From April 11th to the 17th of this year, a veritable boatload of people from all facets of the television, film, and radio production world descended upon Las Vegas to attend the National Association of Broadcasters Show. I was there for 3 days of the conference and got to experience and learn all kinds of interesting things. And yes, there were even some things there related to Blender! Fair warning: I forgot my good camera, so please forgive the blurry, low resolution camera phone images.
From Hollywood to Bollywood, Beijing to Buenos Aires, Cannes to Cape Town, Montreal to Mexico City, and Sydney to St. Petersburg, the global community of content professionals converges at the NAB Show â€“ uniting the creative process with the converging technologies, harnessing the promise of state-of-the-art concepts and equipment to power the future of content creation, management and delivery.
Let me attempt to illustrate just how big of a conference this is. NAB's attendance count was over 105,000 people. To put this in perspective, imagine the entire population of Cambridge, Massachusetts coming to your neighborhood for a week and setting up a show where everyone talks about broadcast production. The biggest part of NAB is the expo. Nearly every step in the production process is represented here; there are the software vendors we typically see at SIGGRAPH (Autodesk, HP, Adobe, etc.), HD camera manufacturers, satellite technologies, and vendors with products specific to journalism (ever wonder who creates the weather forecast software? Yeah, they were there).
Some of the most impressive displays were the camera setups by Panasonic, Sony, and Canon. Many of these booths were the size of the better part of a city block and had multiple small sets dressed in bright colors. A lot of these sets had event actors in them who were paid to sit there and do something interesting while show attendees tested out the cameras that were pointed at these sets. Autodesk, Adobe, and NewTek had similarly large booths, though they did not showcase their 3D software as much as their compositing and editing tools. And of course, there were the smaller booths that were no less interest with products ranging from high speed data wrangling systems to military-grade laptops that operate even as water is running through them.
And on the expo floor, Blender was well known about and actually had a minor presence... in the form of Elephants Dream. Christie was featuring ED nice and large on their high-end projection systems in their booth. HP had a standing display with a shot from ED in it. And Atrato, a company specializing in high-speed, high-volume data transfer, was streaming a copy of ED from the hardware in their booth. And those are just the ones I was able to see in person. I heard from a few other attendees about a couple other booths that also had it on display. As we've reported before, these companies like to use Elephants Dream because it's a completely free way for them to demonstrate their high-definition products. And the people at Atrato, Christie, and HP were very excited to hear about Big Buck Bunny. In the future, there's a good chance that we'll see Blender movies on display all over the place.
Aside from the expo floor, there was also a very informative part of the show called the Content Theater. One thing I noticed about the companies with booths in the expo was most of them were companies providing services or equipment to people who produce content. There were not very many booths for companies that actually do production. This is where the Content Theater comes in. In there, there are panel discussions with content producers about their work. Some of the discussions were somewhat blatant plugs for certain products (like the use of the Red One camera in the production of the independent film Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Undead). However, there were a few really informative sessions that would be of interest to us Blender folks.
Probably the most interesting of these was the case study with the directors of Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who, Jimmy Hayward and Steve Martino. They spoke at length about the technical challenges of animating the characters in the film as well as some of the research they did for it. For instance, they were able to see Dr. Seuss' personal sculptures and the production notes between him and Chuck Jones for the animated How the Grinch Stole Christmas. They showed progress stills and early design work and even got into the character rigs. I had the opportunity to ask Jimmy Hayward about the rigs for the primary characters. When you have characters that switch between being a quadruped and a biped, or have limbs that switch between fixed joints and super-stretchy rubber hose arms, it isn't uncommon to have multiple rigs that you have to carefully switch between. Knowing this, I asked how many rigs they used for the primary characters to pull off all of those extreme poses. His response: one. That's right, for the Horton character to do all of those actions commonly seen in traditional animation, they used only one rig.
Two other interesting panels in the Content Theater were focused on internet distribution of content. They included some of the minds behind MyDamnChannel.com, AskANinja.com, and JibJab.com as well as a variety of other online content producers. The conversations ranged from picking content for online distribution to the cost of producing that content. The key point that seemed to be consistent across all panel members, though was that, in order to be successful, no matter where the video is shown (YouTube, Veoh, Revver, etc.) it should always lead the viewer back to your website. Website traffic can garner merchandise sales and sponsors tend to take interest when hit counts are high. This is really what ultimately helps them finance their projects.
So there you have it... a quick run-through on just some of the cool stuff that I saw at the NAB Show this year. There were other presentations that I missed and also "side conferences" that hold workshops and classes on various production-related activities. However, as a relatively poor animator I could not afford that additional cost... at least not this year. Next year might be a different question though. If you get an opportunity to go to this show, I highly recommend it. It doesn't cater to computer graphics and film as much as some other conferences, but the things you see and the people you meet make it well worth it.