Interview: Kurt Akeley, Rays vs. Rasters Panelist
What first drew you to computer graphics?
It was actually two things, firstly it was just the opportunity
to build things. When I was at Stanford I was looking for a professor
to do some work with and I couldn’t find any. Jim Clark, in
a presentation indicated he was looking for some students to build
graphics systems. I like building stuff, so it was really more the
building then the graphics itself at first.
Do you have any favorite CG mentors?
Certainly Jim Clark is the obvious one. I learned the fundamentals
of graphics from Jim, and, to a lesser but important degree, the
guys that started SGI. Working with Pat Hanrahan is an inspiration
now so even at this point in my life I’ve got mentors.
What was the first time you contributed to SIGGRAPH?
The first time I did a papers presentation was 1988 in Atlanta,
decribing the GT graphics system. I also was also contributing to
what SGI was doing and presenting things on the show floor at SIGGRAPH.
I’ve also been reviewing papers for SIGGRAPH since 1980 or
so, when Jim Clark was on the committe. In a sense, that was a
minor contribution. I’ve actually been reviewing the papers
for over twenty years.
What year/city was your first SIGGRAPH? Which was the most
The first time I attended SIGGRAPH was in 1984 in Minneapolis, and
I’ve been to every SIGGRAPH since except for the 1998 conference
when my son was born.
The one conference that we had the greatest focus on was actually
introducing the GT graphics. The paper was in 1988, but we actually
did a whisper suite in 1987 in Anaheim. There was a huge effort
to get that machine ready in time for the conference. We showed
it in a quiet way to thousands of people in this whisper suite and
I think we were doing back-to-back presentations every half hour
for the whole time we were there. Maybe that was the most intense
one, but it was also the most fun.
What contributions to SIGGRAPH are you most
I guess that would be chairing the papers program in 2000. It’s
both a privilege and a responsibility to take that job. Part of
the responsibility is to not do things that leave it in worse shape
then we found it, so you want to be conservative about changes you
make, but you also want to leave it in better shape. Like an engineering
project if you are too aggressive you risk doing damage but if you
don’t do anything you didn’t really contribute. I put
a lot of effort into sort of formalizing the mechanisms and policy
and trying to leave a clear record of a bunch of procedural things.
I think I put more effort myself into the process and perception
and I counted on committee member to put in the specific efforts
identifying the best contributions in terms of the papers. My job
was to facilitate them and provide a process to make it all work
well and I felt like I was successful doing that.
What’s your favorite thing at this year or last year’s
I think my favorite my favorite thing about all SIGGRAPH’s
just meeting and interacting with friends and other folks doing
graphics. I enjoy sitting in on the courses. This year I learned
more so far in the courses then I have in the papers and that’s
kind of new for me.
I think I haven’t focused so much in the past. But still the
truth is my very favorite thing is running into old acquaintances
and people I don’t see very often and getting a chance to
What near/intermediate developments in CG do you look forward
I really look forward to 3D graphics somehow finding its way into
our non-computer related lives. I want it to be more of the real
world and have some augmented reality. I see that happening, I really
don’t know when but I think that that’s going to be
an inflection point when graphics takes on a really new significance
in our lives relative to a guess a lot of people are excited about
what’s going to happen with the web, and I’m sure that’s
exciting but I still feel like having graphics be something that
I do is not as interesting as having graphics be something that
is just with me as I do other things.
||People make SIGGRAPH what it is. Here a small sampling
of the people here in 2002
Kurt was the architect for GL/OpenGL.
Both Kurt Akeley and Maureen Stone claimed being the Papers Chair was the contribution which they are most proud of.