SIGGRAPH Conference Chair, John Finnegan

June 19, 2006 11:38 pm


Historically, Boston has been notorious for hosting revolutions, which makes Boston the perfect city to host the 2006 SIGGRAPH conference. This year SIGGRAPH ventures to the East Coast with; more CG art to view, more exhibits to visit, more Panels to be awed by, and more Guerilla Studio technologies to interact with.

Find out why SIGGRAPH Conference Chair, John Finnegan, promises the 2006 conference to be a radical change from previous years. Discover why he feels that attendees will leave the conference with a fundamental change in the way they think and visualize the future of art, the CG industry, and artists.

Renderosity and John Finnegan, invites you to preview this year’s SIGGRAPH, and to … Join The Revolution!  


First, congratulations on being appointed SIGGRAPH 2006 Conference Chair, and while we are on the subject, how did you get the appointment?

Since 1999 I have pursued an active volunteer role in ACM SIGGRAPH at both the organization and the conference level. In 1999, as a member of SIGGRAPH’s executive committee under chair Michael McGrath, I was on the grants sub-committee and a member of the student competition committee.

In 2001, I had the honor of being selected as the SIGGRAPH 2003 Educators Chair. Since SIGGRAPH continued to provide much personal and professional satisfaction, I searched for new ways to give back to the conference and the organization. When James Mohler (a fellow Purdue University professor, colleague, and mentor) was selected as the SIGGRAPH 2005 Conference Chair, I followed his lead and applied to be chair for 2006. After an extensive vetting process (multiple interviews with the Conference Advisory Group), I was selected.

How long have you been a professor at Purdue University, and what classes do you teach besides Digital Lighting and Rendering?

In 1996, I began my career at Purdue by teaching Digital Technical Illustration. Then a tenure track position became available at Purdue’s South Bend campus. I applied and received the position and started in August of 1997.

I was the director of Computer Graphics on the South Bend Campus from 1997 to 2000 — growing the program from 4 to 40+ students. In 2005, a position became available on the Southeast Indiana Purdue Campus (which is the campus I started on) so I transferred to that campus. It’s a larger program and growing by leaps and bounds, so I am excited by this challenge. I am also one of two faculty in CGT, whereas in South Bend, I was the only full-time faculty member.

Are you a CG artist?

Yes, I am a CG fine artist and also use considerable CG in my theater designs. I consider myself a digital printmaker and output to high resolution ink jet (giclee), and I am also exploring exposing my images to polymer printing plates, and then printing traditionally on a hand press. I have exhibited in galleries in the United States and have been invited to submit work to a gallery in Tokyo.

My original training/schooling was in Acting with a minor in Theater Design (scenic and lighting). I began using computers to plan my lighting designs as an undergraduate at the University of Massachusetts where we worked from a mainframe computer. It was crude, but it sparked the idea that a computer could be used as a design/visualization tool.

When I went to Ohio State University for my MFA in Acting, I discovered the Computer Graphics Research Group/Advanced Center for Computer Art and Design (ACCAD) led by Charles Csuri. After completing my Theater course work, I worked on digital imaging and 3D modeling at ACCAD and began using CG for lighting. At that point, I trained myself in graphic design, digital illustration, and other CG related topics.

What will this year’s SIGGRAPH offer veteran conference goers that past SIGGRAPH conferences have not?

The Charles Csuri Retrospective Art Show is a very visible and fascinating addition to SIGGRAPH 2006. Csuri is one of the pioneer’s of the field and a definite influence on my becoming involved in CG. I have admired his work and studied under his team at The Ohio State University.

We also are using some new and advanced technologies in the Computer Animation Festival. For instance, Sony Corporation has graciously donated some great projection equipment that will make the CAF experience exceptional. Plus, the content submissions were the highest in the history of SIGGRAPH — which will raise the quality bar even higher.

In addition, the Panels experience this year should be dynamic. The topics are fairly controversial, and we aren’t shying away from asking difficult questions and inviting differing opinions.

Boston! Moving the conference to the Northeast Coast is an enormous change. We haven’t been in this area of the United States since 1989.

The unofficial slogan of this year’s conference appears to be, “join the revolution!” Who came up with that theme, and how many to date have joined?

The SIGGRAPH 2006 vision was shaped by myself and the committee at our first strategy meeting. We wanted to shake the conference up a bit and raise the expectation bar. The entire committee has gone above and beyond to find the best, strongest, newest content for each program.

The term can also serve as a call to action for the CG community. In some ways the industry is leveling off and the hope is that people will get fired up and begin to look again at where CG is, where it was, and where it should (and can) go in the future. It also ties into the historical roots of the founding of our country and the part that Boston played in that Revolution. Having grown up in the Boston area, it’s a key component of being a Bostonian (and you can’t really separate that idea from your basic philosophies).

How do you feel that holding the conference on the East Coast will influence the quality and quantity of exhibits, classes, and events?

It has had a very positive effect on the contributions and events. The Northeast region CG community has definitely come forward and submitted works, ideas, and people of the highest quality. Exhibitors are also very excited to come to this area. In fact, we are on pace to have more exhibitors in Boston than we did last year in Los Angeles.

The Northeast (and Boston in particular) has a high number of outstanding institutions of higher learning, so the academic community is strong and excited that we are coming. People will be pleasantly surprised that Boston is such a great place to hold SIGGRAPH 2006. The city of Boston has been extraordinary in their efforts to assist SIGGRAPH in coming to town.

Are you still accepting volunteers for this year conference?

 We are actively recruiting people to join the ranks of SIGGRAPH volunteers. However, since the planning cycle for a conference begins 24 months out, we are no longer recruiting volunteers for this specific SIGGRAPH. People wanting to volunteer should come to the Get Involved Session during SIGGRAPH 2006 or visit the Pathfinders Booth onsite. There truly is no better way to enhance your career and make incredible professional and personal contacts.

You are scheduled to participate in Acting and Drawing for Animation. Can you give us a preview the course? Will you be involved with other courses or papers?

Actually, Acting and Drawing for Animation was a course that I co-developed in 2004 with Lucilla Hoshor, from Savannah College of Art and Design. It was very successful and in 2005, Lucilla couldn’t join me, so Ed Hooks — the author of Acting for Animators — joined me and taught his version of the course at SIGGRAPH 2005.

I have been teaching my version of the course at events around the United States and most recently I taught it in Seoul, Korea at the Seoul International Cartoon and Animation Festival. Believe it or not, it played very well (even translated into Korean). The SICAF organizers and attendees were very receptive of the course. In fact, I’ve been invited back to teach it at some universities later this year.

It is going to be hard to top George Lucas as last year’s keynote speaker, who do you have lined up for this year?

Well, topping George Lucas would be difficult. However, since the focus of 2006 shifts geographically from Hollywood’s backyard to the seat of the founding of our country, and since the vision is emphasizing the Interactive aspects stronger — our invited Keynote speaker is very interactive and creative in the work he undertakes.

Thus, we have just announced the keynote as Joseph Rohde — a veteran executive at Walt Disney Imagineering, the division of The Walt Disney Company that designs and builds Disney's theme parks and resort hotels. Rohde's formal title is: Executive Designer and Vice President, Creative.

He is the lead designer of Disney's Animal Kingdom, one of four theme parks at Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. He also is the principal creative force behind the park's Expedition Everest thrill ride, which debuted in 2006.

What would you consider some of the “can’t miss” experiences in SIGGRAPH this year?

The Keynote will be excellent. Joe is a dynamic speaker and very passionate about the work he is doing and has done at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

The Art Gallery and The Csuri Retrospective will be a visual feast. The Computer Animation Festival will blow people away. The Papers program once again provides the latest and greatest research achievements from throughout the world.

 Also, Emerging Technologies once again will have the latest and greatest interactive technologies for attendees to experience. And, the Special Sessions topics this year are different, dynamic, and appealing.

To be honest, there really is just too much to list. Attendees will be very pleased each moment of each day at every venue they visit. A full conference pass will definitely be worth having. If you can clone yourself, it would be even better!  

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Get to know industry leaders and professionals as
they sit down and talk candidly with Guest
Columnist Dee-Marie .
June 19, 2006

Article Comments

nickcharles ( posted at 12:00AM Sun, 25 June 2006

Congratulations on your appointment, John! Great to "meet" you, and thanks so much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to share this exciting info with us! Wow...looks like an amazing experience this year at SIGGRAPH! I am so bummed I'm going to miss it. Thanks for conducting a most excellent interview, Dee-Marie!

LillianH ( posted at 12:00AM Sun, 25 June 2006

Great interview! I'm really looking forward to being at Siggraph this year. Fantastic theme and location. Best wishes, Lillian

SndCastie ( posted at 12:00AM Sun, 25 June 2006

Thank you John for giving us a look at what will be at this years event. I too will miss being able to attend :O( Thank you Dee-Marie a outstanding interview