Chair’s Corner

Chair’s Corner: Results of the Conference Papers Program Survey


I wrote last month about a proposal for a new Conference Papers program. Over the last month we conducted a survey of the technical papers community (if you want to participate the survey is here:

I have been tracking the results since the survey went live and they have been pretty stable. It is clear that 2/3 of respondents want a Conference Papers program (with the majority preferring that title). The next step is that an ad hoc committee consisting of members of the SIGGRAPH Executive Committee, the Papers Advisory Group, the Publications Committee, and the Research Career Development Committee will draft a program proposal. That proposal will need approval from the above bodies as well as the Conference Advisory Group and the SIGGRAPH Asia Conference Advisory Group. And, if we establish a relationship with PACM on CGIT, we will need approval from several ACM committees as well.

I want to thank everyone who participated in the survey. This idea has been kicking around for years and it is nice to see some momentum building.

If you want to see the results of the survey they are here:

Chair’s Corner: Thoughts on a Proposal for a New Conference Papers Program


As far back as I can remember, the SIGGRAPH technical papers community has complained about the technical papers program. As I have gotten older I’ve begun to realize that *every* technical papers community complains about their program, whether it is the review process, acceptance rates, or the additional comparisons required by reviewer #2, etc. It seems just to be human nature. There is almost always a sense that the “grass is greener” and I am often reminded of the Churchill quote: “Democracy is a very bad form of government, but I ask you never to forget: all the others are so much worse.”

But, I do think that something has shifted over the last five years. Page counts and author lists have gotten longer; the number of hours of work to produce a SIGGRAPH Technical Paper is far greater than when I was a grad student. This trend is not, in and of itself, bad and is, in part, due to progress in the field; over the past decades the community has built up an enormous body of prior art for reviewer #2 to point to, and much of that work is available in open-source repositories. A very positive effect is that SIGGRAPH technical papers are highly novel, very rigorous, and contain thorough analysis; I think the quality of our papers rivals the top journals in all of science, as evidenced by the fact that ACM Transactions on Graphics (ToG) has the highest impact factor of any ACM journal that publishes novel research (apparently ACM Computing Surveys scores higher).

But, as with all things, there are downsides. I would argue that the increased amount of work required to go from research results to a paper published at SIGGRAPH has had some significant deleterious consequences.

First, we have shifted somewhat from basic research—gaining insights, running experiments, and solving problems—to extensive evaluation. Extensive evaluation is certainly important. But, I would argue that this is separate from contributions to basic research. In fact, I would argue that authors proposing a new idea are the very worst people to be evaluating that idea; no one is going to spend as much time understanding or tweaking the parameters of others’ methods as they will their own.

Second, the amount of work required to publish means that graphics researchers publish fewer papers, garner fewer citations, and are jumping ship to neighboring conferences that have just as much credibility in a tenure review, but require less work.

Over the years, I have heard many proposals to change the SIGGRAPH process: accept more papers, accept fewer papers, re-impose page limits (granted there was never an official limit, but in 2001 if you went over 8 pages, you must have made a *very* significant contribution; Hertzmann and colleagues “Image Analogies” was a major outlier at the time at 14 pages). But, one idea has recently started gaining traction: introducing conference papers / short papers / technical briefs. There is little consensus on what to call such a program and there are many other details to also figure out.

To be clear, the idea that is building momentum is not to create a “low-bar” SIGGRAPH paper. Whatever form this program would take it would have the same high level of intellectual merit and technical novelty. But, given page limits, papers may, for example, have only a demonstration of an idea, rather than a complete systems with an exhaustive comparison to prior work. As with conferences like CVPR, authors would have to choose which details and evaluations to include; they would be forced to focus on what they consider most important and what will likely benefit future readers. Philosophically, I would argue that in any optimization it is very difficult to find a good solution in the absence of constraints, but that once you start introducing constraints, e.g. page counts, you are forced to make decisions to honor the constraints and quickly converge to a (probably local) minimum.

While the review process would be rigorous and may include a rebuttal, it would not include a second review cycle or mandatory revisions, further reducing the workload for the authors and the committee. The door would remain open for publishing extended versions in a journal, and we may be able to work with the PACM on CGIT to invite papers to submit such versions, perhaps with reviewer continuity.

These are the broad-brush outlines of the sort of program gaining momentum. Let me mention some of the positive and negative potential consequences.

On the positive side, we may stop losing researchers to other communities and bring more researchers into the SIGGRAPH community. Since I joined the EC, I have seen plenty of graphs which show that SIGGRAPH submissions, and in fact all graphics submissions, are basically flat while CHI/CVPR/NeurIPS are skyrocketing. Sure, some of that is simply the fact that Machine Learning is the hottest thing in Computer Science right now, but you can publish Machine Learning papers at SIGGRAPH. More practically, with this new program the community can publish more papers and members of our community will appear stronger on all of the imperfect, but influential, metrics from G-number to publication count; resulting in more funding, more hiring, and more recognition. And, in my role as SIGGRAPH chair, the most important thing is keeping members of the community engaged and sharing their work in our publications.

On the negative side, this may draw some papers away from the regular Technical Papers program. Personally, I think this is okay; the work is still in SIGGRAPH, though in a different program. I think it would be important that authors decide on where to submit; maybe this new program has a deadline two weeks later than Technical Papers and it is disallowed to submit to both.

In my view, the potentially bigger downside is a decrease in submissions to our specialized conferences, which historically have hoped to pick up rejections from SIGGRAPH. One idea I have heard suggested was to allow papers accepted to this new program to give oral presentations at specialized conferences and posters at the SIGGRAPH and SIGGRAPH Asia conferences. Such an approach would presumably provide the specialized conferences with great content. Of course, it is also possible, though maybe counterintuitive, that a such a program would generate *more* submissions to our specialized conferences; while authors may be tempted to send rejected Technical Papers to ToG or hold them for the next upcoming SIGGRAPH or SIGGRAPH Asia, papers rejected from non-journal program may well find their way into the specialized conferences.

Of course, if we implement such a program, there would be all sorts of unintended consequences that we can only guess at now, just as there were when we made the decision in 2002 to include SIGGRAPH and SIGGRAPH Asia papers in special issues of ToG. There are also many questions that need answering before we could move forward, and that is why I am writing this essay, to invite the community to be part of this conversation.If you think this is a great idea, we want to know. If you think this is a terrible idea, we also want to know. If you have ideas on how this broad-brush proposal could be improved or how details could be filled in, we want to hear from you.

In this spirit we will be creating a survey and holding a town hall later this month to get feedback from the community. This page will be updated with more information as it becomes available.


Chair’s Corner: Five Reasons I Am Super Excited About SIGGRAPH 2021


I am pretty good with words. But, I still cannot find the words to describe how excited I was about SIGGRAPH 2020. It was my 20th SIGGRAPH, I was taking the reins as chair of the organization, and it was going to be in my neighborhood; for the first time ever I would not need to get on a plane to attend. (I guess I still didn’t need to get on a plane to attend 🙂 .) I was even planning to bring my family for a day and show my five year old around the Experience Hall.

Sometime in fall 2019 I bought a bottle of bootjack rye, to bring something local to our annual special session on whisky fluids; it lived in my basement until the unthinkable happened. We all were heartbroken in the spring when we realized we would not be able to get together in person with our best friends and colleagues. I have to give a shout out to Kristy Pron, our 2020 conference chair, and her team for their grace in handling an emerging pandemic, pivoting to a virtual conference in a matter of months. It was a heavy lift for everyone involved, myself included, as every week seemed to bring new uncertainty and no one had a playbook. While it would have been easier to give up and cancel, instead our volunteers and professional partners managed to put together an expansive virtual experience. 

Of course, we did not get everything right and a year+ into the pandemic we all have learned a great deal about virtual experiences. I, and everyone involved in SIGGRAPH, have been listening to feedback from the community. In fact, a big part of my job as chair is listening to folks articulate feedback. Whether that feedback has come through surveys, town halls, the FaceBook, email, or zoom calls; we have been listening. The highest order bit has always seemed to be making connections (“networking” in corporate parlance) and we have a few ideas in this direction.

I am writing now to talk about the things I am excited about for SIGGRAPH 2021, which again will be virtual. A shout out is due for Pol Jeremias, this year’s conference chair, for updating the virtual experience. I expect this to be ++Virtual_SIGGRAPH. (There is an old programming joke about how c++ was updated after it was executed and should have been called ++c.)

First, the content. Even during a pandemic, our community is doing some of the best science I know of. My research group has been reading SIGGRAPH papers for weeks. We cannot wait for the videos to start coming out. One of the upsides to working remotely is that everyone is making videos of their work and another is that there are close to zero travel costs to attend a lab meeting; anyone who wants to present at my lab meeting please feel free to reach out, that probably goes for 1000 other graphics labs across the world.

Second, our amazing new standing committee on research career development (RC⚡DC) is planning to create coffee breaks for folks to get together for informal chats in between conference events. I certainly hope I end up drinking coffee with some of my SIGGRAPH friends, though I may opt for tea.

Third, we will be using the new platform ohyay for some of our events. We experimented with this last fall during a strategy meeting and it was fun. I am forever embarrassed by my score on the SIGGRAPH Jeopardy board, but it was fun to play against our past and past-past president. We are planning to use the platform for different types of social hours every day of the conference.

Fourth, I am super excited that Grant Sanderson is going to speak. He has been on my list of people for a Frontiers talk for years, but because of the pandemic (and maybe my own shyness) I never reached out. But, this year’s team brought him in. I have heard stories of his previous talks and think this is something I would wake up at 5am for, though I do hope it is not at 5am.

Fifth, this year we will be screening short videos for the Technical Papers in “real-time” during the Q&A sessions. This approach has worked very well for our specialized conferences and I expect it will foster more vibrant and robust technical discussions during the virtual papers sessions.

As a bonus, I look forward to other, less formal, social events.  My favorite is whiskey fluids; a small gathering of simulation enthusiasts that started when a bottle of bushmills black-label showed up at a talk I gave in 2006. But I also expect a chapters party, a sake party, and a Pioneers event. Maybe even the mythical tequila lounge will make an appearance (that is just a conjecture, I have heard no rumors).

Cheers everyone and I hope to see you at SIGGRAPH 2021,


P.S. The advance registration deadline for SIGGRAPH 2021 is June 28th.
P.P.S I have heard rumors of other cool stuff, but nothing I am allowed to write about publicly now.

Chair’s Corner – On Ethics


This is a difficult essay to write. I know people will disagree with me. But, it is an important and timely topic. Issues falling under the “ethics” umbrella seem to be riling computer science more than at any time I can remember. Many of these end up in my inbox.

I don’t like the word “ethics.” It is too broad an umbrella and captures everything from plagiarism, to the potential negative uses of our research, to creating hostile workplaces. So, when someone says “there is an ethical issue,” I have not a clue what they mean. My own model has three “buckets”: publications, harassment and discrimination, and negative impacts of our research. Before I describe these in detail, let me talk about how ethics are handled by SIGGRAPH and ACM.

One of the biggest benefits of being a SIG of ACM is that ACM handles almost all of these issues. They don’t always handle them the way I would like, but they do hire the lawyers, pay for the insurance, setup the review committees, and hire the investigators. It is unimaginable that SIGGRAPH could take these things on. I do wonder if the lack of a parent organization is why some of our neighboring communities are struggling more than SIGGRAPH to deal with some of these issues. At a high level, when a complaint is filed, ACM hires investigators, volunteer committees review the investigation, and potentially a sanction (e.g. you cannot participate in ACM activities for X years) is imposed. This approach borrows some elements from the US criminal justice system: the investigators are analogous to prosecutors and the committees are like juries. But it does leave out an impartial judge or referee to guide the process and to interpret the policies in place at the time of the alleged infraction, which is an important part of the US criminal justice system.

Also of note, thus far ACM has worked hard to keep all allegations and sanctions confidential, though they don’t always succeed. Beyond that, because nothing is public, subcommunities create lists and whisper networks. Clearly this is not an ideal situation. Many professions make allegations and/or sanctions public. This creates the perverse incentive to use the complaint process to avenge some other grievance. Veterinarians live in constant fear that if someone’s beloved pet dies the owner will file a false complaint to the board and, because that complaint becomes public, it may hamper their career. Another analogy would be only showing the one-star reviews for restaurants—only the complaints. Yet another analogy that might hit closer to home is “ratemyprofessor” or reddit. Clearly, this alternative is also not ideal. The ACM council will soon be grappling with these tradeoffs. I do not envy them.

Now let me discuss my buckets:

Publications: This bucket includes academic dishonesty—acts of plagiarism or falsifying results—which humans have been dealing with for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. (The word “plagiarism” dates to the early 17th century, but surely there were earlier cases.) Over the centuries, we have gotten reasonably good at handling most forms of academic dishonesty. ACM handles these complaints for us and they do a good job.

Of course challenges remain; just before drafting this essay, I read this piece about collusion rings. I have heard stories of such behavior within SIGGRAPH before my time, stories of powerful people corrupting the review process for personal gain. But, I think the SIGGRAPH community established norms that made such practices uncommon before my involvement and I have never witnessed any major abuses. However, I am sure there are unconscious biases when a reviewer knows the authors’ names. One strategy we are using to combat this problem is switching almost all of our reviewing to double blind. It is not perfect, but it is a big step forward. I’ll give a shout-out to Olga Sorkine-Hornung for implementing fully double blind review for our main SIGGRAPH conferences; that was a pretty heavy lift. 

A more difficult issue in the publications bucket is inappropriate content or examples. Such standards vary across time, culture, and personal taste. Currently, I would not use the Lena image, a decade ago I would have used it without a second thought. SIGGRAPH is constantly modifying its policies to keep up with the times; our governance committee, which reviews our policies, meets every other week. As an example, five years ago our policies allowed exhibitors to wear only body paint; clearly that was a policy from a different time, and it has been updated.

Harassment and Discrimination: I think of harassment as being overt, usually intentional, actions that make someone else uncomfortable. I think of discrimination as being subtler than outright harassment. It is less overt behavior, but still unacceptable. Sometimes it is intentional, sometimes it is the result of implicit bias, and often it is executed through micro-aggressions. 

Historically, I do not think SIGGRAPH or ACM did a great job with harassment, but we have made strides in recent years. Official policies are now in place and we introduced SIGGRAPH Cares as a first point of contact for victims (ACM also introduced a Cares committee). Both SIGGRAPH and ACM have created committees to support diversity, equity, and inclusion (though ACM leaves out equity). I am also pleased to say that ACM will now allow anonymous harassment complaints, sparing victims the burden of dealing with an investigation. Though this step does have drawbacks: it is very difficult to investigate an anonymous complaint and it is very easy to make a false anonymous complaint as revenge for some other grievance. I am not sure how they plan to handle anonymous complaints.

Spurred by recent events, ACM and SIGGRAPH are doing some deep thinking about discrimination and I do expect some solutions moving forward. SIGGRAPH has an outstanding Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion standing committee, led by Tony Baylis, that is helping all aspects of our organization. One reason that discrimination is tricky is that discrimination, or making decisions, encompasses a large part of what we do as humans: we make judgements on everything from which papers to accept, to whom we choose to hire, to what music we like. You cannot look at a restaurant menu (remember those) without discriminating. It is the basis of that discrimination that is the issue. One small step that we have already taken is that, going forward, all our calls for submissions will include our anti-discrimination policy. Our double-blind review should also help.

Negative Impacts of Our Research: Thus far, the community has left the discussion of this bucket largely to the press, which is probably a mistake. I have heard stories of researchers ambushed or taken out of context by the media and made to seem like evil-doers. SIGGRAPH has run a few workshops on “Truth in Graphics” discussing the implications of some of the work our community does. There was even an effort to codify the acceptable uses of our image and video manipulation technology. Unfortunately, that proved too difficult a task. There have been suggestions for an “ethics” section in papers or on review forms to discuss the potential negative impacts of research, but that idea has not yet gained traction.

I have a few final thoughts.

I think it is extremely dangerous to assess past behavior by current standards. Like the use of the Lena image, policies and rules and culture evolve over time. For most of my life the rule was: don’t date your students, but any legal behavior outside of that relationship is okay. Of course, that approach ignored the incredible power disparities that exist outside a direct teacher-student relationship, and ACM and SIGGRAPH have updated our policies to recognize that behavior in any professional relationship can be inappropriate. Our current rules will likely be modified as time goes on and culture shifts. It is not fair to punish someone who was playing by the rules of the time. Contrariwise, I believe it is right to sanction individuals for violating standards that were in place at the time of an infraction—if I intentionally falsified the results in my thesis, Berkeley should revoke my PhD. Of course, they should not take such action simply because my thesis is obsolete, that is how science evolves. We also should not ignore prior art that includes images or examples that are unacceptable today. The Zimbardo prison experiment could never happen today; it was one of the impetuses for IRBs. But ignoring the results does not make us more ethical. I don’t mean to make light of these issues, but as another analogy, I do hope no one judges me based on my fashion choices in the 80s.

Finally, I want to end on a positive note on an unpleasant topic. Though there are no easy answers, ACM SIGGRAPH is committed to creating a diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment. From how we choose our leaders, to our speakers, to our program committees, we strive to always be welcoming to everyone. And we are making progress. Our DEI committee is doing great work, we created SIGGRAPH cares (we are looking for a new chair, email me if interested), we have explicit policies regarding harassment and discrimination, the community is beginning to think about the potential impacts of our research, and we have had a few test cases regarding inappropriate content. While there has been some inappropriate public shaming, thankfully our community has not devolved into social media flame wars or creating long lists of names that resemble McCarthyism. 

Adam Bargteil


Chair’s Corner – Why I Volunteer

A Message from ACM SIGGRAPH Chair, Adam Bargteil


A couple of years ago I attended an event for volunteer leaders. The event itself is a story for another time. But, one memorable moment was when a friend, colleague, and professional partner asked me “why do you volunteer?”  I do not recall how I answered; it may have been the cliched, altruistic platitude “to give back.” Or the more honest “I do not know, I have not thought about it.”

But now, I have had several years to think about it. And the truth is, my reasons are more nuanced. Genuine altruism combines with personal interest. I could write pages on the subject, but let me focus on five points.

First, volunteering is part of my day job. I think one of the things that attracted me to an academic career is that service is one of the three pillars of the profession. I am expected to, and rewarded for, volunteering and serving. One of the coolest things is that I largely get to choose how I serve, and volunteering for SIGGRAPH is at the top of my list. And this is where the warm, fuzzy altruistic feelings come in—if I get to choose something to serve, I am going to choose the organization that has helped me along my professional path.

Second, I have grown tremendously through my service. I’ve gained and honed all sorts of skills and discovered things I am good at (and things I am not).  ACM SIGGRAPH even sent me to the intense, 6-month SmithBucklin Leadership Institute, where I picked up skills and discovered things about myself that I had not in forty years of being a human. As ACM SIGGRAPH Chair, during a pandemic, I have found myself navigating all sorts of issues, from budget to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, that would have been far removed from my usual work, but that have greatly informed me in other aspects of my professional life.

Third, service is one of the primary ways I have built my professional network. It started by serving on papers committees, when I had the chance to meet many of the people I had idolized as a graduate student. But, since serving for the organization, I have met many folks outside my usual academic circles. I now have goto people to ask about for everything from fine art to the mechanics of academy awards.

Fourth, it is fun. Being surrounded by people with a shared passion is just a pleasant experience. Volunteering for ACM SIGGRAPH has certainly involved plenty of work, but it rarely feels like drudgery because everyone else is working toward the same shared goals.

Fifth, aside from the fun, there is also fulfillment. There is something about creating things that last beyond your participation that make a human feel good. The kudos and congratulations on the ACM SIGGRAPH Frontiers program will always warm my heart. The fact that the EC trusted me to be chair is a great antidote to Imposter Syndrome and other self-doubts. But, what is more, I do feel like I am making a difference. In my own little way, in my corner of the world, I do feel that I am nudging SIGGRAPH toward a better place and a brighter future.

So, there you have a few of my thoughts on volunteering. Now I would like to ask that you come and join our efforts. We will be having a volunteer recruiting event early next month, but feel free to reach out to me directly if you want to get involved right away.

Adam Bargteil