Interview: Dr. Hanspeter Pfister
Hanspeter Pfister is Associate Director and Senior Research Scientist at MERL - Mitsubishi Electric Research Laboratories - in Cambridge, MA. He is the chief architect of VolumePro, Mitsubishi Electric's real-time volume rendering hardware for PCs. His research interests include computer graphics, scientific visualization, and graphics architectures. Hanspeter Pfister received his Ph.D. in Computer Science in 1996 from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. He received his M.S. in Electrical Engineering from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) Zurich, Switzerland, in 1991. He is senior member of the IEEE, and member of ACM, ACM SIGGRAPH, the IEEE Computer Society, and the Eurographics Association.
This year you have the honor of being the chair of the Sketches Committee. Some attendees may not know what a SIGGRAPH Conference sketch is and how its different from the papers program, courses or the Emerging Technology gallery. Could you describe what a sketch is?
A SIGGRAPH Conference sketch is a 20-minute presentation about an exciting topic in computer graphics and interactive techniques. The keyword is exciting - sketches include provocative speculation, academic research, industrial development, practical tools, and behind-the-scenes explanations of commercial and artistic works.
How many sketches are planned for this year's conference?
This year we received 580 submissions, a new record, and accepted 132 sketches for presentation at SIGGRAPH 2006.
The SIGGRAPH Conference is very selective when it comes to research papers. Is the same true regarding the Sketches program?
Due to the high number of submissions the acceptance rate for sketches was 23% - much lower than in the past. That's both good - the average quality is higher - and bad - we might loose out on some speculative, half-baked, but ultimately influential ideas. We tried to balance these issues during the jury selection.
This years Sketches program has many interesting and varied topics. Do you see any developing trends in computer graphics from this years sketches?
There are clearly a number of trends. Movie production continues to push the envelope in terms of visual quality. The program includes various presentations about the special effects in "King Kong", "Ice Age: The Melt Down", "Cars", "Over The Hedge", "Pirates of the Caribbean 2", and "Poseidon", among others. One of the highlights for me is a sketch about the facial animation capture and expressive translation system used for "King Kong" [Sagar and Grossman]. Production sketches are usually crowd magnets, and I expect this year to be no exception.
Another clear trend is the increasing sophistication of real-time methods on GPUs. A few highlights in this category include a sketch on rendering grass in real-time with dynamic lighting [Boulanger et al.], a real-time implementation of the facial animation system that was used in the "Matrix" sequels [Borshukov et al.], and an elegant and simple method for pre-computed ambient occlusion for character skins [Kirk and Arinkan]. Clearly, all of these real-time techniques have applications in computer games.
Finally, we see many sketches on increasingly sophisticated acquisition and simulation of physics. One of my favorites uses laser scanning to acquire three-dimensional, time-varying fluid phenomena [Lang et al.]. Other examples include coupling of fluids and deformable bodies [Chentanez et al.], automatically generating protective character poses in anticipation of impending collisions [Metoyer et al.], and detailed control of liquids so that they flow from a source into a target shape [Shin and Kim].
Are there any sketches or session which you are particularly excited about?
I am really excited about all sketches we accepted this year. The sketches program is the biggest venue at SIGGRAPH for inspiring and thought-provoking presentations in art, design, technology, and entertainment. I believe the increase in submissions shows the growing interest in sketches, and the fact that we decreased the acceptance rate inevitably leads to higher quality presentations.
Of course, there will be some fun and quirky pieces as well. For example, we accepted a sketch about a system that allows pet owners to play computer games with their pets. The authors implemented a game between a human and a live hamster [Tan et al.]. I believe that the combination of graphics, human-pet interaction, and hamsters is a first in the history of SIGGRAPH.
The session titles for the Sketches program always have several tongue in cheek titles such as 2004's "Sketchy Sketches". This year, the committee appears to have become quite creative with the session titles. For example, "Crowded, Furry, and in a Hurry" and "FX and The City" are two sessions that caught my eye in this year's program. How does the committee decide on the names?
Thank you for noticing. I think it is important to have session titles that reflect what the sketches program is - creative and fun. We spent a fair amount of time at the end of the jury meeting and during dinner to come up with good titles. We did very well thanks to good food, wine, and the creative genius of the sketches jury, especially Ken Perlin.
Can we credit you with any of the titles?
I cannot remember - honestly - and I would not say. ;-)
You have served on the Papers Committee almost every year since 2001. You've also been an active contributor to the computer graphics community as a researcher at Mitsubishi Electric Research Lab. What contributions to the SIGGRAPH community are you most proud of?
Being Sketches chair is certainly the highlight of my SIGGRAPH involvement. Seeing all the submissions and collective creativity and hard work from all the authors is awe inspiring. The sketches jury this year was simply outstanding, and I am proud and honored to have been working with such a talented and fun group of people. The same is true for the entire SIGGRAPH 2006 committee and our fearless leader, SIGGRAPH 2006 chair John Finnegan. To the future leaders among us I simply say: go for it and volunteer for SIGGRAPH!