1. What do you do, and how long have you been doing it?
I'm a professor of computer science at McGill University since 2008. My research focus is physically based computer animation, such as the simulation of deformation, wrinkles, contact, and friction, as well as control of physics based characters for balance, locomotion, grasping, and manipulation. But I'm interested in lots of different things and I have strayed from my main research focus when opportunities arise.
2. What was your first job?
I worked in a hardware store as a teenager, stocking shelves, mixing paint, and helping people find plumbing parts or electrical supplies. Otherwise, my first computer related jobs were my co-op work terms at Waterloo at the Communications Research Centre involving optical character recognition, and the Canadian Space Agency involving haptics. And if the work terms don't count, then my first real computer related job was at a company called Televitesse working on software that searched TV broadcasts via the captions and recorded snippets for later viewing, and when the company merged with Telexis I switched to writing hand optimized assembly code for H.263 video compression on a funky integer DSP chip. But that job was just to fill a gap year between undergrad and grad school, so perhaps my first real job is my current job at McGill?
3. Where did you complete your formal education?
I have a BMath, computer science with electrical engineering electives, from the University of Waterloo. During my undergrad I spent a year in France on exchange at l'Université de Technologie de Compiègne. I have an MSc and PhD in computer science from the University of British Columbia, and followed my thesis supervisor Dinesh Pai to Rutgers in New Jersey for the last 3 years of my graduate studies. I also spent two years in Grenoble as a post doctoral researcher in Marie-Paule Cani's team at Inria.
4. How did you first get involved with ACM SIGGRAPH?
My first SIGGRAPH was 1999. I was a new MSc student and was happy to help Doug James as an equipment lackey for his live ArtDefo demo. I remember the cyberglove Doug used for the demo had bad electrical interference problems and the sensor amplifier box ended up wrapped in foil like a big baked potato. Also, the demo ran on a desktop computer that had barely survived the flight from Vancouver. I think the graphics card or memory had come loose, so it was perhaps quite lucky that the demo ended up running so smoothly in the end.
5. What is your favorite memory of a SIGGRAPH conference?
It is hard to extract a single memory from all the years, but that first SIGGRAPH was quite memorable. The conference was still near its peak in 1999 with about 3 times as many people attending as in recent years, and the exhibition was huge. Another fond memory of mine from these early years was my part of the presentation of the FoleyAutomatic paper that I had with Kees van den Doel and Dinesh Pai back in 2001. After presenting a few slides, I had a live demo where I had to catch a virtual egg with a virtual wok using a haptic device after it had rolled, slid, and bounced its way through a Rube Goldberg contraption with automatically generated contact sounds. While I had thoroughly practised catching the virtual egg, I was surprised and relieved when the live demo worked as planned.
6. Describe a project that you would like to share with the ACM SIGGRAPH community.
We just presented our work on stippling with aerial robots at Expressive, which was co-located with Eurographics in Lisbon. The robots are very small, about the size of the palm of your hand, and equipped with a small ink soaked sponge to make marks on the canvas. There are challenging control aspects such as robot model estimation, Kalman filtering for state estimation, latency between motion capture and control, radio communication interference, and control parameter tuning. Then there are also interesting computational aspects, such as path planning with the constraints of limited battery life, dynamic adjustment of stipples to accommodate errors in placement, and the variability of stipple sizes as ink on the brush gets used up. Most importantly, I think the process and the results are really fun. We almost submitted a proposal to do live demos at e-tech this year, but instead decided to devote time to extending the work.
7. If you could have dinner with one living or non-living person, who would it be and why?
Is there a time machine to bring my dead dinner date to the present, or do I get to go to the past? If there is a time machine, it will certainly be easy fit this dinner into my schedule, and perhaps the inventor of this time machine would make a pretty good dinner date among the endless list of other excellent candidates (scientists, writers, artists, or musicians). Among the non-living people it would probably be very interesting to talk to someone from 2116 and to hear about how technology has evolved. It is certainly nice to have dinner with new and interesting people on a regular basis, and on that topic, I recently initiated a dinner party virus (actually more of a pyramid scheme) inviting friends who didn't know each other with the expectation that they invite me to a similar party. Good fun.
8. What is something most people don’t know about you?
I play recreational water polo. I used to play a lot of ultimate frisbee, but stopped after a knee injury. When I arrived in Montreal, I had joined a swim club to train for a sprint triathlon, but I didn't really enjoy swimming or triathlons that much, and I really missed playing a team sport, so I was easily convinced by the polo players in my club to give it a try. It is a great workout, and it has definitely been one of my passions outside of work, in addition to year round biking in Montreal.
9. From which single individual have you learned the most in your life? What did they teach you?
I've learned from and been influenced by so many people, I don't think this is question I can easily answer. So many people have had a such a big impact on shaping my education and career that it really doesn't make sense to single out a single individual.
10. Is there someone in particular who has influenced your decision to work with ACM SIGGRAPH?
I've always wanted to be involved. I was happy when I was first asked to be on the general submissions jury, and likewise happy to help when I was first asked to be on the technical papers committee. It was with encouragement from James O'Brien that I am now on the ballot for a director at large position on the SIGGRPAH executive committee.
11. What can you point to in your career as your proudest moment?
I suspect the best is yet to come, so I would go check with my future self with the time machine from question seven.