Maxine D. Brown
January 7, 2022
Steve Levine was a ‘force of nature’ who, in the 70s, greatly impacted the growth and sustainability of the ACM SIGGRAPH organization and conference and took a chance on me, a volunteer recruit fresh out of grad school, enabling me to contribute in ways I best could. It is with heavy heart that I write the SIGGRAPH community that my long-time friend and mentor passed away on November 12, 2021 at age 81 from Parkinson’s disease.
Steve was the SIGGRAPH 77 General Conference Chair as well as the SIGGRAPH organization’s Treasurer from 1975- 77 and Vice Chair from 1977-79. His most significant contribution, in my humble opinion, was starting the conference’s exponential growth, from 300 attendees in 1976, to 750 in 1977, to 3,000 by 1979. He did this in collaboration with Jim George, his Stanford University graduate school friend who served as the SIGGRAPH 77 Program Chair, as well as the SIGGRAPH’s organization’s Secretary from 1975-77 and Chair from 1977-81. Steve, a member of the graphics group at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), got several work colleagues involved with the conference, including George Michael, a computational scientist – and George Michael subsequently adopted conference innovations that we nurtured for the burgeoning computer graphics community when he became Chair of the first ACM/IEEE Supercomputing (SC) Conference in 1988.
I met Steve at the SIGGRAPH 76 conference – my first, but SIGGRAPH’s third. I had just moved to California’s Bay Area for a new job and learned that SIGGRAPH 77 was to be held in San Jose. Steve invited me to be on the organizing committee as Local Arrangements Co-chair.
Steve changed the paradigm of an academic conference, transforming SIGGRAPH into a ‘happening.’ He also made sure that committee members, who did not all know one another, had opportunities to bond at planning meetings in San Jose, organizing lunches or dinners at nice restaurants, given he had a passion for food and was a gourmet cook.
In addition to offering attendees top-quality tutorial/workshops and a technical program that promoted original work and unusual or unique applications and techniques, Steve found and empowered committee members to create a variety of off-scale conference venues:
- An industry exhibition with 38 vendors held in the conference hotel’s ballroom (versus 1976, that had 10 vendors with tables on which they put product literature) – organized by Ray de Saussure, LLNL
- Special sessions on low-cost graphics (Apple was founded in 1976 and IBM PCs weren’t invented yet!) and raster graphics (raster was new tech then!) – organized by Bill Etra of the New School for Social Research and William Newman of Xerox PARC, respectively
- Poster session with software demonstrations – organized by Tom Wright of NCAR and Dan Weller of IBM • Fashion show, where the clothing’s fabric patterns and/or weave were designed with computers – organized by Joe Scala of Syracuse University
- Film and video show (billed as a “Media Spectacular”) that utilized state-of-the-art, large-format, audio/visual technologies – organized by Tom DeFanti of University of Illinois Chicago Steve Levine at SIGGRAPH 79
- Closed circuit TV to view films and videos in one’s hotel room – organized by Patsy Scala of Collaboration in Art, Science and Technology, Inc.
- Social events (a wine & cheese party and a barbeque held poolside at the hotel)
Steve also insisted on conference T-shirts, but since we couldn’t afford to make T-shirts in advance and, even if we could, we didn’t know if anyone would buy them, we instead made decals of the SIGGRAPH 77 logo (also a first for SIGGRAPH!), took orders by day, and ironed them onto T-shirts at night for pick-up the following day!
Tom DeFanti, the SIGGRAPH 77 Media Spectacular Chair, recalls, “Steve believed that projecting computer graphics on large screens was as equally inspiring as reading about advancements in the proceedings, and empowered me to bring a crew of skilled audio/visual artists to assist, and who become the SIGGRAPH conferences’ first media techs.”
After 1977, Steve and Jim wanted to maintain the momentum of a large industry exhibition and drafted me to help them do this for SIGGRAPH 79, co-chaired by Tom DeFanti and Bruce McCormick. We had 80 vendors – and moved the event from a hotel ballroom into an exhibition hall adjacent to the hotel.
Also in 1979, Steve introduced the SIGGRAPH Slide Set, which contained about 80 slides from academics, researchers, artists, and industry, showcasing the latest and greatest computer graphics applications and techniques, in full color, for educational use. Steve continued to develop the slide set annually for many years, and later distributed the images on microfiche as well. SIGGRAPH 79 produced the first conference poster, which featured Steve’s collected slide set, and many thousands of posters were distributed. Some were framed and are still on people’s walls, myself included!
The excitement of the ’77 conference inspired future conference chairs to expand upon the week’s happenings and attract new and diverse user communities. Jim George reflects on his long-time friend, “I attribute the concept of making this small academic society a major force to lead the industry as Steve’s dream, later transformed into a true partnership of art, science, technology and business. Steve and I started on this path and various contributors joined us – and Tom and Maxine contributed more than most. As leadership, our strength was creating a welcoming environment for people to contribute, irrespective of their credentials and professional reputations, as we were looking for ideas and recognizing their contributions whether they be organizational, educational, artistic or scientific.”
As the SIGGRAPH 92 General Chair, I enlisted the help of my mentor. Steve, who was an outstanding pianist, organized SIGband and served as the band’s leader. We invited a few computer-graphics colleagues who played musical instruments to perform for attendees during the papers/panels reception.
For Steve’s 80th birthday party, in May 2020, held via Zoom due to COVID, Jim and I participated. Steve was happy to see us. In particular, he told me that I was an important part of his life – but the truth is, his invitation to help with SIGGRAPH 77 changed both our lives. Steve brought out the best in me and put me on my path to life-long friends, a successful career, and years of distinguished service to SIGGRAPH, for which I received the first SIGGRAPH Outstanding Service Award in 1998.
“The early SIGGRAPH conferences highlighted many innovations in the industry, and it still does,” concludes Jim George, “and that is Steve’s legacy.”
Many thanks to Jim George and Tom DeFanti for their input on this Tribute to Steve Levine. Steve leaves behind a wife, Stephanie Moore, and two daughters.
For those who wish to honor him, the family requests that donations be made to the “The MGH Parkinson’s and Lewy Body Fund” at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) where he was treated and where he volunteered for research studies. Donations can be mailed or made online.
Mail: Attention: Kylie Wojcicki Massachusetts General Hospital Development Office 125 Nashua Street, Suite 540 Boston, MA 02114 ** Indicate that the donation is a tribute gift in honor of Stephen R. Levine.**
Online: https://giving.massgeneral.org/ Click GIVE NOW. Click the pull-down box “Make this gift a tribute to” and specify “In Honor of Stephen R. Levine”. Click the pull-down box “Optional: Please send a notification of my gift” to inform Steve’s wife, as she very much wants to thank everyone who donates: Stephanie Moore, PO Box 2090, Andover, MA 01810 At the bottom of the page, click the pull-down box “Designate this gift to a specific program or area” and specify: The MGH Parkinson’s and Lewy Body Fund in honor of Stephen R. Levine
Should you have any Steve stories and/or photos you wish to share with Stephanie, please send to Maxine Brown and I will share with her.