15 April 2014

Q&A with SIGGRAPH 2014 Chair Dave Shreiner

In 2014, SIGGRAPH returns to Vancouver, British Columbia

Briefly describe your past experience as a SIGGRAPH volunteer and what motivated you to serve as the SIGGRAPH 2014 Conference Chair.

I’ve been a long-time contributor to the SIGGRAPH Courses program – I’ve taught 23 courses across the years, and through that experience I started working with various SIGGRAPH committees back in 2001.  Specifically, I have been a reviewer, Webmaster of siggraph.org, member of many conference committees, and Courses Chair for SIGGRAPHs 2006 and 2009 respectively, which led me to now being  the 2014 Conference Chair.

Stepping up to Conference Chair is truly an honor for me. I have the utmost respect for the members of the SIGGRAPH community, and receiving their stamp of approval is personally valuable.  As you’ll hear most SIGGRAPH volunteers repeat, the predominant reason for volunteering is the quality of individuals with whom you get to work. SIGGRAPH has also been a great contributor to my professional success, and helping pass that to the next generation of practitioners by helping to organize SIGGRAPH 2014 is a way to repay that debt of gratitude.

What “reasons to attend” do you feel are most compelling for industry professionals?

As I mentioned, SIGGRAPH has contributed greatly to my professional career.  With the technical program (i.e., Courses, Papers, Talks, etc.) you interact with those creating the future of our respective fields.  They come to SIGGRAPH to showcase their latest and best work, speculate on the trends and directions, and interact with the experts and leading thinkers in several fields.  There’s no other place with the information density that occurs at a SIGGRAPH conference, and we’re working to make SIGGRAPH 2014 the most technically forward-looking event ever, while still respecting and honoring our roots.

As an engineer by trade, computer graphics is more than just a technical field for me.  Anyone who’s had to create an image begins to think about the best ways to present their data and convey their message. Those concepts are more about design and presentation – fields that aren’t usually included in a computer science or engineering program.  However, the SIGGRAPH community thrives on cross-pollination between the engineers, artists, animators, scientists, and human-factors communities.  One of SIGGRAPH’s strengths is precisely this exposure to things outside of your core area.  Just like international travel introduces you to new cultures, traveling to SIGGRAPH immerses you in the largest multi-discipline gathering of technology to simulate your senses.  There’s really no end of what you can learn at the conference.

Do you have a specific vision for the 2014 conference?

Most definitely!  A while ago I changed jobs.  I predicated that decision largely on watching European folks use their mobile phones.  At the time, they were playing games on very low-resolution, monochrome screens; sending SMS messages; and making the occasional phone call.  However, it dawned on me that as the technology evolved, those devices were going to become the new graphics systems, so I tried plying my trade in that industry.

Today, you merely need to look around to see how basic tenets of SIGGRAPH – computer graphics and interactive techniques – have been made available to everyone in the palm of their hand.  During my career, I have witnessed numerous graphics technology transitions: from image generators to graphics workstations to PC graphics to consoles, and now to phones and tablets. The medium has changed. And the focus that SIGGRAPH communities had been talking about for years is now in the forefront. 

So, SIGGRAPH 2014 will have an intense focus on the fusion of technology and research for mobile devices and displays.  Regardless of whether you’re a seasoned practitioner or want to enter the field, one component of SIGGRAPH 2014 will provide numerous opportunities to learn how the next generation of graphics systems can deliver the kind of mind-blowing sensory experiences that SIGGRAPH has been doing for the last four decades.

Exactly how many volunteers are behind-the-scenes making the conference happen?

Two, and we only feed them Twinkies.

Seriously, the exact number is difficult.  The volunteer side of the SIGGRAPH 2014 committee is composed of the various venue chairs and numbers 20 super-talented individuals.  My team would be the envy of any tech-savvy company, and these folks are doing this for the love of the organization and its cause – computer graphics and interactive techniques. 

From there, many of the venues have teams of folks who work before, during, and after the show to spread the message, collect the content, and show it at the conference.  There is also our team of content reviewers – numbering in the hundreds – who lend their expertise to find the best content for the show, and constructively comment on all the submissions to SIGGRAPH.  This all happens before an attendee steps foot into Vancouver’s beautiful convention center.

Onsite, we have an army of student volunteers who helpfully educate attendees on what’s going on, and politely direct them to the right places.  We also have a large number of venue volunteers who keep the attendee experience going full tilt – explaining, educating, and celebrating what our various fields offer.

All in all, I’d estimate that approximately 600 dedicated volunteers contribute to SIGGRAPH 2014 becoming a reality, and I hope to personally thank each of them.  They’re certainly making me look great!

In its return to Vancouver, what surprises can SIGGRAPH 2014 attendees expect?

If I told you, they wouldn’t be a surprise, now would they? :)

Let me just say that one of the best parts of a SIGGRAPH conference are the networking events – where people get together and exchange ideas, opinions, and laughs.  We’re working to provide more opportunities to doing fun things in between showing you the most forward content and experiences in the visual arts and interaction fields.

We're also making much more of the content available during conference week. The "creative" venues - the Art Gallery, Emerging Technologies, and the Studio - will be available to more registration categories, and we'll be holding some events in those venues. Everyone knows SIGGRAPH for its technical content and amazing eye candy, but those venues also showcase the interactive experiences of SIGGRAPH. 

Why should people be excited about the location?

Vancouver is one of my favorite SIGGRAPH locations (and it’ll be my 26th show, so I’ve seen a few).  The beauty of the city and its surrounding nature really excited me when it was selected as the venue for my year.  The fusion of nature and technology emphasizes what I think of when I consider SIGGRAPH: art and science converging.  The convention center and its layout are prime for providing an unparalleled attendee experience, and we’re going to be using every space available to bring the best content to you.

Explain the added emphasis on mobile technologies at SIGGRAPH.

I view mobile as more than just technology.  It’s more the fusion of several capabilities.  In a modern mobile smartphone, you have HD-capable movie camera, a high-resolution full-color display, GPS, accelerometers, high-performance GPUs, multiple processors, and connectivity to all the data the Internet has to offer in the palm of your hand.  The SIGGRAPH community has multiple research areas that worked to pioneer those technologies. It is my hope that SIGGRAPH 2014 will foster greater convergence of those research areas to make even better experiences, particularly for mobile devices. 

The technical fields pioneered at SIGGRAPH: rendering, image processing, computer vision, human-computer interaction to name a few, are all available in extraordinarily capable portable-computing systems.   I’m hoping to empower and challenge people to understand these new devices and use them in very unexpected ways.

Which part/s of the SIGGRAPH 2014 experience are you most looking forward to?

It is still early but I’m really excited to see what the SIGGRAPH 2014 team puts together.  Their ideas and energy for 2014 already blows me away.  In selecting the committee, I was looking for folks who had a knowledge and vision of the venue they were looking to manage.  I selected folks who were self-motivated and directed, and I now realize I got the best crew possible, and I’m sure they’re going to take the conference experience to the next level.  From what I’m hearing, there will be lots of interactive experiences, thought-provoking technical content, incredible visual effects, and cutting-edge research.

I’m also excited to see how one of those surprises comes together.  Let’s just say it’s an attempt to use technology in new ways, and it’ll be open to everyone at the show.

On a personal note, I’m delighted to be able to share the experience with my wife (a 20-year SIGGRAPH attendee) and my parents at the show.  My parents have heard me talk about SIGGRAPH for the last 2.5 decades, and it’s going to be great to share with them what’s been a big part of my life.

Where do you see this conference going in the next 5/10 years?

Ahh, the provocative question.  The fields that SIGGRAPH has cultivated over its 40-year history are now commonplace.  Virtually every image we see in the media has been affected by technologies discussed at SIGGRAPH.  The members of our community have enabled our entertainment, education, and wonder, and some argue that perhaps the job’s done.  I’m not entirely convinced.

Just like I mentioned, as technology changes, we’re presented with options for creating new experiences and things that haven’t been possible before.  As the SIGGRAPH community is enabled to pursue evermore difficult problems, I think the collaboration that SIGGRAPH cultivates becomes ever more important. 

Sure, we live in an environment where online collaboration, information sharing, and even telepresence are realities, but there's still no substitute being in the moment in the same place at the same time. I think that's part of the human experience, and where SIGGRAPH will be blazing paths forward for decades to come. 

As a speaker, author, and technology wizard, what has been your biggest career honor to date?


Truly, being chosen as the chair of SIGGRAPH 2014 is likely the crowning achievement for me to this point(and I’m not just saying that because you’re asking).  When I first started attending SIGGRAPH, I watched in awe of those presenting and organizing the show, and really never thought I’d achieve the same.  The first time I spoke at SIGGRAPH, I was terrified because everyone knew and had accomplished more than I had at that time.  However, our community is nothing without helping each other reach new heights, and being given the opportunity to do that for the next generation of computer graphics and interactive techniques practitioners is an unparalleled honor.  

In 140 characters, describe SIGGRAPH 2014.

S2014 brings the best CGI, HCI, and IQs together to create the mosaic of tomorrow’s images, experiences, and tech in beautiful Vancouver!

(I’m not really good at Twitter :))

1 comment: