Interview with Scott Senften
by Wendy Ju
July 22, 2002
What first drew you to computer graphics?
Basically, I can't draw but I could figure out the math to make
a computer draw for me.
The longer answer is that, like most of the very technical people
that I've encountered, I have always had a desire to express myself
artistically as well as technically, but over the years I found
that I have almost no artistic capabilities. In college, I took
a computer graphics course as part of my
undergraduate studies, and I was hooked. I found a way to fulfill
that part of me given the talents that I was
blessed with....of course actual artists still wouldn't say what
I did was art.
Do you have any favorite CG mentors?
My thesis advisor, Dr. Sam Uselton, introduced me to both computer
graphics as well as SIGGRAPH. One of his students, Mark Lee, two
years ahead of me, basically drug me through graduate school, teaching
me how things truly worked from a practical implementation point
of view. Their mentoring is a large part of the inspiration for
today's Pathfinders program.
On the SIGGRAPH side, John Fujii, who was the SIGGRAPH 96 Conference
Chair, the first year I was on a conference committee, taught me
what it meant to serve at SIGGRAPH. Barb Helfer, who I've met through
SIGGRAPH and who either has served as a subcommittee member for
me or I have served for her, taught me how to balance myself against
Here's a dedication
On a more global scale, Turner Whitted's research in ray tracing
was the first work that really drew my attention. I have watched
career and research very closely over the years. I was thrilled
to have him serve on my ETech jury this year. Also, much of Andrew
Glassner's research and inspiration has been instrumental to me.
Breshanhan's line algorithm was the first thing I ever implemented.
I have heard him talk several times and and always marveled at his
practical insights. I was finally able to meet him at S99.
What was the first time you contributed to SIGGRAPH?
My first conference and first (of many) paper submission (and rejection)
was Atlanta 1988.
Anaheim...ahhhh... 1993 was the first time I volunteered as a course
subcommittee and jury member. SIGGRAPH 96 was my first conference
committee position. SIGGRAPH 97 was my first presentation at a conference.
What year/city was your first SIGGRAPH? Which was most intense?
Atlanta 1988 was my first year and I was totally overwhelmed. Besides
SIGGRAPH 96 which had to be the most intense and most enjoyable
for me personally both because of my involvement and because I love
New Orleans, Atlanta had to be the most intense, simply because
was so knew to me. I can remember vividly walking down the hall
and hearing the sound of people hitting beach balls at the Pixar/PDI
pool party. I still have one of those beach balls in my office.
What contributions to SIGGRAPH are you most proud of?
I think my proudest accomplishment in SIGGRAPH is that over half
of the individuals that I have asked to serve as subcommittee or
jury members have continued on to be on conference committees. I
am also very proud in helping John Fujii get the Pathfinders program
off the ground.
What's your favorite thing at this year or last year's SIGGRAPH?
Actually, I didn't get to see much last year outside of Emerging
Technologies. I think my favorite piece of work last year was the
"Riding the Net" work.
2001 also found me chairing an sketch session on art. I was a last
minute replacement so had no time to properly prepare. Turns out
that I stumbled into, apparently, a bit of a controversy. Netochka
Nezvanova was a contributor, but not being in the art community,
I had no idea who or what she was or represented. It is possible
that their presence was an attempt at satire, but since I didn't
know any better it went right past me. After the session, I was
asked several times to recount the story to members of the art community
and the committee. If not my favorite thing, it was pretty memorable.
In 2000, there are several pieces that stick out. The Wooden Mirror,
of course, was outstanding, and I loved "Text Rain", both
in the art show. Also there was a much smaller piece in the art
show called "a text for the navigational age" that inspired
me to work on my first art piece.
What near/intermediate developments in CG do you look forward
Not sure how near term it is, but I'm looking forward to unencumbering
human-machine interfaces, devices that work seamlessly with my own
senses. I predict that these
will be commonplace in the next 10-15 years.
How did you get involved with chairing ETech?
I got tricked! Appolloni tricked me!
Actually, I had backed away from a lot of in depth service after
1996 and was looking to reengage. S2002 offered an opportunity that
was relatively close to home (San Antonio is an easy 2hr drive)
Appolloni and I served on the SIGGRAPH 96 committee together so
I had an idea of what I was getting involved in. I then called John
Fujii and talked to him about what sort of program he thought I
should volunteer on. I was thinking Pathfinders or Sketches (I had
chaired the technical sketch jury in 2000). Fujii said ETech. I
said he was
crazy. I then went and spoke with Tom about what he had in mind,
what I had in mind, and how I might fit in. I told him about Pathfinders
and Sketches. He asked me about ETech. I asked him if he had been
talking with Fujii... So, given that two men I trusted both told
me to think about ETech, I did. Tom then told me that he was considering
Doug Roble for Sketches. Doug had served on my sketches jury and
I had recommended him as an excellent potential committee member
and easily a better choice for sketches than I was. So with Tom
at the helm, and Doug on board, I dove into ETech... I still think
it was a setup...
What are the major themes in this year's ETech exhibits?
Overall, the major theme of the program is about human-machine
interfaces. What SIGGRAPH is ultimately exploring is better ways
to fit the I/O systems of a machine to the I/O systems of the human.
Sight, graphics, was the first way we did this and the eyes have
an amazing bandwidth for input that we as a community have thoroughly
studied. Emerging Technologies is at the forefront about unlocking
the use of those other I/O systems.
More directly, this year's contributions can be largely divided
into 3 major themes; virtual reality, augmented reality, and robotics.
Give us some examples of the range of things that visitors
If you look at the range,
we have totally immersive, totally virtual, environments like ARS
BOX and Virtual Chanbara on one side, where humans roam in a virtual
world and totally artificial devices like Lewis the Robotic Photographer
or Public Anemone that roam in the real world. In between is a bunch
of augmented reality work like The Virtual Showcase, Augmenting
Reality with 3D Sound Sources, and Smartfinger.
Are there any exhibits that are personal favorites?
Absolutely not! I love them all!
There are some that obviously attract my personal interests but
every contribution went through a strict jury process and so have
their own particular reason for being exhibited. I am truly looking
forward to experiencing them all.
That being said, there is a piece of work that I initiated and
that John Fujii has taken ownership of. It is called "Tomorrow's
Yesterday: Mapping the E-Tech Continuum". As chair, my vision
of Emerging Technologies has always been that it is a continuum
of exploration and that each year we add a little bit of information
to our map of things we know and have tried and that points the
way to areas that still need to be explored. What I didn't have
was a map of what we've already done which made it difficult to
know if current work was really emerging or not. Enter John who
took my idea of wanting a map and ran with it. We will be rolling
out his interpretation of ETech history at the conference. Since
this has always been part of my vision for this program, I'm pretty
excited to see it myself.