interviewed 10 August 2004 by Merrie Ringel
Pat Hanrahan was the 2003 recipient of the prestigious Coons award. He is a professor of Computer Science at Stanford University.
|What first drew you to computer graphics?
||I was a graduate student in biophysics at Wisconsin, not particularly interested in computers, computer science or computer graphics. My project involved modeling the motornervous system of the nematode Ascaris lumbricodes. With 55 neurons, this simple roundworm was able to generate the characteristic, sine-generated wave that propelled it forward. Modeling this system was a fascinating problem that involved the interplay between the shape of the neurons and the simulation of their electrical activity. It drew me into computers, shape representations, simulation and visualization. Once I realized the power of the computational approach to solving problems, I was hooked.
||Do you have any favorite CG mentors?
||Paul Haeberli went to the University of Wisconsin as well. We eventually became roommates. He introduced me to computer graphics on Teraks. Paul is an incredibly imaginative guy that always coming up with creative ideas. He inspired me in those early days, and later when we worked together at SGI. One of my all-time favorite SIGGRAPH papers is about the 3D painting system that we developed together.
Later I moved to NYIT, and Robert McDermott and Lance Williams became strong mentors. Paul Heckbert also patiently taught me an enormous amount about computer graphics. Before I went to NYIT, I was mostly self-taught. There I learned about how computer graphics really worked. NYIT was a thrilling place to work, and everyone that worked there to this day remembers it as a life-changing experience.
I was fortunate enough to get a job offer at PIXAR. Ed Catmull and Alvy Ray Smith instantly became mentors. I also had great office-mates, particularly Loren Carpenter and Bob Drebin. Finally, who could have better colleagues than Michael Cohen at Princeton and Marc Levoy at Stanford?
Throughout my career I've had the opportunity to work with brilliant and sincere people. Looking back, it is hard to believe how lucky I've been.
|What was the first time you contributed to SIGGRAPH?
||My first paper was at SIGGRAPH 1981 in Dallas. I submitted the paper knowing that I wanted to participate, but I had no idea what a big deal it was, or what was involved in presenting a paper. I worked on the paper alone in isolation. When it came time to send in the final copy, I didn't know what to do. I had never produced a paper in "camera-ready form." Paul Haeberli saved me by patiently explaining the concept of paste-up. I really stumbled through my first talk. Afterward, after meeting so many people with similar interests, I knew this was the community for me.
||What contributions to SIGGRAPH are you most proud of?
||I'm most proud when I see students give their first SIGGRAPH presentation. We have a rule in my lab that if you haven't given a talk at SIGGRAPH before, then you should present the paper. It is a lot of work preparing a paper and the presentation because the standards are so high. The presenter practices and practices and everyone else pitches in to help improve their talk. Finally, when you see them successfully pull it off, it is delightful. And, even better is to see their joy when their ideas take off and are expanded upon by other people in subsequent years.
||What near/intermediate developments in CG do you look forward to?
||I would like to see the conference diversify. Unfortunately, it is much less diverse than in the early days. When I first went to SIGGRAPH there was much more serious involvement by artists, for example. Other groups have also unfortunately largely dropped out, like people interested in interactive techniques, computer-aided design and visualization. And exciting new developments like ubiquitous computing and visual communication on the internet are not represented properly. I think the big challenge for SIGGRAPH is to enlarge its base and encourage more diversity.