Following is a brief conversation with Hanspeter Pfister, the SIGGRAPH 2012 Technical Papers Chair from Harvard University. Pfister is Gordon McKay Professor of Computer Science in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. His research lies at the intersection of visualization, computer graphics, and computer vision. He received his PhD in computer science in 1996 from the State University of New York at Stony Brook and his MS in Electrical Engineering from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1991.
Briefly describe your past experiences as a SIGGRAPH volunteer.
I attended my first SIGGRAPH in Chicago in 1992 and got hooked immediately. From 1994 to 1996, I was a student volunteer, hanging out mostly at the International Center and occasionally crimping ethernet cables — great times! In 2001, I was invited to join the SIGGRAPH Technical Papers Committee for the first time. In 2005, I was jury member of the Sketches program, which I chaired in 2006. And I've been a member of the Papers, Courses, and Sketches Committees for SIGGRAPH and SIGGRAPH Asia numerous times.
What motivated you to serve as this year's Technical Papers Chair?
It is a huge honor to be asked to become Technical Papers Chair, so when Rob Cook — chair of the Papers Advisory Group — asked me, I immediately said yes. The main motivation was to give back to the community that has been a big part of my career for many years. And I was looking forward to being a part of (and shaping) the process that selects the highest quality papers for acceptance at SIGGRAPH.
How exactly is the Jury selected?
Selecting the Technical Papers Committee is the most important thing a Technical Papers Chair does. The first step was to select the Papers Advisory Board, which consisted of Marc Alexa (SIGGRAPH 2013 Chair), Kavita Bala (SIGGRAPH ASIA 2011 Chair), Fredo Durand, Hugues Hoppe (SIGGRAPH 2011 Chair), Holly Rushmeier, and Peter-Pike Sloan (SIGGRAPH ASIA 2012 Chair). They were a tremendous help throughout the process and helped me to select the committee. We had to identify the experts in various communities, balance the areas in which we anticipated submission, find the right mix between experience and fresh blood, and consider term limits to make sure that new members join us each year. It was a daunting, but very exciting task.
How did the Jury process go this year?
Besides a server crash on submission day, it went exceedingly well. The 53 members of the Papers Committee did a tremendous amount of work, as did the hundreds of external reviewers. I had a lot of support from my assistant Angela Anderson from Talley Management, and a host of other people who helped to run the process smoothly and professionally. Overall we accepted 94 papers out of 449 submissions for an acceptance rate of 21%, and referred another 9 papers to the ACM Transactions on Graphics.
Did you notice any trends in the submissions?
In addition to traditional areas such as rendering, surface modeling, image and video processing, fluid simulation, and character animation, we accepted papers in emerging areas such as 3D fabrication, light field displays, real-time sound synthesis, and tactile feedback devices. I am especially excited about papers that stretch the definition of graphics because they help evolve our field and make SIGGRAPH vibrant and exciting.
Did the content for S2012 meet your expectations?
Seeing the huge number of submissions and considering how much work went into them is humbling. I am deeply thankful to all the authors who sent their work to SIGGRAPH 2012, and to all the reviewers and committee members for selecting the best papers this year in computer graphics and interactive techniques. We ended up with a terrific and exciting program with outstanding papers in all of the technical areas.
How can the Technical Papers program make certain that it remains relevant for years to come?
Looking at the creativity and ingenuity of the submissions this year I am not worried about the future. And the great thing about SIGGRAPH is that it is able to reinvent itself. As long as we continue to evolve the definition of computer graphics and interactive techniques and allow for new and fresh ideas to be published we will remain relevant. And I have no doubts that visual and interactive techniques will continue to play a huge role in our everyday lives.
What is your advice to someone considering submitting a future SIGGRAPH technical paper?
Read the FAQ on our web site! Many of the questions I received have been answered there, and the process is described in great detail. And then of course produce some outstanding work that is inspiring, significant, and maybe unexpected. Then spend the effort and time to write a good paper about it. The quality of the writing really matters, and I would suggest you look carefully at some of the great papers from previous years. It does take effort, but I can assure you that every paper is treated with respect and will receive thoughtful, helpful reviews.
Briefly describe one of your more intriguing ongoing projects at Harvard.
I am very excited to work with my neuroscience collaborators at the Harvard Center for Brain Science on reconstructing the detailed neural circuitry of the brain, one of the grand challenges of this century. We are dealing with tera- and soon petabytes of image data from electron microscopy and are working on fully-automated reconstruction techniques that are scalable and efficient. The challenges are tremendous in all areas of computer vision, visualization, graphics systems, and network analysis -- I am having a blast.
What were some of the key things you took away from your 11 years at Mitsubishi Electric Research Laboratories (MERL)?
Work with people who are smarter than you -- at MERL I had the privilege to be surrounded by some of the best researchers and work with some of the best students around the world. Work on practical problems to drive technical innovation -- the other way around is a lot harder. And of course my boss and mentor, Joe Marks, taught me to delegate, delegate, delegate -- a skill that serves me well as a faculty member.
Would you recommend a career in computer science to your daughters and how did you pick their names?
My daughters Lilly (9) and Audrey (6) already monopolize the family iPad and laptop with their games and e-books. They are learning at an early age what makes computers so exciting: the ability to create and simulate anything. I am sure that they will pick up computer science skills in whatever career they choose.
As for how we picked their names: We like old fashioned names and wanted to make sure their names are somewhat unique, so we checked their popularity on Martin Wattenberg's fabulous Baby Name Wizard visualization. Of course the irony is that both names had a huge uptick in popularity since then. I guess we were trendsetters.