At any moment, the doors will open to the annual SIGGRAPH Conference and Exhibition—a virtual (pun intended) extravaganza for computer graphics and interactive technology professionals from around the globe. For 37 years, SIGGRAPH has been the place to see the latest digital techniques and technologies. As this year’s conference chair Terrence Mason (Northeastern University) points out, it is a chance for those working with pixels to meet others who are pushing pixels to the extreme. “SIGGRAPH 2010 is the best place in the world to experience the ‘People Behind the Pixels,’ ” he says. “I encourage everyone to attend to meet the personalities, hear the stories, and learn the history behind the most unique and excellent content in CG and interactive techniques.”
Mason himself is a prime example of one of these “People Behind the Pixels” who have influenced the industry. Director of Creative Industries at Northeastern University, he is also author of CG101: A Computer Graphics Industry Reference (now in its second edition) and a Hollywood veteran with 20-plus years of production in feature films (Star Wars, Fantastic Four), games (SimCity4), short animated films (Bunkie & Booboo), and broadcast (he single-handedly developed the CG pipeline for South Park). He attended his first SIGGRAPH in 1988 (Atlanta), though his first volunteer role wasn’t until 1995 (Los Angeles) as interactive entertainment technical director. In 2004, Mason organized a Special Session on Puppetry and Computer Graphics with none other than Gonzo the Great. For 2006, he chaired the Computer Animation Festival in Boston, “which still is one of the most fun and rewarding experiences of my career,” he says. “The jury, the content, and the ‘World’s Largest Etch-A-Sketch’ preshow was incredibly satisfying to put together.” It was on the heels of that role that he accepted the invitation to be the conference chair for 2010, “which is a three-year planning process,” he notes. In the meantime, he created and hosted 35 Years of SIGGRAPH: the Game Show! in 2008, which featured video clips from the SIGGRAPH Video Review archives and rare behind-the-scenes trivia.
What does Mason have planned for this year’s conference? Plenty. Below he shares his thoughts about the show.
What mark will you make on SIGGRAPH as chair?
For SIGGRAPH 2010, I chose the theme ‘The People Behind The Pixels,’ which I’m happy to say has resonated with folks across all our varied art and technology communities. You have some idea of what to expect from a SIGGRAPH conference every year in terms of the content, but I wanted to especially focus on those people who make it happen. You can access so much incredible art and technology on the Web these days, but you have to actually go in person to SIGGRAPH to physically bump into and talk face-to-face with the amazing folks who actually make the stuff.
Was there anything in particular you wanted to bring to the show as chair?
It’s going to be fun! The word ‘wonder’ is what I tried to inspire everyone with in the early stages of planning the conference—the sense that I had back in the ’80s of running up the steps every year, just dying to see what was inside the next SIGGRAPH.
Who is the “average” attendee? Will that differ because the show is in LA?
You know, there really isn’t an average SIGGRAPH attendee (all our attendees are above average), unless it’s that personality of ‘seeking wonder’ that we’ve tried to tap into. There are so many flavors of researchers, artists, educators, students, and old-timers; it’s what makes our community so unique and exciting. LA and San Diego are always our biggest shows, with such a huge local population, so that raises the visual effects and animation component of attendees a bit, but our core programs never change.
How has SIGGRAPH tied LA into the show this year?
Honestly, I think we would have put on much the same Conference no matter what city we were in for 2010, but being in LA this year is incredibly exciting because of the massive investment the city has made in and around the ‘LA-LIVE’ adjacent to the Convention Center. Our Headquarters Hotel is also the brand-spankin’-new JW Marriott right next to the Staples Center, which will be a great rendezvous point for networking.
Last year, show attendance was low. How will having it back in LA affect attendance?
Our volunteers and contractors have been doing this for so many years as a tight planning team that we always plan ahead for our non-West Coast conferences to be smaller. 2009, of course, also coincided with the economy taking a major hit, and we’re still feeling the effects from that, like everyone else. The positive thing was that we put an even bigger microscope on our planning and budget for 2010, and as a result, we’ve been able to put together an efficient, focused, and content-rich conference. This means a better attendee experience for lower costs then ever before.