"Let's Talk" with SIGGRAPH Computer Animation Festival Chair - Samuel Lord Black

deemarie · July 25, 2005 6:09 am

The “can’t miss” event of this year’s SIGGRAPH conference is the Computer Animation Festival ... and Samuel Lord Black [also known as The Fire Breathing Penguin], is the perfect festival chair. He honed his animation skills working at the Pixar/Disney studios, with an impressive resume of animated movie credit mega-hits including; Monsters, Inc and A Bug’s Life.
Excluding George Lucas' keynote speech, the Computer Animation Festival must be one of the biggest draws to this year's SIGGRAPH conference. What's new to the festival this year?

The most visible changes you'll see are as follows:

The Electronic Theater will be projected in HD (1920x1080), with over half the show using Christie's Digital Cinema projection. This replaces the previous combination of DigiBeta (720x486) and 25mm film.

The Animation Theater, which in previous years has been projected from BetaSP, is being projected directly from a hard drive using Apple's H.264 compression technology.

The Full-Dome Theater will show a different way to look at things.

Since 1999, the Computer Animation Festival has given out awards to the top animations as selected by our jury. This year, for the first time, we're going to let our viewers vote for the SIGGRAPH People's Choice Awards. It will be interesting to see how the selections differ.

We spent a lot of time at the jury to "craft" the shows, and I think it is well-reflected in the mix and continuity you'll find in both the Electronic Theater and Animation Theater. We also have quite a bit more scientific visualization and technical pieces then in recent years due to my initiative in that direction and the efforts of my Outreach Director, Dr. David Ebert.

Also, for the first time in SIGGRAPH history, we will be exhibiting select Computer Animation Festival
storyboards in the Art Gallery – which will be especially enlightening and intriguing for attendees.

The Animation Festival trailer is amazing, who was responsible for the compilation of the trailer?

The trailer was composed primarily by Andrew Lyndon and Brian Blau, with a bit of input from me. Andrew is my editor - we used to work together at Pixar, and Brian is the president of the local chapter of SIGGRAPH as well as a prior Computer Animation Festival juror and chair.

Thomas Schober
© Act3animation & Australian Film Commission
CAF image courtesy SIGGRAPH 2005 - used with permission - all rights reserved.

How many animations were chosen this year, and what specifically were the judges looking for when casting their votes for this year's nominees?

There are 26 pieces in the Electronic Theater, and 42 pieces in the Animation Theater. It depends on the purpose of the piece, but jurors are always on the lookout for story, technique, and editing. People often associate story with strictly "entertainment" pieces, but scientific visualizations also need a good story … in particular, they need to present interesting information in a clear manner.

Were the majority of entrants new to SIGGRAPH's Animation Festival, or do you tend to see the same group of animators entering each year?

Approximately 50% of the entries are from students, so there's always a lot of turnover there. We had fewer studio submissions this year than in some past years, and the independent filmmakers made a strong showing. We always look forward to bringing in new talent and new ideas.

Final Fantasy XII
Eiji Fujii
© SQUARE ENIX CO., LTD. All Rights Reserved.
Character Design: Akihiko Yoshida
CAF image courtesy SIGGRAPH 2005 - used with permission - all rights reserved.

Are you seeing any specific trends in this years' festival? Are there more animations leaning towards; science fiction adventure, cartoon-style comedy, abstract, or multimedia based?

With 560 submissions, we see everything — specifically we did see perhaps a bit more humor and musically-inspired animations this year.

Hopeless Romantic
Bill Burg
© 2005 Bill Burg
CAF image courtesy SIGGRAPH 2005 - used with permission - all rights reserved.

What are the differences in the three theatres: Electronic, Animation, Full-Dome?

In past years, the
Electronic Theater has been seen as the "cream of the crop", with the Animation Theater often viewed as a second tier. This year, we redefined the venues somewhat, and concentrated on our vision of the Electronic Theater as being for the pieces that will have a broader appeal and which we feel are best seen on the "big screen," and the Animation Theater consists of the rest of the pieces that we felt deserved recognition, but were better suited for the smaller theaters. Both the Electronic Theater and Animation Theater were chosen from the pieces submitted through our Call for Participation.

Full-Dome Theater is something new to SIGGRAPH. This medium is a growing one with many systems being installed throughout the world in planetaria and dedicated Full-Dome theaters. Our dome is a 30-foot diameter hemisphere and we will be showing a selection of content chosen from DomeFest 2005, the third annual festival celebrating the dome industry.

Looking ahead to SIGGRAPH 2006, what advice can you give our readers who have hopes of being among the privileged animators showcased in next year's conference?

Get a good editor - they're worth their weight in gold. Many pieces we reviewed this year were very nice and had good story, but were quite frankly too long or just not edited to exhibit the full potential of the work. Brevity is a worthy goal.

World of WarCraft
Scott Abeyta
© Image Courtesy of Blizzard Entertaiment Inc.
CAF image courtesy SIGGRAPH 2005 - used with permission - all rights reserved.

Your background in the animation industry is remarkable. Which came first ... working for The Mouse [the Pixar/Disney studio], or attending his university [Pixar University]?

I was hired by Pixar in 1996 to create video games for the Pixar Interactive Division. Shortly after I began, the division was dissolved as Steve Jobs decided that there wasn't enough money to be made there relative to feature films.
PixarUniversity is Pixar's internal training organization, and I believe began around 1997. It's a wonderful program, and through it, I took many courses on drawing, painting, improvisation, acting, and live-action short filmmaking.

How did you become involved with the SIGGRAPH conference as its Animation Festival chair?

With the exception of 1986, I have attended every SIGGRAPH since 1982. After going to so many, I felt I really wanted to participate. So, in 1995, I began by co-organizing "Ask Dr. SIGGRAPH" with Ken Musgrave, and had a blast. It was a few more years before I increased my involvement by joining the Courses committee in 2002. Then, in 2003, I was selected for the Computer Animation Festival jury and really enjoyed participating in the way the show was put together. So, with the backing of Pixar management, I volunteered for the chairmanship and was chosen.

One last question, I know our readers want to know ... how did you get the nickname The Fire Breathing Penguin?

I gained the nickname "penguin" from graduate school (the story behind that one can be found on my
web wite). I have also long been an avid reader of fantasy, and am particularly partial to dragons. Well, when you combine those, you either have a frozen dragon, or ...

We invite you to visit the following sites:
All supporting images within this article are copyright, and used by permission courtesy of SIGGRAPH 2005
images cannot be printed, published, or copied without written permisson from the artist and/or SIGGRAPH.

"Lets Talk" with Dee-Marie
is a monthly featured column
by Dee-Marie:
Senior Staff Writer, and Managing Editor of
Renderosity's Front Page News

July 25, 2005

Article Comments

Paula Sanders ( posted at 12:00AM Tue, 26 July 2005

I love your questions. They give the interviewee, the chance to be specific, but also to add other relevant content to his or her answers.

ClintH ( posted at 12:00AM Wed, 27 July 2005

Oh - I wish I could be there this year. Nice interview! Thanks.

LillianH ( posted at 12:00AM Thu, 28 July 2005

Thank you for sharing your time with us Samuel. I must go dig deeper to find the story behind that name now. Excellent questions Dee-Marie. Very insightful interview. I'm off to see more with the helpful links provided! Best wishes, Lillian

vshane ( posted at 12:00AM Sat, 30 July 2005

I really enjoyed reading this interview, thank you so much Dee-Marie and Samuel!