The 1960s was a time of political activism and paradigm changing views of race and when institutions of higher learning were adding Graphics Labs to their campuses, usually as an extension of the Engineering departments. This was not only expanding the reach of the computer graphics industry, it was also creating a community that had a special interest in computer graphics and interactive techniques. In 1967 some forward thinking researchers proposed a SIG be created that allowed this community to share their concepts, creations and community in the form of an annual conference. Four hundred signatures (give or take) and eight years later, the first SIGGRAPH was held on the campus of Bowling State University.
The first Film and Video show (now the Computer Animation Festival) was loosely put together by Tom DiFanti who took over one of the student lounges, hung a sheet and started running tapes and film (yes, film!) of motion graphics that a new generation of scientist-artists were creating. There was no off the shelf software used, no application forms, no jury. It was just sharing and showing off.
ACM stands for Association of Computing Machinery, a group brought together by the advent of, well, computing machinery. And by computing machinery, I mean the Wild West of computer machinery. Computer’s the size of large rooms, punch hole language, rogue code writers with amazing ideas about what computing could do. ACM has a subgroup of Special Interest Groups, called SIGs.
This year is the 38th year of the conference called SIGGRAPH. SIGGRAPH is put on by ACM SIGGRAPH, which in turn is overseen by ACM. This sounds like it would create a lot of complicated roads to navigate if you work with any of the acronyms above, and it does. But somehow every year for the past 4 years, I have found that the pros of volunteering my talents to the activity known as SIGGRAPH far outweigh the cons of a little paperwork and politics.
Today SIGGRAPH has grown into a slightly larger gathering and the business of art and science has spread across multiple disciplines and even created new industries like Digital Visual Effects, Multi-Player Online Games and 3D animation. There are also smaller groups meeting around the conference every year in the meeting rooms hidden around the conference. Birds of a Feather meetings are small groups of people interested in one aspect of SIGGRAPH meeting together for a chat. After spending years navigating the exhibit floor, emerging technologies, the art gallery and standing in long lines for the Electronic Theater, it was refreshing to meet up with a small group, far from the madding crowd, to mingle and chat.
For the last three years I have volunteered to work on the Computer Animation Festival: in 2007, I was the assistant producer for chair Paul Debevec; in 2008, I was the producer for chair Jill Smolin; and in 2009 I was asked to be the chair of the festival. This year my tasks were a little easier: two Birds of a Feather meetings. Over the years I’ve been so engrossed in the conference that I did not attend any of these “BoFs”, but I had plenty of help from my volunteer staff setting everything up. LA SIGGRAPH had its annual Meet and Greet and it was awesome fun.
And that would be my favorite thing about SIGGRAPH, I learn something new every year.