Interview with James L. Mohler
James L. Mohler is the SIGGRAPH 2005 Conference Chair. He is also an Associate Professor in the Department of Computer Graphics Technology at Purdue University, where he received his B.S. in Technical Graphics. He holds a M.S. in Industrial Technology and is currently finishing his Ph.D. in Education. Professor Mohler has been teaching since 1991 and serves in the interactive multimedia specialization within the department. He is a Senior Research Scientist of Multimedia and Web Development, where he is involved with Information Technology at Purdue (IT@P). He has received several teaching awards, such as the Purdue University Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching Award in memory of Charles B. Murphy. Professor Mohler has authored, co-authored or contributed to 16 texts, presented over 45 papers and workshops, and authored over 25 articles. Previously, he was the Educators Program Chair for the SIGGRAPH 2002 conference. It is my great privilege to be speaking with him at this time.
What inspired you to pursue a career in computer graphics technology?
I have always had an inclination towards drawing, painting and the creation of graphics. Granted, this was initially in terms of traditional media – pencil, ink, paint etc. However during my undergraduate education I began using the computer to create such works. Once on the computer, my attention turned towards multimedia and the web. I am fascinated by the melding of media – either traditional or digital.
What was one of your favorite courses as a student?
To be honest, it is very difficult for me to name just one. If I were to choose, the decision would be influenced by the teacher more than the subject.
What do you enjoy most about being a teacher?
I started teaching as an undergraduate student and I guess what hooked me on teaching was the desire to help; that feeling that I was helping someone better themselves. It is always amazing to me to watch as students develop, regardless of the skill or knowledge they are learning. What keeps it amazing is that the process and means by which it happens is as infinitely different as each learner.
Tell me a little about your human-computer interface design course.
Well, actually I have not taught for two and a half years. I have been serving as a Senior Research Scientist in the central IT organization at Purdue University. With oversight of an outstanding group of people, as well as activities with SIGGRAPH, I had to set teaching aside. However, in the fall I will be returning to faculty duties full time and I am quite excited about returning to the classroom.
Are you currently in the process of writing any more books?
Yes. I have two that I will be completing in the last quarter of this year and another three that I have committed to next year. While in my administrative position, I have not been afforded the time to focus on writing. This, too, is something I look forward to returning to.
What are some of the advantages of The Access Grid?
The Access Grid permits people from all across the world to simultaneously interact, collaborate, present, and engage in real time. This year, the Access Grid makes its debut at SIGGRAPH and will be used for a collaborative performance piece, international art panels and multi-site community interaction.
What did you learn from your experience as the Educators Program Chair for SIGGRAPH 2002?
Each program of SIGGRAPH is a microcosm of the overall SIGGRAPH conference. Whether a program chair or conference chair, you deal with a lot of the same issues. The only difference is the scope and scale. Probably the biggest thing I gained was the knowledge, experience, and confidence to apply to be a conference chair.
What is your vision for the 2005 SIGGRAPH conference?
The committee’s vision for the 2005 conference was to really focus on the core of what SIGGRAPH is about: content, people and experience. In addition, the committee has worked hard to create truly unique collaborations across the various programs. Many of the things at S2005 are a fruit of some collaboration between programs. For example, Access Grid is a collaboration between E-Tech, Art Gallery and GraphicsNet; the implementation sketches are a collaboration between Papers and Sketches; and storyboard art is a collaboration between CAF and Art Gallery. These are but a few of the new things that emerged out of the committee’s synergy and interactions.
How do you plan to improve on last year’s conference?
We have truly tried to focus on bringing the best of the best in our standard programs, while also branching out with some of the new exciting things we are trying this year. Additionally, we have listened to the community – via attendee and exhibitor surveys – and attempted to respond to their desires as well.
Do you have any favorite mentors?
There are two mentors who have had a great impact on me; ones I feel honored to call past teachers, mentors, colleagues and also friends. The first is the late Charles Campbell and the second is Dr. Gary Bertoline.
What year/city did you first attend SIGGRAPH?
The first SIGGRAPH I attended was 1997 in Los Angeles.
What was your first contribution to SIGGRAPH?
My first contribution to SIGGRAPH was to the Electronic Schoolhouse in 1999.
What contributions to SIGGRAPH are you most proud of?
Undoubtedly the thing I am most grateful for is being able to work with the S2005 Committee over the last 18 months. It has been an honor to work with such a great group of people.
What was your favorite part of last year's SIGGRAPH?
At SIGGRAPH 2003, I spent most of my time interviewing potential chairs for my program committee. So I would have to say my favorite part of last year’s SIGGRAPH was getting to see some of the conference.
What future developments in CG do you look forward to?
I look forward to the continued blurring, meshing, melding and intertwining of science, art and technology. Notwithstanding all of the practical products, processes and things that affect our daily lives, it is interesting to watch as the computer graphics discipline matures and evolves.