Vol.32 No.1 February 1999
SIGGRAPH Movie Progresses; Pioneer Covers the Conference Growth Years
So how’s the SIGGRAPH The Story of Computer Graphics movie coming along, I hear you ask? Splendidly, thank you! SIGGRAPH 98 Chair Walt Bransford’s “glint-in-the-eye” vision originating almost three years ago is now coming together.
Our movie production team, including Frank Foster, Steve Silas, Joan Collins Carey and Judson Rosebush, has completed the videotaping of around 50 interviews in high definition television (HDTV) format. Many of those interviews were conducted in Orlando at SIGGRAPH 98, and, more recently, in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Among the folks now “in the can” (as co-executive producer, I’m beginning to learn the movie lingo!) are:We’ve been lucky enough to hear some marvelous comments about where we’ve been, where we are and where we’re going from our many interviewees! Additional interviews may be conducted as we begin to assemble the film, and if we find additional material is needed. At the same time, historic and significant video clips are being gathered, and custom animation is being designed in preparation for the movie.
Sponsors are coming aboard, and at time of writing (end of December 1998) these include:
We’d be delighted if you feel you’d like to be part of this historic venture. Sponsorship opportunities are still available. Contact me for additional information including a brochure that explains the movie’s concept, mission and HDTV strategy, a movie “treatment” and a short video promotion reel. We also have a movie Web page at http://www.siggraph.org/movie/, and you can read our monthly ad in Computer Graphics World magazine.
The movie is being “cut” now, and The Story of Computer Graphics will premier at the SIGGRAPH conference in August 1999. Watch out for details and information about other viewing opportunities - this is, I believe, a truly exciting time for CG Pioneers and PIT’s (Pioneers in Training) everywhere!
P.S. Speaking of “Pioneers and computer graphics,” I felt I needed to share with you a small news item I ran across while reading an old Newsweek (Nov. 2, 1998, pp 40) in the doctor’s office. In an article entitled “Nowhere to Hide” which says, “several world-class former tyrants live in exile...” the following caption was attached to a photograph of Raoul Cadres: “Raoul Cadres. Haiti. Panama has refused to extradite him to face murder and other human-rights charges. He runs a computer-graphics shop above a Dairy Queen.” Now, there’s a question for the SIGGRAPH Bowl!
The SIGGRAPH Conference: Growth Years
Bob Ellis was motivated to write the following article by Robin Williams’ Computer Graphics article and by his SIGGRAPH 98 Pioneer reception panel. Apparently the 25th convention celebration and this year’s SIGGRAPH 30th anniversary has triggered delightful nostalgia amongst our CG community.
Do we have a volunteer to follow up Robin’s and Bob’s work with an article that chronicles SIGGRAPH’S most recent decade: 1988-1998? Please contact Gordon or myself if you have some ideas or thoughts.
— Carl Machover
Inspired by Robin Williams’ article in Computer Graphics (Volume 33, Number 3, August 1998, pp. 48-50) and his presentation at the Pioneers Reception at SIGGRAPH 98, I decided to take the next step in the chronology and document what I call the growth years, 1977 through 1987. During that period, I was a SIGGRAPH Director, Co-Chair of SIGGRAPH 80, SIGGRAPH Vice-Chair and SIGGRAPH Vice-Chair for Conference Planning.
While the ‘77-’87 growth doesn’t look so spectacular in light of 25 years of data (see “Interpreting SIGGRAPH Conference Statistics,” elsewhere in this issue), when looked at by itself in Figure 1, it’s pretty dramatic.
The key task facing me and my conference colleagues (I hope I’ve remembered all the key people) at that time was coping with the success of the 1977 conference under the leadership of Robin Williams (SIGGRAPH Chair), Jim George (Conference Program Chair) and Steve Levine (Conference Chair). The primary problem was that the conference had gotten large enough that planning and location selection had to be done several years in advance, but the conference was growing so fast that multi-year planning was very difficult. We could either commit to large spaces and have economic problems if the conference didn’t grow as planned, or we could be conservative in our space selection and suffer the consequences of crowding. Somehow, we choose the latter alternative, and it worked.
Conference Planning Committee Takes the Lead
I’d like to illustrate some of the issues by looking at individual conferences during that period, but first let me cover some general items. In order to organize conference planning activities, the Conference Planning Committee (CPC) was formed in the early 1980s. This consisted of the elected SIGGRAPH Executive Committee (EC) member responsible for conferences (the Vice-Chair or later, the Vice-Chair for Conference Planning), the previous two year’s Conference Chairs, the current Conference Chair(s) and all approved future Conference Chairs. The CPC met the same weekends as the SIGGRAPH Executive Committee (EC meetings in those days were only one day long) on the day before the EC meeting. A very good feature of the CPC turned out to be having experienced Conference Chairs provide “advice” to the future Conference Chairs without the Vice-Chair having to say “no” a lot.
Site selection was so important that a separate committee was set up to perform this function. Making “fam” (familiarization) trips was thought to be one of the perks of site selection until we found out that you could only eat so much chocolate mousse in one day!
Having Conference Co-chairs was a mostly informal tradition that started in 1979 and continued through the entire period. The workload was so heavy that two people were really required and if something were to happen to one of the Co-chairs, we wouldn’t have to start over. Of course these marriages weren’t always made in heaven, but for the most part, the concept worked well.
Another tradition that started at this time was the early selection and approval of Conference Chairs, typically to be in place at the conference two years ahead of time. This gave the Chairs time to organize and recruit a committee and learn the job by observing two conferences.
The Technical Program Chair has always been a somewhat unique position. In light of the importance of the position, separate EC approval is needed and the proceedings is always produced with the SIGGRAPH Editor-in-Chief having heavy involvement.
Seeking Professional Management
This period also saw the growing use of professional management organizations to help with organizing major parts of the conference. There were two reasons. First, the jobs had grown to such a level of effort that paid staff was needed. And if paid staff was to be used, why not also contract for management expertise? Finally the exhibition, and indeed the whole conference, had grown to a size that if a volunteer underestimated the job due to inexperience, it was usually not possible to recover by throwing extra bodies at the problem. Plus, our loyal exhibitors and attendees deserved better.
There were two important concepts started during this period with regard to the use of professional management. First, there was always a volunteer position in charge of any area that had professional management to provide control and the ultimate decision making. This proved to be a wise move because the professionals were so good and could devote their main attentions (the volunteers did need to earn a living too!) to the job at hand. Unless there was a volunteer directly looking over their shoulder, the professional could simply go ahead and make policy decisions that we wanted to have remain with the volunteers.
Second was the matter of credentials in selecting management contractors. We developed a tradition of requiring prospective management contractors to have done the job professionally before being hired by SIGGRAPH. We did this for two reasons. First, we decided that our exhibitors and attendees deserved the best. Second, as a matter of policy we wanted to make it difficult for people to go from being a volunteer to being a professional. We had many instances of people who were so excited and good at doing some conference job as a volunteer that they wanted to do it as a professional. We felt that this was not in the best interests of a volunteer led organization so we instituted this policy. Note that this did not mean that a person who once did a job as a volunteer could never do it professionally. We just did not want the responsibility of starting such a person up in business and suffering while they learned to run a business.
One other problem during this time was that the official ACM conference budget form did not have the detail and structure we needed because of the size of our conferences. For several years we did two budgets: one for us and one for ACM (they always, well nearly always, agreed) and finally got ACM approval to use our budget format exclusively.
Bob Ellis is Chair of SIGGRAPH’s Public Policy Committee. When last gainfully employed (1993), he was Sun Microsystem’s representative on the Computer Systems Policy Project’s (CSPP) Technology Committee and also co-managed Sun’s external research program. Before that Ellis held computer graphics software development and management positions with Sun, GE-Calma, Atari, Boeing and Washington University (St. Louis).
The ’78 and ’79 conferences (’77 was one of the few conferences I did not attend) in Atlanta and suburban Chicago were sort of a blur for me. My co-chair, Harvey Kriloff, and I had been approved; so we followed the on-site conference activities as more than interested spectators, but there was no mechanism for us to participate in the development of those conferences. As a result we had very little knowledge of what was going on behind the scenes, and the Conference Committees were obviously too busy to show us.
My perceptions were that Sylvan Chasen’s conference in ’78 in Atlanta was very crowded, and we had our technical program location bumped and ended up in an area with such low ceilings that AV was an almost insurmountable problem. But thanks to Tom DeFanti and his colleagues, the show went on, and it was a typical successful SIGGRAPH conference.
The ’79 conference was notable for the beginning of the Co-chair tradition with Tom DeFanti and Bruce McCormick and the use of a real convention center with an adjacent hotel, at least for those attendees lucky enough to be staying in the conference hotel. It was also notable for being the last year of an all volunteer exhibits activity. From my perception, the conference ran very smoothly, but then I didn’t get to attend much of it.
SIGGRAPH 80 is one I can obviously speak of as an expert, but I’ll try not to overuse it as an example. This was the first year for professional exhibits management with the Kenworthy organization. The events leading up to contracting with them took so much time that when the conference finally opened, I didn’t have much involvement with the exhibition; however, our volunteer Exhibits chair, Dave Kasik, had it all well under control. We also contracted with a local firm to organize various local arrangements, but it wasn’t a real management contract.
For the first time, the conference hotels and the conference center were widely separated and we learned the importance of busing as both a positive and negative aspect of the conference. We ended up splitting registration in the most awkward manner - something a professional organization would never have done. We also decided to move all the AV from the conference center to the conference hotel for the evening shows. It was a really dumb thing to do, but we figured the attendees would be back at the hotels in the evening. Besides Loren Carpenter had a real vested interest in seeing the evening shows go well (his movie, Vol Libre, premiered there), so he and Rick Speer made it work.
We had what I think was the first remote reception (except for one of the Boulder receptions) requiring a bus and boat ride. We were extremely nervous, but it all worked out OK. Also for some reason, we decided to have really nice receptions (I don’t remember how we worked out the budgets) and to this day, people compliment me on the SIGGRAPH 80 receptions which always bothers me because this isn’t what I wanted to be the memorable events of the conference!
One final “tradition” I want to mention was holding a large number of committee meetings. We didn’t have the money in those days for lots of volunteer travel, so we went with a largely local committee. Even our Technical Program Chair, Jim Thomas, was only on the other side of the mountains, and the only significantly remote chair was the Courses Chair, Ingrid Carlbom, who was at the other end of the country.
SIGGRAPH 81 in Dallas, co-chaired by Doug Green and Tony Lucido, saw the first use of what I would call a “real” convention center. ’79 was a suburban center and the ’80 center was a minor league place, but in ‘81 we had the luxury of some really significant space. This was also the first year for real conference management with the use of Smith, Bucklin and Associates (SBA) for the first time.
My primary personal recollection of Elaine Sonderegger’s ’82 conference in Boston was that it went so well we could worry about the growth problems we were going to face in the next few years. We knew we would be OK in Detroit the following year because we had good space (although hotels were another issue), but as Jim George pointed out, Minneapolis and San Francisco were going to be real problems. Of course, the “major” event of SIGGRAPH 82 was the all time great reception at the Museum of Science which showed what happens when many people decide that a remote reception is too much trouble and blow it off (the people who do attend get very large amounts of food!). The ’82 conference also had the first juried film show (now called the Electronic Theater).
In ’83 in Detroit, Kelly Booth and John Beatty had good space, but we saw our first significant dip in attendance in the growth years. We suspected this would be a problem and budgeted accordingly. ’83 was also notable for experimenting with a dessert reception (I think to save money), but it wasn’t exactly a success. But it did start a tradition of having good desserts for at least one of the two conference receptions.
We knew that Dick Mueller and Richard Weinberg were going to have trouble in Minneapolis in ’84. In ’82 we talked about moving the ’84 conference to another city but decided that Dick and Richard had been working so hard at getting Minneapolis involvement, that it would be a shame to move it. We didn’t and space was a problem. As an example of priorities, the technical program was kept in the convention center even at the expense of having some of the exhibits at the conference hotel. It wasn’t fair to the exhibitors or attendees, but they made it work.
The other event in ’84 was the production of an IMAX movie with computer generated imagery. While many conferences experimented with exploring new activities, this was perhaps the granddaddy of them all, almost overwhelming the conference itself (at least in planning). The lesson we learned was that new things needed to be tried, but they needed to be integrated and put in perspective with the rest of the conference.
’85 Co-chairs Pat Cole and Bob Heilman had major space problems in San Francisco. To start with, the courses were spread around in hotels all over the city. But the most significant decision was to take exhibit space that could have been sold and devote it to the technical program. There was some complaining, but we pointed out that doing this would guarantee the high quality attendees that the exhibitors like to see. And it gave dramatic emphasis to the tradition that the technical program is the strength of the SIGGRAPH conferences.
The conferences in ’86 in Dallas co-chaired by Ray Elliott and Ellen Gore and in ‘87 in Anaheim co-chaired by Jim Thomas and Bob Young had the luxury of adequate space but had to deal with the beginning of a leveling off in attendance. I’ll leave that to the writer of the next installment.
These were the years we changed the SIGGRAPH conference from a strong base of technical content, exhibitor support and attendee loyalty developed by the dedicated volunteers, to a continuing, professionally managed conference which had all the same important qualities. Through all of this transition, the conference continued to attract the enthusiastic contributions of the all volunteer conference committees without whose dedication the SIGGRAPH conferences would never have been a success.