interviewed 11 August 2004 by Jessica
Rob Cook is among the first people to have been awarded an Oscar for sofrware. Born in Knoxville, TN, Cook was educated at Duke University & Cornell University. He is the co-architect and primary author of Pixar's RenderMan. Cook has recently been appointed to be Director at Large for ACM SIGGRAPH.
a little about yourself
||I work at Pixar Animation Studios in
the Research and Development Group. I went to Cornell
University, and started working at Pixar in 1981, back
when it was part of Lucasfilm. My first SIGGRAPH was in
1978 - and a lot has changed since then.
drew you to SIGGRAPH?
||I was drawn to SIGGRAPH in the first
place because it was so much fun. But I keep coming back
because of the amazing community of people here. Everyone
is excited about what they and others are doing and there
is hardly any jealousy, etc. That’s what hooked
me. Adding to that, what’s great about this field
is that it’s a place where many fields intersect.
There are people from lots of different areas collaborating.
It’s very exciting to be surrounded by so many inspiring
and creative people: both artists and technical people.
developments in CG do you look forward to?
||That’s easy, I look forward to
the ones I’m not anticipating ;) I mean, for example,
I know optimization is important but by the twentieth
paper on optimizing some well-known problem is less exciting,
less invigorating, than a paper on something that is completely
contributions to the graphics community and SIGGRAPH
most proud of?
|Probably RenderMan. When Loren Carpenter
and I created the original program 21 years ago, we had
no idea it would be used for so long – it’s
gratifying to see it still having an impact and being
used by so many people. A lot of that is not due to us
at all - there are so many other people who’ve taken
it so far beyond that original version - I’m just
proud to have helped start the ball rolling.
I’m also proud having introduced programmable
shading because it’s an attempt to address the
tough problem of mixing art and science. A computer
should be a great brush; it should make it easy for
you to express your creative intent. What it shouldn’t
do is try to automate the creative process or be creative
for you. And I think that reflects what the proper relationship
between people and technology should be like in general.
You don’t want things to be too automatic; you
still want things to be directed by people. The ideal
is for things to be intuitive and responsive, making
it easier for people to express their intent.
the first time you contributed to SIGGRAPH?
||My first contribution to SIGGRAPH was
in 1980, when I worked on a paper with Eliot Feibush and
Marc Levoy on antialiasing [Synthetic Texturing Using
I also collaborated with Ken Torrance on a paper on
shading algorithms, in 1981 [A reflectance model for
was your first SIGGRAPH? Which was most intense? Why?
||My first SIGGRAPH was in 1978, in Atlanta.
Well, actually, my very first SIGGRAPH was in 1976, in
Philadelphia. I was on a break from my job at the Hospital
of the University of Pennsylvania [sidenote of interest:
he was a computer programmer in the intensive-care unit
there] and I just happened upon this conference called
SIGGRAPH. Needless to say, I made sure I returned in following
My most intense conference would have to be the one
in 1984. I was involved in multiple papers and courses.
It was completely insane, and a lot of fun.
your favorite thing at this year or last year's SIGGRAPH?
The best things in this
field are the unexpected things that come out of fields
that do not normally intersect. I just sat in on a paper
applying confocal microscopy techniques to underwater
imaging. It’s unexpected and interesting. I love
to be able to come in and see things like that.
you have any interesting or funny SIGGRAPH stories/anecdotes
share with us?
| Glen Entis of PDI was on my Electronic
Theatre jury in 1985. We had seen a lot more good material
than would fit in the evening show, and Glen thought we
should have a forum for viewing that material. I managed
to convince conference co-chair Pat Cole to come up with
some space for us, and Glen created the Animation Screening
Room program, which will have its 20th birthday next year.
you have any favorite computer graphics mentors?
|| Wow- there are so many! If I had to
name just one, it would be Don Greenberg (professor at
Cornell). Other people who come to mind are Ed Catmull,
Loren Carpenter, Marc Levoy (student at Cornell), Turner
Whitted, Al Barr, and so many more that I don’t
even know where to begin.
few interesting facts that couldn’t go without mention:
- In 2001, he and two colleagues were awarded the
first Oscar ever given for software.
- Of the last 35 films nominated for Visual
Effects Oscars, 33 have used RenderMan.
- Rob Cook is currently the Vice President
of Software Engineering at Pixar Animation Studios
- He served as Electronic Theater Chair in
1985 and Papers Chair in 1995.
- In 1987, he received the ACM SIGGRAPH Achievement
Award in recognition of his contributions to the fields
of computer graphics and visual effects.
- At the 1985 SIGGRAPH conference in San Francisco,
he helped keep the good-natured SIGGRAPH ribbon phenomenon
alive, passing out ribbons that said “Party
Jury” on them. It was a ploy to get into all
the parties…only he and the select few party
jury ribbon wearers know how well things worked out.