was a welcome oasis of comfort after the LA drive. It also had an excellent bar, complete with Jake Gyllenhaal and steep prices – a few cocktails were exactly what we needed.
DAY TWO - SIGGRAPH
The troupe continued on their way, traversing 130 miles of arid desert to reach the safety of the fabled city of San Diego.
We quickly came to the conclusion that US Interstate lane discipline is ever so slightly...silly. In the UK there’s a specific overtaking lane, so you always know where to expect cars to come from. Not so across the pond, where vehicles can come at you from any direction! Nevertheless, the trip from LA to SD was a quick and easy one, cruising along the coastline in the Cadillac.
Arriving at the San Diego Conference Centre at 10am, we were immediately struck by the sheer size of the place – it was bigger than some airports. San Diego was basking in absolutely beautiful weather, with perfect blue skies, luscious green grass and a gleaming entrance to the conference.
Siggraph itself was a little smaller than expected, taking up only a fifth of the conference centre’s floorspace – in contrast, Comic-Con a couple of weeks before had occupied the entire building.
Launching quickly into the arcane art of networking, we soon got chatting with lots of different companies. It was particularly exciting to finally get to meet the people that work at places like Pixar, ILM, Disney and Digital Domain – all companies that have been big inspirations to us here at FXhome.com and no doubt to many of you guys, too. The Pixar guys had actually heard of FXhome, which was rather thrilling! We should have more coming from this angle in the future...
We also had the pleasure of meeting many schools and universities from around the world, who were also attending the show either to show off their research or simply check out what’s happening in computer graphics. It’s always good to meet people that either already use our software or have an interest, so their feedback was much appreciated.
Other companies that had some cool software on display included ToonBoon, Maxon and Eyeon, all of whom were friendly and more than happy to show off their latest gizmos. Eyeon Fusion in particular is a hugely impressive high-end compositing solution (complete with a high-end price tag, of course!). It was also good to meet fellow UK website gurus 3DTotal.com, who we’ll hopefully join up with again sometime soon.
In terms of the most impressive tech at the show, it’d have to be a showdown between Massive and Moven. Massive is, of course, the famous system that created the gigantic armies in the Lord of the Rings movies, generating thousands of individual soldiers that could run about and fight each other. It’s made huge advances since then and is now vastly more impressive – we can’t wait to see some of the new stuff that’s using it.
Moven is a spiffy motion capture system that, rather brilliantly, completely removes the need for the traditional multiple camera set-ups and awkward mocap suits covered in white dots. Instead, the suit is filled with nifty wireless devices that can be tracked in 3D space by a sensor, which feeds the info back to the computer. It’s a little like having lots of Wii controllers strapped to your body!
After the drive back, the day was rounded off by visiting Barney’s Beanery, allegedly the third oldest restaurant in LA. We're not sure if that’s true, but we did discover one undeniable fact: Americans are vastly, vastly better at karaoke than us Brits. Karaoke in the UK is more like consensual group torture, whereas at Barney’s it was more like attending a proper gig. Remarkable!
DAY THREE – UNIVERSAL STUDIOS
In which the three comrades explored Hollywood movie magic, spied a star and were reunited with a daredevil of the silver screen.
Having ‘done’ Siggraph rather unexpectedly in a single day, we decided to unwind a little, heading down to Universal Studios to take the famous ‘studio tour’. It was excellent stuff, with a fascinating look at a major working studio, including glimpses of Will Smith shooting his latest movie (unfortunately Charlize Theron was hidden behind a tree).
Back at the hotel we met up with Adam Kirley, FXhome’s resident stuntman extraordinaire, whom we had first met at the NightCast world premiere back in March. You may remember him from such stunt extravaganzas as Batman Begins, Casino Royale and The Bourne Ultimatum, as well as Project One and the FXhome Zurich Diary! He’s currently out in LA working on none other than Indiana Jones 4.
Yes, we are all extremely jealous of him.
Due to contractual stuff he wasn’t allowed to say anything about Indy 4, but he did assure us that it’s going to be great and a worthy addition to the series. We can’t wait! We’re also hoping to work with Adam on a few other projects later in the year...more on those another time.
DAY FOUR – THE RETURN
The quest complete, the trio travelled back across the sea, returning to their homeland to deliver a report to their masters.
The final day allowed for a quick visit to Venice Beach, which turned out to be a market in disguise, with people trying to sell you things on all sides. It was here that Tim discovered possibly the world’s largest meat sandwich. It was arguably big enough to use as a mattress.
With our Siggraph trip successful, there was nothing left to do but jump on a plane and head back to the UK. Having landed at Heathrow, Josh was extremely happy to get back behind the wheel of his BMW, a car that thankfully was built with the ability to actually turn corners.
This year's trip to Siggraph proved to be a good one, for both the company and the community. We're looking forward to Siggraph 2008!