Bill Desowitz speaks with Jacquelyn Martino, the new SIGGRAPH 2008 chair, about the revamped 35th annual conference called "Evolve."
With a significant redesign planned for SIGGRAPH 2008, "Evolve" is a very apt theme for the 35th International Conference and Exhibition on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques, which returns to the Los Angeles Convention Center Aug. 11-13 (with the exhibition taking place Aug. 12-14).
As previously reported, SIGGRAPH 2008 will institute some fundamental conference changes to bring attendees new synergistic experiences and focus on timely industry themes rather than stricter presentations.
And who better to address these changes than the new chair, Jacquelyn Martino, a renowned researcher and graduate from MIT? Most recently, Martino's research focused on the artist's mark as a computational device. She has just joined IBM Research, Watson and previously held positions at Microsoft, Philips Research, Columbia University, Pratt Institute and MIT.
Martino holds a Ph.D. in Design and Computation from MIT, where she was also selected as a Presidential Fellow, and a Master of Fine Arts from Pratt Institute. Martino has attended SIGGRAPH since 1990 and most recently served as Ex-Student Volunteer (XSV) chair and Courses chair.
The conference program now falls under the following areas: Arts, Encounter, Entertainment, Industry Relations, Interactive Technologies, Operations, Production, Professional & Educational Development and Research. The Papers Program and Computer Animation Festival will be maintained. However, the Computer Animation Festival has been expanded into a full-fledged festival to now include industry-related panel discussions, 3-D stereoscopic talks and screenings, competition screening and a Festival Awards Ceremony.
Bill Desowitz: What are your goals for "Evolve," and how did your experience at MIT influence the direction?
Jacquelyn Martino: One of the major goals for the conference is to "Inspire." SIGGRAPH continues to be the nexus for scientists, artists, researchers, executives, inventors and technologists. A common bond throughout SIGGRAPH and MIT is a shared passion for learning, expanding boundaries, innovating, collaborating, networking and sharing in mutual education.
In this way, the SIGGRAPH community inspired the 2008 conference committee to create more optimal conference areas for these activities to take place. It is not simply our responsibility, but also our passion to shape the forum for conversations, innovations, collaboration and mutual education. When we started planning for this conference more than three years ago, our working theme was "No Boundaries." This very vision of "no boundaries" is the learning culture prevalent in so many areas at MIT. SIGGRAPH and MIT share the common passion for fostering and channeling innovation into opening new frontiers across multiple industries.
BD: Describe the fundamental conference changes that are intended to be more synergistic and topical with industry trends. And how are traditional barriers being broken to achieve a more thematic approach?
JM: A 2008 fundamental conference change was initiated by shaking up the conference structure within the volunteer planning committee. We shattered traditional barriers between areas and created new content structure. We also focused on recruiting leading volunteers who are identified as being part of a number of communities. These experts helped reshape the way that content is organized. This multi-disciplinary lens is applied to every aspect of the conference. So, for example, someone who is interested in the latest animation techniques will have more content cross-over and opportunities for networking, education and innovation balanced throughout conference week.
BD: How will the conference foster more fluid cross-program collaboration?
JM: The conference fosters more fluid cross-collaborations by turning the notion of all the programs on their heads. We peeled back many of our assumptions about programs per se and took the view of the human interactions through space and time. Once we did that, we saw largely unified submissions leading to the ability to create a unified schedule process. The ultimate goal is to make the conference more fluid and easier to navigate with hopefully a more enriching experience.
BD: How will exhibits be easier to access?
JM: In designing this part of the SIGGRAPH 2008 experience, we considered city layouts. For example, when you think about New York City, Greenwich Village is an important cultural landmark that was established long before the areas of Manhattan's formal grid layout. At the center of our exhibits space, we have the content landmarks formed by New Technologies, Art & Design and the Studio. This is the part of SIGGRAPH that represents our beginnings as well as our future growth. Flanking this area are the two grid-organized sections of exhibits that signal the successes of our academic and cultural foundation. The entire hall embodies the beauty of SIGGRAPH in its progression from a central emphasis on innovative ideas in art and technology to their mature, organized transfer to commercial products and services.
BD: How have changes in the education marketplace altered the SIGGRAPH conference?
JM: Offerings this year address both current educational practice and the needs of the future workforce. Educators can keep their programs vibrant and their focus current by attending talks about how teachers are using new applications of graphics and interactivity, such as virtual worlds and new mapping technologies. Educators can also attend sessions that impart timeless skills, such as grant writing and legal issues.
SIGGRAPH 2008 has a session focused on collaborative and experiential learning, two hot topics in education today. These topics are of special interest to SIGGRAPH educators because these skills are necessary to prepare students planning to work in multidisciplinary and team-based fields such as animation, games and visualization.
BD: How will networking be easier?
JM: It starts from our vision of "Inspire" and "Evolve." We have tried to inspire our attendees by encouraging them to make new contacts and spend more time with those colleagues that may best help them get ahead in their careers either this year or several years down the road. I know that my personal contacts made through SIGGRAPH conferences from 10 years ago continue to enrich my professional life today. We have created more opportunities for networking by grouping industry-related topics in a more fluid format. Furthermore, we are adding state-of-the art signage and communication technologies that encourage social interaction and idea exchange. Finally, we are creating a new social space within the conference area called the "Geek Bar" where people are encouraged to network and mingle. This space will be a much more relaxed atmosphere where people can soak in the rich content while sharing ideas with others. In addition, for the first time in SIGGRAPH history, we will feature the SIGGRAPH Village, International Center, New Tech Demos, Art Installations, SIGGRAPH 2009 Booth and the Exhibition all in one open space.
BD: What new technologies and trends are of personal interest to you?
JM: In addition to my main interest of the blending of art and technology, I'm excited to see the fruition of our vision for cultural heritage, display technologies, haptics, robotics and interactive surfaces coming to life at the conference come true.
BD: Let's talk about the new format for the Computer Animation Festival, which is one of the biggest changes.
JM: This year's Computer Animation Festival features a new, expanded format that will take place over a five-day period during SIGGRAPH 2008. Each day of the conference, the Festival will present competition screenings and showcase screenings at the famed Nokia Theater as well as panel discussions with filmmakers, instructors and artists involved in the creative process. The Festival's featured talks and tutorials will take place at the Los Angeles Convention Center on a variety of topics, including the history of animation, upcoming projects from around the world and discussions with animators about independent features and more [the making of Iron Man, Cloverfield, Kung Fu Panda and Speed Racer]. The goal was to take the great aspects of the Computer Animation Festival and evolve them into a much more full-fledged film festival. The end result should be a much more content-rich experience.
BD: What new changes and improvements can we expect from the FJORG! competition?
JM: In 2007, the reaction from the SIGGRAPH community in regards to the new animation competition was an undeniable success. The buzz that FJORG! created was spectacular and resulted in a clear injection of creativity, energy and newness to the conference. We are working to build on the great momentum from 2007 and create an even more invigorating event this year with many new surprises and twists. In fact, our team submissions have increased by 300% from this time last year. It is destined to be another fantastic hit.
Bill Desowitz is editor of VFXWorld.