One of the world’s largest computer graphics conventions will unveil multiple rooms of never-been-seen-before experiences next month.
There are three ways to introduce a person to a new idea. The first is to describe how the concept works, the second is to illustrate its function through a killer app, and the third is to let the individual see for themselves. In the case of VR, however – a medium that relies on empathy and visualization – true understanding only comes with the ability to experience the creation.
That issue has become a stumbling block for many event organizers. Typically focusing on discussion, VR conferences often privilege panels over letting attendees actually explore the apps. For Pol Jeremias, chair of the VR, AR, and MR program at the SIGGRAPH 2018 expo, it was vital to conquer that issue at this year’s convention.
“It can be hard to listen to presentations about VR,” Jeremias says on the line from his office in San Francisco. “A person can suggest that in this area of the experience you’ll feel this thing, and in that area you’ll feel something else, and you just have to believe them. It really helps your learning to explore it yourself, and try out new things – and it’s also very inspiring. That was the logic behind SIGGRAPH’s new program.”
SIGGRAPH is one of the largest conferences on computer graphics and interactive techniques in the world. Attracting tens of thousands of guests and operating on multiple continents, the event has run annually for more than forty years, bringing veterans and youngsters together to swap war stories and share best practices – a custom, Jeremias believes, that sets VR apart from other industries. This year, the influential five-day expo will take place in Vancouver, Canada.
In line with this year’s explosion of talent in virtual and augmented reality, SIGGRAPH 2018 has chosen to expand its focus on VR, AR, and MR by introducing the Immersive Pavilion. A structure that unites all three media under one roof, the area is set to showcase some of the most exciting, never-been-seen-before content from all over the globe, bringing discussions about the technology to life.
“The idea behind the Immersive Pavilion is to create a single destination for attendees that are interested in these technologies,” says Jeremias. “In the past, we’ve had a space called the VR Village on one end, which was just focused on VR, and then we had the VR Theatre at the other end, which is focused on seated storytelling. You had to know what these things were, and what kind of submissions were at each place. With the Immersive Pavilion we’ve put everything together, and opened it up to formats other than virtual reality for the first time. We made sure it’s a space that spotlights where the industry is now, and where it’s going.”
The new structure has four different areas inside. First, attendees will encounter the VR Museum. Aiming to counter the misconception that VR is a new technology, Jeremias is exhibiting a curated collection of objects and space-age headsets from previous eras. After passing through the history of the medium, attendees will enter the Village. Newly converted to include AR and MR as well as VR, this location hosts larger installations, featuring everything from an AR app used on the International Space Station to an experience that lets viewers dive through mesmerizing, colourful fractals.
The final two spaces will host the VR Theatre and the VRcade, which, Jeremias says, are two sides of the same coin. The VR Theatre is set to show where storytelling is headed, letting attendees experience the best in virtual reality films in a location that is double the size of last year. The VRcade, in turn, is an all-new site that offers room-scale activations. Inside each of the space’s 10 unique pods, conference-goers will find games or interactive experiences that call for individuals to move their bodies in order to explore the virtual worlds. Featuring innovative creations such as a simulation for homelessness and the chance to walk through space in anti-gravity, the VRcade offers a window into the lives of others.
“I’m hoping that we can get people excited about these formats, and that it starts conversations,” Jeremias says. “Some of the experiences that we’ve brought in for all the areas aren’t just entertainment, but have a message to offer the attendees. I really hope that people come across something that lets them think deeper about other people. By collecting all this diverse content together, SIGGRAPH aims to move the VR, AR, MR, and computer graphics industry forward.”
Since its origin in 1974, SIGGRAPH has been presented in sites all over the United States, including cities such as Los Angeles, Dallas, and Boston. In Jeremias’s view, it’s no coincidence that Vancouver – the only Canadian center to host the event – is the site of the new expanded VR program.
“Why are we unveiling the Immersive Pavilion in Vancouver?” Jeremias says. “I have a lot of beautiful things to say about the city. As well as the water and the mountains, it makes sense to begin the new program here because it’s such a hub for VR companies. On top of that, there are so many businesses in the area that are working on computer graphics, VFX, and gaming.”
“When those people have the chance to see new VR and AR experiences, you never know what can happen when those paths cross. Maybe someone isn’t in that segment of the market now, but by seeing what AR can do, they could adjust their path and think of how they could incorporate it into a new product. Because virtual reality is so big in Vancouver, it’s a natural home.”
Image Credit: Unity / The Association for Computing Machinery