New Orleans, La. -- Each year, a SIGGRAPH jury chooses a group of what it considers the finest computer-animated vignettes for concatenation and showing during its convention. The latest selection consists of 46 clips, ranging in character from pure art to crass commercialism. All are excellent and truly represent the state-of-the-art. Yet, personalities and tastes differ, so this reviewer apologizes in advance if his remarks reflect a narrow, idiosyncratic bias and overlook much. The incredible creativity and technical virtuosity brought to bear in each and every offering were apparent to the entire audience throughout and are necessarily taken for granted in the commentary that follows. Although computer animation -- electronic theater -- is new, theater is a venerable institution in Western culture. This is because for centuries its practitioners have pursued one primary goal with loving, single-minded and often fanatical devotion: staging drama designed to move the human heart. Thus, although theater may contain pageantry, it is much more than mere spectacle. Although it may embody energetic action, it is not sport. Although it may teach or persuade, it is neither education nor argument. And while theater may be preeminently entertaining, it transcends common diversion. The elicitation of emotion is the soul of theater. As emotions may be simple or complex, shallow or profound, fleeting or lasting, theatrical presentations may be judged by the same measures. Electronic theater, despite its utilization of extraordinary technologies, cannot escape application of these ultimate criteria to its value, for such criteria lie now, as they always have, at the living root of the discipline itself. These simple, challenging standards define the relative degrees of success achieved by different teams of animators engaged in the pursuit of effective electronic theater. What a striking difference, for example, between the dry stereotypes of athletes presented by Jessica Hodgins in "Atlanta in Motion" and the genuinely amusing stick figure in James J. Troy's "Dynamic Balance and Walking Control of Planar Bipeds" -- despite the extremely spare graphic treatment found in the latter. If similarly motivated pieces are compared, the same standards apply with equal force. The pathetically venal animated Statue of Liberty in R/Greenberg Associates' puerile "Oldsmobile Caught Their Eye" is cheerfully relegated to a conceptual dustbin along with its advertising message, while the hilariously and aggressively absurd star of "Citroen Saxo" by Industrial Light & Magic is not readily dismissed -- or forgotten. Perhaps no clearer example of this point could be made than by juxtaposing typical viewer reaction to beautifully-conceived educational pieces like The Palladian Group's "Fibonacci and the Golden Mean" and NCSA/Cosmic Voyage Inc's "Cosmic Voyage: Galaxy Formation and Interaction" with the eyeball-rolling dullness of "Computer Aided Cornea Modeling and Visualization" by UC Berkeley's Brian A. Barsky. While many of the art pieces communicated a sinister tone, they deserve special kudos nonetheless, since they are fine illustrations of what electronic theater can be: Yellow Co. Ltd.'s "The Play" might be considered a demonic ode to dyspepsia, yet its power is undeniable. Nickson Fong Wei Ming's "Dreamaker" is disturbing but still gorgeous. Far from being a technical showcase, Dan Hower's "Crud: Descent 2" still creates a surreal impression that reverberates through the psyche; the same holds true for Rob Breyne's melodramatic "Stairwalker." Tippett Studio's "Three Wishes" is a tremendous, truly scary tour de force. For theater professionals, a sharp difference must always be made between effect and affect. Unless the former is firmly grounded in the service of the latter rather than the other way around, drama dies -- and with it the rationale for the whole wonderful enterprise. The final Electronic Theater choices, listed in the order in which they were shown, are: Opening by Windlight Studios; Joe's Apartment -- Funky Towel by Blue Sky Productions; Oldsmobile Caught Their Eye by R/Greenberg Associates; Hallmark Magnet by Pixar; Three Wishes by Tippett Studio; Dutch Nelson, Galaxy Guy by Ronin Animation; Chicken Crossing by Andrew Glassner, Microsoft Research; Atlanta in Motion by Jessica Hodgins, Georgia Institute of Technology; Dynamic Balance and Walking Control of Planar Bipeds by James J. Troy, Iowa State University; The Fight by Acclaim Entertainment; MTV Music Awards 95 Les Numeros de Cirque by Mikros Image; Cycles (shown in 4 staggered excerpts) by Lisa Slates; Wet Waltz by Xaos; Stairwalker by Rob Breyne, Hogeshool Gent-Kask; Compuserve Whale by Industrial Light & Magic; The Play by Yellow Co.; Mercedes Rhino How-To by Digital Domain; Butterfly Sequence from Columbia Pictures "The Craft" by Sony Pictures Imageworks; Cosmic Voyage: Galaxy Formation and Interaction by NCSA, Cosmic Voyage; Homer^3: The Simpsons 1995 Halloween Special by Pacific Data Images; Breath by Will Vinton Studios; Citroen Saxo by Industrial Light & Magic; Plymouth Neon Popcorn by Pacific Data Images; Aftershocks by Tippett Studio; Cites Anterieures-Brugge (excerpt) by Mikros Image; Dreamaker by Nickson Fong Wei Ming, Savannah College of Art and Design; Histoire De Crayon by Moira Marguin, All-ENSAD; Hunchback of Notre Dame (excerpts) by Walt Disney Feature Animation; Shark Attack Sequence from "James and the Giant Peach" by Sony Pictures Imageworks; Waterworld 3D Tracking by Cinesite; Jumanji (excerpts) by Industrial Light & Magic; Terminator 2 - 3D (excerpts) by Digital Domain; SIGGRAPH 96 Papers Video Proceedings Excerpts by Jim Blinn, Microsoft Research; Watch Out by Jonathan Wood, Ringling School of Art and Design; Naked Empire by Ned Greene, Apple Computer; Computer Aided Cornea Modeling and Visualization by Brian A. Barsky, University of California, Berkeley; Instant d'Apres by SUP Info Com; Ma La Notte by RAI; Crud: Descent 2 by Dan Hower, Syracuse University; Different Themes by Stuart Sharpe; Rolling Stones - Like a Rolling Stone by BUF Compagnie; Fibonacci and the Golden Mean by The Palladian Group; Big Bear: Paper Bag Bear by TOPIX Computer Graphics and Animation, Inc.; Babe: The Making of by Rhythm and Hues Studios; Twister (excerpts) by Industrial Light & Magic; Dragonheart (excerpts) by Industrial Light & Magic. ------------------ HPCwire welcomes reader suggestions and comments.