Graphics: but Seriously

SIGGRAPH show proves computer graphics are a force

Youre a serious IT professional who deals only with serious IT issues, such as storage, enterprise content management, server arrays, high-performance computing and complex development. When you go to technology conventions, you go only to the serious conventions that are focused on these important issues, along with smaller but still serious shows conducted by major vendors such as Microsoft and Oracle.

Really, the last thing you want to be thinking about is graphics. I mean, is there anything less related to serious IT than graphics?

And you can completely forget about paying attention to any so-called technology conventions dealing with computer graphics. I mean, its cute that graphics-philes have their own shows, but Ill bet they have as much to do with serious IT as a trip to Disney World.

For example, take Siggraph, held in Boston in August. I live in the Boston area, so I figured Id check it out. What the heck—I knew the convention center would be air-conditioned, and it was about 100 degrees that day. Or, at least, thats what it felt like.

So, what were my impressions of this graphics show? Not quite what you would expect. Heres a quick synopsis of my experience, from my reporters notebook.

Here I am at Siggraph 2006, in Boston. Wow, there are an awful lot of attendees here—more than Ive seen at a technology convention in a couple of years. I guess theyre just trying to get out of the heat.

Lets look at the presentation and learning tracks at the show. Hmm, just as I expected—mostly stuff for education. But some of these learning management things are pretty cutting-edge and could really improve my company training tools. And there are some interesting tracks on building serious grid technology farms.

Now lets check out the exhibitor floor. Pretty full. In fact, its the biggest crowd Ive seen in the new Boston Convention & Exhibition Center. And its crowded not just with graphics-oriented vendors. There are storage vendors such as BlueArc, with its massive systems; big server vendors such as HP; and a whole host of companies dealing with high-performance computing.

Now that I think about it, computer graphics professionals are pretty "serious" users of these core information technologies. Massive media files require the latest in high-availability storage technology; creating computer graphics stresses the most powerful systems; and, of course, managing all of this content requires extremely complex enterprise content management platforms.

Looking at all of this, Im starting to think that any IT manager would do well to pay attention to the serious technology issues that surround computer graphics. Maybe this show wasnt a total waste of time after all.

But come on now, whats with this whole "art gallery" area? Lots of weird digital paintings, a crazy balloon display, a couple of things using robots, some kind of dancing-light thingy and some Star Wars-like holographic stuff. Surely these things have nothing whatsoever to do with "serious" IT.

But, now that Im looking at the displays, Im not so sure. For example, Im seeing some pretty cutting-edge uses of robotics and artificial intelligence. I wouldnt be surprised to see some of these advances make their way to a factory floor. And, wow, the practical uses of some of these three-dimensional visualization presentations Im seeing are practically endless.

OK, Im a convert. Looking back at my time at the Siggraph convention (which you can see at go.eweek.com/siggraph2006slideshow), Im convinced that computer graphics really are "serious" technology and that IT managers who choose to ignore the technology are turning their backs on information that could prove helpful to their businesses.

Oh, yeah, did you want to know what the absolute best part of the Siggraph show was? Well, to be honest, it was this cool step-by-step demonstration of how the special effects for the movie "King Kong" were created. Not too many IT implications there, but it was really, really neat.

Hey, theres nothing wrong with a little bit of Disney World at an IT convention.

Labs Director Jim Rapoza can be reached at jim_rapoza@ziffdavis.com.