INTERVIEWS

Judith Brown

Judith Brown is the Past President of ACM SIGGRAPH, and currently the chair of the 2003-04 Nominating Committee. Brown was manager of Advanced Research Computing Services (ARCS) at the University of Iowa.

What first drew you to computer graphics? My college degrees were in mathematics in the 60s. At this time, there was no computer science in my university, but Collins Radio Company (now Rockwell Collins) hired people with math and science backgrounds and trained them to do scientific programming. I was discouraged that computer programming did not use my math background, until I discovered computer graphics. I also had a longtime interest in art. The idea of doing programming that used math and produced images was very exciting.
Do you have any favorite computer graphics mentors?

Yes, Maxine Brown, now at Electronic Visualization Lab at University of Illinois, Chicago, is my computer graphics mentor, although she is younger than I am. She was already doing very exciting things with computer graphics, and she was on the ACM SIGGRAPH Executive Committee when we met in 1982. I also have always admired Tom DeFanti for his creativity, leadership, and sense of humor.

What was the first time you contributed to SIGGRAPH?

I was co-founder of the ACM SIGGRAPH Education Committee, which was started in 1982. My first major contribution was providing information on careers, which resulted first in several career seminars at the annual conference, and then in the first Computer Graphics Careers Handbook.

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

I first attended the annual SIGGRAPH conference in 1979, and I have attended every year since then, except 1981.

I guess the most intense conference was 1987, the first time I was a presenter. I chaired an educational workshop, "Computer Graphics Education: An Interdisciplinary Approach," that year. In 2000, I chaired the celebration for the thirtieth anniversary of the organization, ACM SIGGRAPH. This gave me an opportunity to show off all the activities of the organization that take place around the world and throughout the year.

What contributions to SIGGRAPH are you most proud of? I am proud of my contributions to building the education committee from scratch, editing the first Computer Graphics Career Handbook, chairing educational sessions at the annual conference, organizing international computer graphics workshops on education and visualization, international outreach efforts to build the computer graphics community worldwide, and serving on the ACM SIGGRAPH Executive Committee in four positions.
What's your favorite thing at this year or last year's SIGGRAPH? The annual conference is the best opportunity to see all my friends and colleagues each year and to meet new and interesting people.
What near/intermediate developments in CG do you look forward to? I have worked for many years as a consultant and early user of computer graphics technologies for research and education. I have seen the progress that allows artists and scientists to use computers interactively to accomplish their creative and scientific goals, where they once had to use a FORTRAN program to do so. The tools for creating virtual environments and using these for collaborative educational and research applications are also increasingly affordable and easy to use. I look forward to this continuing technological development to increase collaborative opportunities worldwide. I am co-chair of an international ACM SIGGRAPH conference on the "Virtual Reality Continuum for Applications in Industry," to be held in Singapore June 16-18, 2004, and I expect to see even more fascinating new applications and tools discussed there.
You have shown a strong focus on education in your work. What is the motivation for that?

Well, that empahsis began when my students would ask me questions I couldn't get answers to, questions such as "What do you need to know to do computer graphics?," "What jobs are there?" and "What schools are there to learn computer graphics?"

At first, it was largely career information that we sought to provide. It has since expanded to other things. These days, there is a lot more education possible. When I started, you couldn't get a degree in computer graphics.

It was neat to see all the schools for computer graphics on the show floor because none of these things existed when when I started working with the Education Committee around 1982.. A lot of the software and the hardware didn't exist. In the last ten years, we've made enormous strides. You used to have to be a computer programmer to do graphics, because the tools that we take for granted now weren't created yet. Now things are more efficient, less expensive, and more accessible. It's allowed us to focus on what we want to do rather than on how to make it work.

Do you have advice for people starting out in computer graphics? Well, I always advise people that the annual conference is the place to be to learn what's available, to open your eyes to what can be done. After that, it depends on what area you're trying to get into. A strong math or computer science background is essential for the technical positions, and a background in traditional art is important for the creative positions. Knowing something about both the technical and creative sides is valuable, and sometimes you can get the balance you need by building a team of technical and creative people.
You frequently collaborate with artists, right? How has this influenced your work?

It's been very important to have artists in my lab at the Advanced Research Computing Services at the University of Iowa. They would help us with so many things, such as specifying color palettes, page design layout, visual communication. That's led up to an area I'm working on now, visual learning.

Visual learning requires collaboration with people from many backgrounds--photojournalists, psychologists-- to create the best images for learning.

You're retired now, but you still have many projects underway. Can you tell us about those?

I've been working on some things that I've always wanted to do. Taking drawing lessons, for instance, I have learned that anyone can learn to draw, though maybe not like Picasso. It's a craft, not necessarily an art. That and tai-chi.

You can't have a profession for 25 years and just drop it. I'm still working, but I've just stopped going to staff meetings. I'm still working on visual learning. I'm coordinating the virtual reality conference. It's still interesting to keep a hand in things. I'm lucky that I've evolved into a position where I like everything enough to keep doing it. I particularly believe in volunteering. The volunteers I have worked with for so many years have become part of my family.

 

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

people

related links

 


 

This site is maintained by ACM SIGGRAPH Reports.
Last updated 8/10/03.

The ACM SIGGRAPH Reporter program is sponsored by ACM SIGGRAPH.
Photos courtesy of Cybershot digital cameras generously loaned by SONY.