INTERVIEWS

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Ronen Barzel

What first drew you to computer graphics? Hmmm. I just kind of drifted into it. I was an undergrad at Brown, doing math and physics and computer science... Andy van Dam was the department chair and i joined his research group. Then I got a call about a job at Lucasfilm... and things just kept going! But in retrospect, I've always loved cartoons and movies--long before computer graphics!--so finding something that combined cartoons and movies and computers, with a minor specialty in physically-based modeling, pretty much wrapped it all together.
Do you have any favorite computer graphics mentors? Andy van Dam's program at Brown was where I really got a solid grounding in the basics. And I owe a lot to Al Barr, my advisor in grad school for helping me along in my physically-based modeling grad work. And I learned a huge amount from working with all the great folks at Pixar. Especially early on during Toy Story (the first one!), where I learned a lot about animation and art from working with the director John Lassiter, and with the art director Ralph Eggleston, to name just the two with the most impressive titles :)
What was the first time you contributed to SIGGRAPH? Well, in 1983 a couple of other undergrads/grad students and I coded up fractal mountains (they were all the rage back then) and had a slide accepted to the SIGGRAPH slide set. But my first real contribution was in 1987, helping Al Barr organize, and teaching a part of the first physically-based modeling course.
What year/city was your first SIGGRAPH? Which was most intense? Why? My first one was 1984 in Minneapolis, I was working for Lucasfilm at the time, spent most of the conference in the demo suite. 1989 was memorable for me because it was the first time I knew enough people in the field that I spent the whole week running into friends and colleagues, and didn't go to a single talk! I've learned to balance my time better since then...
What contributions to SIGGRAPH are you most proud of?If the posters program turns out succesfully I'll be pretty proud of that! (ask me again August 12 :) And it's hard not to be proud of the sketches program, especially that the committee and I managed to review and discuss a daunting, record number of submissions. I do think my "dynamic constraints" paper back in '88 was kinda cool, though the field has moved very far beyond that since then. but maybe my most lasting impact: Al Barr and I coined the term "physically-based modeling" for that 1987 course, that seems to be still with us...
What's your favorite thing at this year or last year's SIGGRAPH? Seeing friends! Other than that, I cannot speak about 2004. Last year my favorite thing was seeing friends! The favorite GEEKY thing was Terry Yoo's panel: Truth Before Beauty. And the combo eTech and Art show.
What near/intermediate developments in CG do you look forward to? the high-end effects and production work of course always gets better and better, there's always more to look forward to. but i'm also a big fan of so-called nonphotorealistic animation and rendering--i think the possibilities have hardly begin to be explored, i'm really looking forward to great creative visionaries creating entirely new looks and modes for visual expression.

i'm also really intrigued by the increasing ubiquity of computer interaction and communication (not just fancy 3D rendering) on the web, in wikis, and cell phones, and tangible interfaces, cyber clothing, etc. the cynic in me tends to sneer at most any specific new example of those, but when i let my guard down i'll admit they're really the wave of the future, and it's fun to see which things catch on and then go on to change our world.

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