Sigraph is the yearly compendium of everything in visual computing including scientific, game, and special effects graphics. It was held in Los Angeles this year, only a couple of miles from my house. I could only wander the show for a day but Google had a booth. I met Michael Goss, software engineer for Google, who demonstrated,"Building Maker." What fun my 7th and 8th graders are going to have constructing buildings in Los Angeles. The area in which sets of oblique photos allow for the wrapping of geometry matches where most of my kids live. There are many other cities where the oblique views allow construction using the simple and intuitive tools Google has provided. Bravo!
I also talked with another engineer from Google who was showing a real time OpenGL web render which looked like melting chocolate. Kids can grab the source code, modify the parameters and create special effects while learning some code.
I met Walt Disney's talent development supervisor, Deb Stone, about mentoring and providing guidance to my middle school students. Living in Los Angeles in proximity to animation studios, special effects boutiques, scientific institutions and such should give them exposure to 21st century career opportunities and goals. Rhythm and Hues, Blue Sky, Pixar, and Autodesk have booths as well.
I stopped by the exhibit galleries and took some photos of inexpensive rapid prototyping machines build with Arduino microboards by the Makerbot community. To quote their site, "Arduino is an open-source electronics prototyping platform based on flexible, easy-to-use hardware and software. It's intended for artists, designers, hobbyists, and anyone interested in creating interactive objects or environments." This is fantastic stuff and they are doing it really inexpensively. The prototyping machine takes models created in cg programs and turns them into real objects. Jay Leno was profiled recently because he make plastic parts for his classic cars that are unavailable anywhere else. We need this stuff in our schools! Kids should be building machines that are run with microprocessor controls. It is not that expensive but I have encountered so much resistance by administrators so I better not hold my breath.
There are many vendors of books and dvds there and I bought a documentary on Syd Mead, a futurist visionary, who among other things created the concept sketches for Blade Runner. He was at the show and signed a poster for me and the insert to the dvd. I am starting a new computing class in the fall and plan to show the documentary to all my students. I also stocked up on books about Blender, my favorite Open Source 3D animation software.
Freely distributable open source programs like SketchUp, Gimp, Blender, Open Office, and cloud programs like Google Docs, and Sumopaint are available and wonderfully robust. The tools are sharp and we really need to step up our game to give kids the introduction to the world of visual computing.