Show Report: SIGGRAPH 2005

17 Aug, 2005 By: Jeffrey Rowe

Lots of entertainment and gaming technologies, but some CAD, too

Early this month, I attended SIGGRAPH 2005 in Los Angeles, along with more than 29,000 other attendees. SIGGRAPH is devoted to computer graphics and interactive techniques, primarily for the entertainment and game-development communities, but you’ll also find some representation of scientific and industrial applications, including CAD.

A clear indication of the conference’s target audience was its keynote speaker: George Lucas, creator of the Star Wars and Indiana Jones movies, among many others. I arrived too late to see his presentation, but heard it was great.

Emerging Technologies
One of the more interesting areas of SIGGRAPH was the Emerging Technologies exhibition, which featured a variety of interactive installations with potential to enhance our lives. The installations came from research labs, universities, independent creators and industry, and explored the dynamics of technology as it relates to the human experience, communication and interaction.

One demonstration, called Haptic Video, provided a precise and proactive approach for transmitting physical skills. Haptic is anything related to the sense of touch. By recording the working environment as well as the movement and force of an expert instructor, Haptic Video works to develop an archiving system so that all pertinent skill information can be reproduced dynamically. The archiving system clarifies the meaning of proactivity for “active touch” to verify the system’s effectiveness as a training device and to demonstrate how haptic devices can be used to substantially improve existing skills. This technology has a potential future in the real world by providing immense efficiency gains for training in delicate procedures, such as surgery.

The SIGGRAPH organization provided some statistics on forecasting 2D and 3D commercial/industrial computer graphics applications for today and the year 2010.  For 2005, the total forecast is $130 billion, of which $60 billion is 3D and $23 billion is CAD/CAM. For 2010, SIGGRAPH’s total forecast for this market is $208 billion, of which $116 billion will be 3D and $30 billion CAD/CAM. Pretty impressive statistics for both today and five years hence.

More than 250 vendors exhibited at the event, but relatively few offered CAD-related software. The two products that follow do have relevance to the mechanical design and CAD world – although one of them is for a “smaller” market segment, as you’ll see.

Although SketchUp has been popular in architecture for awhile, it is just beginning to find a home in the mechanical design world. It’s a deceptively simple yet powerful tool for quickly creating, viewing and modifying 3D ideas. SketchUp combines the spontaneity of pencil sketching with the flexibility of digital media. It was developed for the conceptual stages of design and 3D form creation through an interface that supports a dynamic, creative exploration of 3D form, material and light.

SketchUp combines a compact yet robust toolset with a guidance system that streamlines the 3D drawing process. Design software has been evolving for a long time, but I’ve always thought that  something was missing — the freedom, flexibility and, yes, the fun that should be integral to the design process. In most cases, traditional CAD software is necessary for developing detailed drawings, but it's too cumbersome for most true conceptual design work. SketchUp bridges this gap.

SketchUp’s Push/Pull tool, as the name implies, lets you click on a shape and push or pull it to create desired 3D geometry. It’s more than just an extrude tool, because it allows you to create complex forms pretty efficiently. Its real-time renderer lets you visually soften your drawings with rendering effects such as jitter lines, extended edges and dynamic profiles, so they look like hand-drawn sketches.

With SketchUp, you can import a DWG/DXF site plan as a starting point for design, work up a quick 3D model, then export back to DWG/DXF to create production documents. SketchUp also exports 3DS, VRML, PDF, EPS, JPG, TIF, PNG and a variety of other file formats.

As I said earlier, a couple of years ago, if you wanted to use SketchUp for mechanical design, the company’s response would have been, “Sorry, SketchUp doesn't do curvy stuff.” Today, though, SketchUp offers tools such as the Intersector that can do Boolean-like modeling.

SketchUp also has a new Component Library for Mechanical Design that contains hundreds of gears, piping and other common components that you can drag and drop into your designs.

SketchUp isn't a replacement for MCAD software, but it looks as if it could be very useful during the conceptual stages of mechanical product design.

Cosmic Blobs
OK, Cosmic Blobs is a software package for kids, but it’s the most powerful 3D graphics software ever created just for the younger set. Believe it or not, Cosmic Blobs is developed and marketed by Dassault Systèmes — the same company that brings us SolidWorks and CATIA — and provides its targeted young users with the opportunity to learn and design in 3D. (How smart is that for a future market?) Cosmic Blobs extends children’s imaginations by letting them go beyond just consuming 3D digital images. Instead, they can emulate, create and manipulate inventions and characters inspired not only by TV, movies and video games, but by their own  imaginations.

A critical difference between Cosmic Blobs and other creativity software is that Blobs involves three dimensions — like sculpting an object with clay in 3D vs. just sketching it with a pencil in 2D. The interface of the creativity software resembles a colorful chemistry lab. Instead of reading menus, kids intuitively apply 3D processes such as stretching, squeezing and rotating. The blob can have elegant lines and any of hundreds of possible colors and textures. Kids can animate, save, print or import to other applications, making the blob a graphic for a multimedia school report or an icon to transmit to an instant messaging partner. Pretty cool stuff, and the price starts at $39.99 for Windows or Mac. I wouldn’t be surprised if Dassault developed an “adult” version of Cosmic Blobs for game developers and animators.

SIGGRAPH 2006 will be held in Boston, Massachusetts, July 30-August 3, 2006.