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If it's July, it must be SIGGRAPH

SIGGRAPH, Harrison Ellenshaw and JPL. What do these three things have in common?

Greetings everyone and welcome to the first installment of The Digital Cel. When approached by AWN to blog, I spent a while considering what I would talk about. I have worked in the entertainment industry for over 15-years and 7 of those have been in digital post production or computer research and development. I am however neither an inventor of high tech nor a digital artist. I am a supporter of digital arts and entertainment. I am an organizer, a coordinator, a producer. I am whatever it takes to get the job done depending on the project, and in that capacity I am also a dedicated fan of those who create and invent. This often results in my volunteering for things, and I don’t mean serving punch at events.

I believe strongly in volunteerism of all kinds. I have friends all over who volunteer, everything from Habitat for Humanity to reading for the blind. I believe all volunteerism (as long as it’s legal, etc) improves the world. I take a follow your heart approach. My heart looks at something that needs to be organized so that artists and inventors can be showcased in a manner worthy of their work and I can’t help myself.

Last year I culminated a 3-year run volunteering for the ACM SIGGRAPH Computer Animation Festival by executive producing the show. This resulted in learning hard lessons like you can’t fit 1000 people in a 700 person room, but it also resulted in my being invited on global tour of festivals and conferences and meeting some really interesting people, many of whom I’m still in contact with.

This year my two main volunteer activities are chairing the Los Angeles Chapter of ACM SIGGRAPH and co-chairing the Visual Effects Society’s (VES) budding Archive Committee with my colleague, Rob Engle. The VES requires that I spend my time in a room with the brilliant animator, Harrison Ellenshaw, as we film his interviews (he is also a big volunteer enthuisast) with luminaries from the visual effects community for the every growing VES archives Oral History Project.  

Volunteerism will be the umbrella topic for this column, and I’m hoping to charm anyone who’s not already volunteering to improve something that is part of their heart’s desire, into taking the plunge.

A little about SIGGRAPH Chapters: they’re all over the world and attending a meeting is like attending a single talk or presentation at the conference. I have found that almost anywhere I travel in the world, there is a Chapter, meaning I have friends that are interested in the same things that I am professionally and often personally. I don’t think I would have survived Europe with out the kindness of the strange people that make up SIGGRAPH volunteers. Chapter positions, like so many of the things I love to do, are purely volunteer positions. On the positive side, it’s very hard to get fired or laid off from any of the positions. The Los Angeles Chapter was founded in 1982 by a lady named Joan Collins Carey. Their first presentation was on TRON and we hope to have a TRON LEGACY presentation this year as a nod to our beginnings and a look toward the future.

Being less than two weeks away from the annual ACM  SIGGRAPH Conference, which takes place in Los Angeles this year, and being the chair of the L.A. Chapter have proven to make a busy July. A few weeks ago in June, the Chapter had its planning meeting to present ideas for presentations for the whole year. Our goal was to come up with 10 ideas that already had competent producers attached, would entertain a crowd and ideas where the participants we had in mind would actually say yes to us. I know this all sounds very adult, but somehow when you get 30 people in a room in a meeting that goes for 3-hours things can get unwieldy. I pride myself in being able to herd a large barrel of monkeys, but this tested even my talents. In the end we had 10 viable events to bring to the Chapter members and guests.

Step into July and I find that, happily, our Chapter has been signed up for a Birds of a Feather meeting on Sunday, July 25th and because that wasn’t enough to do, I signed us up to give a presentation in the International Pavilion on Tuesday, July 27th. So what are the topics? Should there be a presentation? Who would present? Should we have A/V or is it already there? And occasionally: why am I doing this?

Doubts cast aside, I decide to focus on the topic that is most present in the back of the minds of industry professionals in Los Angeles: keeping technology and entertainment companies in Los Angeles. Now here’s where I get historical. Los Angeles is the original independent entertainment city. The founders of the motion picture industry did not come from the East, where motion pictures were born, to the West coast on a whim. In 1908, Thomas Edison, he of the patent, founded the Motion Picture Patent Company (MPPC) which demanded not only that theaters and filmmakers use only Edison equipment and show only Edison films, but they also wanted the users to pay a fee for using the equipment and films. In 1915, the MPPC was shut down by the court, which cited in its decision, that the company went far beyond the actions necessary to protect their patents. Meanwhile, two-thirds of the film making community had moved to Hollywood, where the weather was always good for shooting and the nearest Edison facility was almost 3000 miles away in New Jersey, and given the transportation and communication issues of the time, the MPPC became a non-topic.

Long story short, the topic for our Birds of a Feather meeting and our International Pavilion presentations: “LIVE, WORK, PLAY: L.A.” The meeting will include representatives from the Los Angeles film community like the Producers Guild and LA411, and our presentation will include brief talks from technology driven companies in Los Angeles from post production like New Deal Studios to hard research like the University of California’s Institute for Creative Technology. Like any volunteer events, our guest list will not be firm until probably Saturday, the 24th.

In between planning for the conference, the Chapter’s treasurer, producer Kim Van Hoven, and I went out to the location of one of the Chapters approved events for the 2010-2011 Chapter season, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the birthplace of digital imaging, in Pasadena, but more about that about that next time. I need to get back to calling, scheduling and planning.

I hope that all of you will get a chance to spend a little time at SIGGRAPH. If you’re not uber-technical and like animation, I would suggest a one day festival pass. It’s fairly inexpensive and you can pick your day of events to coincide with your interests.

Related Links:


Motion Picture Patents Company

Harrison Ellenshaw

The Visual Effects Society

JPL Open House:

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