INTERVIEWS

Peter Braccio
Peter Braccio is chair of the Guerilla Gallery at SIGGRAPH and is also involved with Oceanographic studies at Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute.

What first drew you to computer graphics?

I came to CG through the back door. I got an MS in physics while I was still in the Navy. As part of my thesis I made extensive use of scientific visualization to describe plasma distributions in the Earth's magnetosphere. When I decided to get out of the service a couple of years later, I decided to make a try to break into oceanography thinking that I could do research and still go to sea.

It turns out that I was only half right.I got a job working a couple of ocean modeling groups at the Naval Postgraduate School. Part of my job was to visualize model output from high resolution, global simulations of the Earth's oceans. I found out that I had a knack for making these images and movies.

Do you have any favorite computer graphics mentors?

My masters advisor, Dr. Chris Olsen, and one of my bosses at NPS, Dr. Bert Semtner, are the key ones on the science side of the house. They taught me that a flashy image means nothing if it doesn't impart information.

On the artistic side, that would be Helen Golden and Lyn Bishop who led me through their processes so that I could find a path of my own.

What was the first time you contributed to SIGGRAPH?

I submitted a video to the CAF in '99 and first submitted to the Art Gallery in 2001. I'm still waiting for those acceptance letters. ;^) The first time I worked at the show was '97.

What year/city was your first SIGGRAPH? Which was most intense? Why?

My first SIGGRAPH was '96 in New Orleans.

Most intense is a toss up between '96 and '98. '96 was just a wild show in a wild town. I was on crutches for the whole show due to a recent hip surgery and I fell in with a wild bunch of artists (the denizens of the Guerilla Gallery) instead of hanging with the scientists.

'98 was intense because I was running the networking for the Guerilla Gallery for the first time on my own. I was basically making it up as I went along and trying to get all the equipment to play nice.

What contributions to SIGGRAPH are you most proud of? The ability to set up the Guerilla Gallery/Studio/Guerilla Studio year after year.
What's your favorite thing at this year or last year's SIGGRAPH? Well, maybe not favorite thing, but I got my most memorable "booth gift" in 2002; a pair of New Zealand wool socks.
What near/intermediate developments in CG do you look forward to?

If I knew that, I'd be playing the stock market. If I had to make a guess, I hope that someone comes up with a way to leverage the Tablet PC so that it is something more than a glorified stenographer's pad. Computer + stylus input device should equal CG instead of a REALLY BIG palm pilot.

You were in the NAVY for a while... what drew you that direction as opposed to say, the Air Force, or military service at all for that matter? Have you always been a water person? I grew up on Long Island Sound and had always dreamed of going to sea. When I graduated college (at the ripe age of 25), I knew that if I didn't join up and do it then, I would regret it later in life. So, I signed on the dotted line, much to the horror of my girlfriend. Since we've now been married for over 16 years, I guess she forgave me.

How does a visualization specialist determine how to begin to represent the data presented?

You have to have a good idea of what you want to show. That determines the values of your min and max scale values. The "standard" visualization of data uses a color bar where blue represents low and red high. If you want to show the fluctuations of salinity along the coast of California you might want a very narrow range for this scale. That would lead to very "washed out" areas of the image that are pegged in the extreme max and min ranges. This is an image that artists would hate, but it imparts information, so it is exactly what should be shown.

I just found out that there is a talk on this at SIGGRAPH this year. It is a special session called Truth Before Beauty: Guiding Principles for Scientific and Medical Visualization.

Is the science behind the visualizations, or the data collected, often yours, or do you rely on others to relay the information to you?

I've always worked as a staff member for a research group, so the data was never mine. I did most of my work for the group at NPS, but I also did some work for other groups and media organizations. For the media groups I usually had to put more flash than info in the images.

Where do you feel the responsibility lies as to how the end product is understood? Obviously the responsibility for accurately displaying information relies on the group making the presentations. You have to make sure that everything is labeled correctly, make sure the scale for the color scheme is easily understood, and you should provide dates (or date ranges) for your illustration/movie.

Even with all this, people sometimes misunderstand what you're showing them. The first time I showed a animation of model output at a conference, people thought it was actual collected data. Other times people zoom in on something other bit of info that you didn't notice and try to drive the conversation that way. Such is life.

On the artistic side of things, how was your time spent with two respected digital artists in their own right - Lyn Bishop and Helen Golden?

It was more that they deconstructed their work so I could see how they got to the end piece. This gave me a better understanding of the tools they used (and that certain tools were even available). They also led me away from the mindset that colors=numbers. This led to a greater sense of freedom in the creation of my own pieces. Now, all I need is some time to work on this exploration. :^)

I feel that we are fairly good friends. We work together every year at SIGGRAPH in the (Guerilla) Studio and keep in touch throughout the rest of the year.

Who critiques your final products, does work you finish have to pass review
from anyone? If so, what are the guidelines to creating a 'good' visualization?
I guess we're talking about SciVis here. Visualizations are a group effort. I pushed the pixels, but it has to pass muster with the rest of the research group before it is presented.
You mentioned you fell in with the artists at the 1996
SIGGRAPH in New Orleans - had you been involved with the Gallery before that?
Nope. That was my first SIGGRAPH and my first contact with the GG. Pat Johnson (the driving force behind the GG) was working the door when I hobbled up on crutches. She read my badge (which stated that I was an oceanographer), cried out that the GG needed a scientist, dragged me inside, and the rest is history.
What was the zaniest thing you wittnessed in New Orleans? You
mentioned you were on crutches that year, did you go out at all - stay up late - that sort of thing...?"
Well there were a couple of things that I remember. The crutches actually made it easier for me to get around. I started up a running conversation with the shuttle bus driver who was on my hotel run. He would suggest restaurants for me to try and even swung off his route to drop me off right at the door of a couple of these.

The GG itself was just nuts. It was a whirlwind of creativity. I learned more about color theory, paper weight, and printing in those couple of days than I had learnt in the previous couple of years combined.

Patricia Johnson had been with the Guerilla Gallery basically from inception up until 1998 and then left, the same year you setup their network for the first time solo... was the network that bad?

Pat was ready to take some time off (organizing this venue is a HUGE time sink) after the '98 show. She has been helping out in various capacities for every show since then. This year she's running some workshops on Adobe Atmosphere in this year's Guerilla Studio.
Are you primarily 'the tech guy' behind what goes on with the Guerilla Gallery, and if so, how has the interaction been between the artists and yourself? Ever had any problems technical or otherwise that ended up working better than expected? Ever had a situation turn catastrophic? Yep, I'm the tech guy. The interactions between me and the artists have been generally very good. There have been a few pain in the asses and I'm sure that I few have thought I was a pain in the ass as well. That said, i have always had fun while on site. You can almost smell the creativity in the air.

I wouldn't call them problems. Disasters maybe, but not problems.

1997 - We kept loosing the Print Server on the network
1998 - We only received one large format printer instead of the four we were expecting. Pat Johnson managed to get us three more after we got on site.
1999 - Was the year of the Wins server broadcast storm. Every Windows box (we had 90 that year) suddenly started to broadcast that it was the Wins Master Browser. We had to shut them all down and restart them a couple at a time to clear this.
2000 - Could not gain access to our shared server with the CAL. I talked a RAID vendor on the show floor out of a storage device so that we could get up and running.
2001 - 20 monitors and a bunch of disk drives and CD burners didn't show up. The company that we were getting them from had a reorganization the week before the show.
2002 - Finished the image push to our Windows boxes 15 minutes before we opened and had our license server reformatted by accident half way through the show. This stopped Maya, Softimage, and FormZ dead in their tracks.

I'm usually pleasantly surprised when we pull this off year after year.

What has been your most memorable experience as far as being involved with GG is concerned... has it been tangible, stress-related, introspective? I've met a bunch of really good people over the years. Some of them have drifted away and I've lost contact with them. I wonder how they are and hope they are doing well.
You mentioned that your most memorable SIGGRAPH 'booth gift' was a pair of woolen socks from New Zealand... what did you have to do to get those? Were they clean? I've been dealing with a representative of a New Zealand based company for years via email and phone, but never met her. I Stopped by their booth last year and finally introduced myself. Before I left, she gave me the (clean) socks and a box of candy. Not a bad mix of practical and nice gifts I think.
   

 

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Last updated 8/11/03.

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