Barbara Mones SIGGRAPH Member Profile

Member Profile: Barbara Mones

1. What do you do, and how long have you been doing it?

I’m a Teaching Professor at University of Washington. I teach the Animation Capstone “hybrid of industry” series of classes in the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering. I also Direct a Virtual Reality and Storytelling Initiative at UW (the Reality Studio) and a Facial Expressions Research Group (FERG) and work with amazingly talented students and staff/faculty on the creation and production of Animated Shorts.

2. What was your first job?

My very first job (at age 16) was to answer three phone lines and escort parents and their children to one of seven waiting rooms and settle them in so that they could wait for one of the three pediatricians to attend to their needs. My recollection is that it was daunting and full of chaos.  I learned a lot about how to multitask, communicate with tense adults, along with many sick toddlers, children and babies. My first teaching job was a walk in the park by comparison.

3. Where did you complete your formal education?

After I completed my MFA in mixed media sculpture/installation at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) I attended Catholic University in Washington DC to study interior architecture and then to Sheridan College to study animation.

4. How did you first get involved with ACM SIGGRAPH?

I attended a lecture by Russell Kirsch ( at a local college and afterward walked up to ask Russell a question after which we had a long discussion and he and his wife, Joan, convinced me to drive with them the next day (really!) to “this conference he thought I would like.” He literally asked for my home address and picked me up at my house. I did not know either Russell or Joan but I sat in the back seat of their car for four and a half hours listening to two fascinating, brilliant and extraordinarily kind people. The time flew by. Their friendship and the conference  (SIGGRAPH 1983) changed my life forever and I am extraordinarily grateful. That week was transformational for me. At the conference I met Steve Cunningham and Judy Brown and the Education Committee formed. Everyone I met was terrific – inclusive, friendly, smart and, fortunately for me, many became lifelong friends.

5. What is your favorite memory of a SIGGRAPH conference?

I cannot pinpoint one moment that reaches beyond the rest of them.  The feeling that I get when I arrive at the conference is consistent and wonderful. I feel “like I am with my people” and there is a sense of connectedness, caring and excitement that is really profound for me. I see so many people that I genuinely like in such a short amount of time that it feels like a huge family congregating in one place for an annual celebration.  There are many moments that have been and continue to be pivotal for me. The early Electronic Theater extravaganza with Maxine Brown officiating and thousands of people playing pong together was very special. Seeing Luxo Jr. and some of the other early shorts were also really inspiring for me. More recently the fast forward paper sessions and the real time live sessions have both been so much fun. As many people will corroborate, just talking to people at the conference is a rare treat and real gift.

6. Describe a project that you would like to share with the ACM SIGGRAPH community.

One of the highlights of my life has been to work with Professor Thomas Furness (the “grandfather” of Virtual Reality) and a group of other UW researchers on a VR project that enables a participant to “be” an Octopus. The research group has gone a long way to develop tools to encourage a human to really inhabit an “alien” (octopus) intelligence. We have designed the VR environment and a story to go with it, so that the participant can experience engaging ways to build deep empathy for these creatures by learning how to survive as an Octopus and comparing what humans and octopuses do well or conversely, do poorly. Embodying a creature with almost no skeleton as a human *with* a skeleton is a humbling experience. We can build a healthy respect for other creatures who possess sensory perception that we do not and allow us to see if we can learn from them. Tom Furness urged the group to see if we could use our VR octopus to communicate directly with a living Octopus. I don’t know if we will get there as it’s a process loaded with huge challenges, but it’s worth a try and a compelling idea in that we could potentially learn some clear and direct communication from a creature many think of as an alien who is unintelligible. Tom’s vision is often the guiding light for our work.

7. If you could have dinner with one living or non-living person, who would it be and why?

I suspect that I should select one of my intellectual heroes but what comes to mind immediately is to have a lengthy and relaxed dinner with my father who passed away in 2001. There are so many questions about him and also about my entire extended family that I would love to ask him about and would want to hear his perspective. Most of the questions I want to ask I wouldn’t have known to ask until after he died. I also miss him so much that it would be wonderful just to hear his gentle voice and see his “light up the room” charming smile. Makes my heart ache a bit.

8. What is something most people don’t know about you?

This is an easy question to answer – as a child and young adult, I spent most of my time as a competitive athlete. That sounds surprising now, even to me! I was a nationally ranked tennis player and I was offered a sweet deal to move to Florida at 14 and focus only on being a competitive player. I would be groomed to be a professional athlete. I considered it very seriously and then turned it down. My parents put a lot of pressure on me. They felt that I would get bored and that my interests would get too narrow and, in retrospect, they were 100% correct. At the time, it was really lots of fun and I really enjoyed the lifestyle. 

9. From which single individual have you learned the most in your life? What did they teach you?

My daughter has been my teacher. She has opened my heart and has allowed me to love her unconditionally and forever. She is also one of the smartest and most compassionate people I know. I am so very lucky and I am deeply aware of this.

10. Is there someone in particular who has influenced your decision to work with ACM SIGGRAPH?

I should first say that many people have influenced me over a long period of time. Russell Kirsch, Joan Kirsch, Darcy Gerbarg, Patric Prince, MK Haley, Jacki Morie, Jackie White, Pat Hanrahan, Theresa-Marie Rhyne, Delle Maxwell, Donna Cox, Copper Giloth, Marc Barr, Mashhuda Glencross, Turner Whitted, Gitta Domik, Rejane Spitz, Andrew Glassner, Elizabeth Baron, Glenn Goldman and all of the other wonderful Education Committee members over the years. Now I am working with many new people on the EC and they are *all* terrific.  The one person who requires special attention is Scott Owen. I worked with Scott when he was the Education Committee Chair and when he chaired SIGGRAPH 1997 and on his Nominations Committee. I recognized long ago what a wonderful  listener, ,teacher and leader Scott is. He has a special and unusual skill. He can pull together synergistic teams to get important things done. He has done this over and over. He is both the penultimate professional and great friend. He walks the walk and talks the talk. He’s taught me a lot and also pushed me to accomplish things I didn’t think I could. I will forever be grateful.

11. What can you point to in your career as your proudest moment?

Without a doubt, the day I found that I had been selected as the 2021 Distinguished Teaching Award recipient.  Afterward, all of the many wonderful and supportive comments from my colleagues meant the world to me.  Words cannot describe how proud and appreciative I felt and still feel about being recognized for something that has defined me for most of my adult life. I felt seen, understood, respected and honored for the things that mattered the most to me. It will be hard to ever top that. And that’s fine with me.