interviewed 29 July 2003 by Jessica Fernandes
Alan Norton is the
SIGGRAPH 2003 Web Graphics Chair, and a research professor
at the Colorado School of Mines.
|What first drew you to computer
||I started my career in mathematics, but I was
frustrated by the fact that math is so abstract and it’s
hard to communicate the beauty of mathematics. I interrupted
my math studies in 1979 with a summer position at Evans and
Sutherland Computer Co. (with the help of my friend Alyn Rockwood)
and I became very excited to learn that, with computer graphics,
mathematics (and especially geometry) can be used to visualize
things that people can readily understand and appreciate.
|Do you have any favorite computer graphics
Some of my favorites include Alyn Rockwood,
Benoit Mandelbrot, and Jim Kajiya. These people share a willingness
to discard old principles and enjoy constructing radically
new ways of using mathematics and computers.
|What was the first time you
contributed to SIGGRAPH?
In 1982 I had two papers accepted, one based
on the work at E&S, the other on quaternion fractals,
based on my work with Mandelbrot.
| What year/city was your first
SIGGRAPH? Which was most intense? Why?
The first was Dallas 1981. Most intense:
Boston 1989, when I got a lot of attention for the ET animation,
“Tipsy Turvy”. My team (from IBM Research) used
physically-based modeling to “break” the Utah
|What contributions to SIGGRAPH
are you most proud of?
||Breaking the teapot (1989) and quaternion fractals
(1982). With the teapot animation, I was particularly proud
of the fact that I was able to put together a successful animation
project at IBM Research. At that time, that company did not
usually accept computer animation as a serious research topic,
it was perceived as something akin to cartoons. On the other
hand that work may have led to the end of my IBM Research career,
since computer animation didn’t generate a lot of revenue
for the company in its financial troubles of the early 1990s.
I also got a lot of attention and enjoyment for doing quaternion
fractals (they nicely combined my math and computer graphics
interests) but, in spite of their visual appeal, I was never
able to figure out a way to use them in any useful way.
|What's your favorite thing
at this year or last year's SIGGRAPH?
||E-Tech and Web Graphics. Both of these programs
are rapidly breaking new ground in ways that people can immediately
(and interactively) appreciate. The more traditional venues
at Siggraph have more to do with seeing and understanding, without
enabling direct interaction by the public.
|What near/intermediate developments
in CG do you look forward to?
1. Widespread use of flexible, interactive
animated graphics-based user interfaces. Flash is showing
us that user interaction does not need to be confined to the
formal clicking of static buttons or filling in forms. I expect
that the full power of 3D graphics and animation will soon
be widely available in user interfaces (especially on the
Web). We have become accustomed to the unnatural and limiting
paradigms of dragging and clicking on icons in windows.
2. Wide adoption of volume-based modeling and rendering. Most
graphics is still being done with lines and surfaces (mostly
triangles) because of the limitations of 1980’s computers.
In those days people had to wait minutes or hours to render
an image from a volume. Now that everybody’s computer
can hold a 256MB graphics card, we are starting to see widespread
use of volume representations of data. Volumes are better than
polygons because they can more accurately represent the 3d nature
of real-world scenes.
in its second year, we see the addition of the Web Expo to the
Web Graphics program. What do you foresee the program expanding
to include in future years?
|| As you probably know, Simon Allardice is going
to be chair again next year, and he has some excellent plans.
You should talk to him for details, but I know he intends to
expand the program in several ways, both in attracting more
content and in offering more diversity for attendees. The Web
Graphics area is rapidly evolving, because it's making interactive
computer graphics content available to wider audiences than
ever before. It's accompanied by a surge of new technologies,
designs and commercial opportunities. It's not so important
for us to expand the size of the program as it is to evolve
the program to match the needs and interests of the growing
Web Graphics community, and Simon is actively working to this
you say there is a prominent theme or direction that this year’s
Web Graphics submissions are calling us to explore (such as
web-enabled devices, design, online communities, virtual spaces,
||Probably the most prominent theme in the Web
Graphics program is the use of Flash and related Macromedia
tools as the medium for designing interactive web sites. Most
of the content in the Expo uses Flash, and many of the presentations
discuss ways of extending Flash in Web designs and applications.
Applications are another prominent theme. In this year's program
you will see applications in science and technology, recreation,
community, development, education and other areas. The topics
you mention above continue to be actively discussed, but I would
say it is the diversity of new applications rather than any
specific technology that is emphasized in this years' submissions.
the past, animators and web developers constituted two discrete
areas of web graphics. In 2002, Simon Allardice, last year’s
Web Graphics Chair, mentioned that that was all beginning to
change. How far in that direction would you say we have reached?
||We've already come a long way in that direction,
and this year's program shows it. The tools are becoming more
usable and the animators are becoming more sophisticated. The
technology of Rich Internet Applications (RIA's) enables Web
animators to provide more interactive content. (There is a
session on RIAs Wednesday at 10:30) Note the artistic/technical
of Branden Hall and Josh Davis, who are both presenting this
year. Sandro Corsaro ("Flash hits the big time")
is showing how flash is becoming useful in feature film and
TV production. The gaming
session, Thurs at 3:45, shows another way in which animation
merges with web technology. There's a presentation Wednesday
morning in the Advanced 3D session showing how motion capture
data can be integrated into animated web content.