Interview: John M. Fujii
John Fujii, the SIGGRAPH 2005 Courses Chair, is a programmer and advanced graphics engineer for Hewlett-Packard in Fort Collins, Colorado. His work includes rendering and texturing technologies, standards, immersive visualization, Linux graphics workstations, and remote collaborative software. Previously, he was a researcher in computer science, image synthesis, animation systems, and interactive techniques. His roles in ACM SIGGRAPH include conference chair (1996), siggraph.org information manager, executive committee, conference advisory group, and courses chair (2005). His major advocacy has been conference and career mentoring through the Pathfinders conference programs. He is a member of the ACM and IEEE.
What first drew you to computer graphics?
When I was young, I discovered a wonderful drawing of steam locomotives rendered by my architect uncle for his father. It was fascinating and I dreamed of seeing this image "move" - thus I was inspired to study art, photography, and ultimately computer graphics as means for such a goal. While conventional animation seemed like the path to go, after I saw Larry Cuba's work in Star Wars (1977), computers and photography proved to be my actual destiny.
In those days, however, finding an organization like ACM SIGGRAPH was very difficult - the "Internet" as we know it did not exist. I suspected it was out there, but finding this promised shore was pure "luck" at the time.
Do you have any favorite CG mentors?
My first mentors were the graduate students, researchers, and staff of Ohio State's CGRG/ACCAD and CIS groups of the late 1980s. They formed a wonderful environment of interdisciplinary collaboration and support.
Professionally, I've found great inspiration by working with Cornell alumni through numerous collaborations (Wallace, Haines, Rushmeier, etc.) and the programs at University of North Carolina - great people and ideas.
What was the first time you contributed to SIGGRAPH?
I contributed to a number of Ohio State animations in the Electronic Theater years of 1988 - 1990. My animation work was selected in 1989 for both CAF and the Art Show.
What year/city was your first SIGGRAPH? Which was most intense? Why?
1988 was the first summer I could afford to attend a SIGGRAPH conference. I drove from Columbus to Atlanta that year and then Columbus to Boston the next. Those were some crazy times of learning to navigate a new field (and drive long distances before and after the conference!) :-)
So far my most "intense" conference would have to be 1996. I was the conference chair and that was our first year in a brand new SIGGRAPH city - New Orleans! What a grand adventure - great technical content, exciting exhibition, offsite venues for CAF and Art Shows, local outreach, great receptions, Douglas Adams keynote, and an excellent host city. It was Tabasco intense!
What contributions to SIGGRAPH are you most proud of?
For one, I'm most proud of what our committees and contributors did for the 1996 conference. For me it was a "perfect storm" of ideas, energy, and industry directions.
Individually, I've really enjoyed the mentoring work that I continue to pursue within SIGGRAPH. Pathfinders (mentoring for the first-time attendee) and career mentoring have always been major activities for me. Pathfinders was particularly important for me to start because the continuum of our communities only remains viable if newcomers can engage and find their place within the daunting phenomenon that SIGGRAPH has become.
What's your favorite thing at this year or last year's SIGGRAPH?
With a certain bias, I'm looking forward to the Courses program and its many unique offerings. Everyone has worked very hard to deliver a great program. Then again, I've been working with a very engaged and talented conference committee so I'm really going to be hard pressed to choose a "favorite" - all of their program content will be excellent this year.
What near/intermediate developments in CG do you look forward to?
I'm interested in the general programmability of GPUs as an emerging field of practical applications. I also believe that work in open source computer graphics will lead to new platforms for collective creativity that we could not reach alone.
I'm hoping with general affordability of superscalar graphics cards, we begin to see even higher fidelity output DACs for general use (16-bit per channel would be excellent for high dynamic range rendering).
Have you been keeping an eye on any open-source projects related to CG?
Open source is, in many ways, the spirit of the SIGGRAPH conference. Researchers of the past released bits and pieces of their work to help others understand and build upon their work. I remember ray tracing being one of those seminal areas. Now with the broad acceptance of open source work such as projects based upon the Linux kernel and GNU toolsets, you'll find huge value and ideas coming to the forefront in their own right. From roots such as the X11 project to modern day packages in rendering (Radiance, POVray), immersive environments (VR Juggler), and GP-GPU projects, there's a great richness to what we can accomplish together.
I've found that the adoption of free/open-source software practices varies wildly in different areas of computing. What influences do you think shape this for CG?
Well, my answer to that is layered. Major organizations are building their enterprises on open source distributions. They rely upon the effectiveness of general toolsets (such as compilers and debuggers) on a variety of processors/GPUs. At first we're talking about the freedom to use this software - great, they've done great things by leveraging this work. Now I'd like to see us as a community of users start figuring out ways to give back (in terms of work, resources, and funding) to make those general tools better for everyone involved. Adoption was easy for UNIX houses. Now shared growth is the next direction that we need.
Another layer, I think, is what we can be doing in research areas. It would be great to see work by organizations (such as ACM SIGGRAPH) to help engage its membership or support major projects materially in such a way that we have common platforms (testbeds) by which CG&IT research can build and flourish. That's a really tough problem, sure, but who better else to tackle it? In the past, we used to have to read the proceedings and try to figure out/re-implement ideas so that we could take them to the next step. On the atomic-level, simple ideas have been replaced with broad and detailed ideas that require huge foundations of software just to get to where the ideas were presented. We need to be supporting the freer exchange and leverage of ideas so, in effect, we build upon the shoulders of past giants (paraphrasing Newton).
I'd even love it if ACM SIGGRAPH considered collecting and maintaining its own "educational" open source distribution of various great software projects. Much like what Debian, Suse, Red Hat, and others have done for Linux. SOFTGRAPH anyone?
I'm unfamiliar with the concept of a digital<->analog converter as relates to Computer Graphics. Could you elaborate a bit?
My reference here is to the color conversion and fidelity issues of our framebuffers and "DACs". The "deeper" our color representations (16-bits per color channel with an digital-to- analog conversion ability on the backend) and more finely tuned our monitors, the wider the color gamut we can represent to the viewer.
Recently we've gone from "8-bit" graphics cards (indexed color) to "24-bit" graphics cards (8-bit per channel true color) to higher resolution color lookup tables (10-bit, 12-bit LUTs) to achieve richer "color" output. More affordable capabilities in the cards (often the likes of which we only saw on $100,000 workstations) will hopefully be available soon.