A Q&A with the SIGGRAPH 2014 Computer Animation Festival Chair Jerome Solomon

A Q&A with the SIGGRAPH 2014 Computer Animation Festival Chair Jerome Solomon

Jerome Solomon

Editor’s note:  When not volunteering or being a great dad, Jerome Solomon serves as Academic Dean and Director of Game Design & Development at Cogswell Polytechnical College in Sunnyvale, CA.

What can we expect from the 2014 Computer Animation Festival?

We have added more categories for entry into the festival.  And, this year, we are giving more awards.  In addition, we are curating in more content than ever via our two outreach reps who are at ILM and Blizzard.

What will be the same/different?
A lot will be the same.  Last year’s Director, Jason RM Smith, did a great job.  I’m following in his footsteps.  The plan is to build off of what he did last year and also improve every aspect possible for both submitters and attendees.
     
Last year’s jury had a definite international make-up. What will your jury be like this year?
My jury will be international for sure.  We built criteria for jury selection.  Some of the criteria were geographical location, storytelling, anime, games, visual quality, and other criteria that aligned with our categories.  
We receive so many submissions from around the world that it only makes sense for the jury to be international and diverse.  We already have secured Dr. Jim Foley from Georgia Tech, whose co-authored texts have been called “the bible of computer graphics”. Plus, we have Greg Butler, who is an Oscar-nominated VFX Supervisor and Head of FX from MPC.  LAIKA has sent us Georgina Hayns Head of Puppet Fabrication.  This is just the beginning. The jury will be amazing.  But, I can’t spill all the beans just yet!  
That said, to get your work in front of this type of talent is an amazing opportunity for people.   The question is, “When will you ever get eight of the most talented people representing the best studios on Earth in one theatre on the Disney Lot to look at your work?”  The answer is NEVER… except if you submit work to SIGGRAPH. But, people must submit work before Tuesday, March 4th, because this is our hard deadline!

SIGGRAPH’s “Animation Mother” has been a symbol of the Computer Animation Festival for several years.

 What were some of the more helpful things that you learned from last year’s chair?

To not cry when there is so much work and pressure that you want to cry.  I never saw Jason cry 🙂  Seriously, it was amazing. He is steady and has great leadership skills.

What do you expect to be some of the more difficult challenges in putting the show together?
The hardest part seems to be the timing of everything and how it all comes together. There are simply a lot of facets to the show that are outside of our control.  So, we have to collaborate with vendors, studios, conference management, ACM, and the individuals delivering content to make it all happen.  Some people think we control everything.  But, I think we have just been lucky for 40+ years straight.  Go figure.

Students have had success with submission getting major recognition.What do you think are some of the reasons behind this trend?
The jury simply wants to put forth the world’s best work.  We don’t care where it comes from or who it comes from.  So, we don’t look at work and say “Ohhhhh, this is student work so let’s be nice and lower the bar”.  We also don’t say “Oh, well, this came from studio X so it’s in.”  I’ve seen student work and studio work get cut.  We also maintain our morals and consistent grading practices.  So, jury members volunteer to step out of the room if they are associated with any work that was submitted.  The bar for SIGGRAPH is high.  Period.

The elegant and inspiring Vancouver Convention Centre is conveniently located downtown.

What type of reaction are you expecting from the local Vancouver film community?

We are expecting a positive response just like the last time we were in Vancouver.   It has a rich tradition of filmmaking and supporting the arts.  Also, recently high-level creative and technical work has grown quite a bit in this city.

Who should be submitting to the Computer Animation Festival?
Any person or company that has a piece of work that they think is worthy and of high quality in any category.  Some categories that people often overlook are Games, Visualizations and Simulations, and Real-Time Graphics.  I would love to see more types of work in these areas.  I also think there are many people who are not sure if they should submit.  If you have recent work that is done and looks great, I think it’s worth submitting.   It’s simply a few forms and you need to upload your work. So, it is be a fairly easy process.  We are seeing more submissions pour in each day.

 What do you consider to be important aspects of a submission – story line, technical details, etc?
I think innovation is important.  So, this may be creative innovation in story, visual quality, sound design or it may be technical innovation in the techniques (tools that produce visually amazing results).  I think the projects that really stand out are those that amaze or drive emotion in the human spirit.

You have years of both studio/commercial experience and now have crossed over into education.What motivated you to make the switch?
The industry is a lot of fun.  But, it is also very hard work.  I moved into academia to help other people do what they want to do. I wanted to bring my experience and knowledge to students.  But, to also be very honest with them about the realities of this type of work.  You have to be dedicated, talented, determined, focused, smart, and alert: you cannot sleep a lot!  You have to love this type of work to do it.  So many of the students at Cogswell College are like this.  I see our smartest students walking around the hallways and I think, “Oh my goodness, do they look tired!”  And then I think, “Wow, they might have what it takes.  They work diligently  at their homework because they love what they are doing.”

What valuable lessons do you try to teach your students for making it in this business?
There are honestly too many to list.  I try to counsel them depending on what they need that day at that moment.  I care about our students as individual people.  The definition of success in their eyes is most important to me.  So, how I guide each of them based on my experience is different.  It’s an organic process.

On a personal level, what are your favorite parts of the SIGGRAPH conference?
First, I love our community.  For me, it’s a family and we are growing each day.  Every new person at SIGGRAPH is always greeted with warm open arms.  This is simply how SIGGRAPH is.  It’s an amazing thing to experience.  As far as conference content, I’m a big fan of Emerging Technologies. I just love to see how software meets hardware meets art.  In Emerging Technologies, you see some of the most amazing things.  Since these are physical exhibits, you really do have to be at SIGGRAPH in that room to see it and interact with it.

For someone coming to SIGGRAPH for the first time, what are your recommendations?
My recommendations are to be prepared to feel really dumb.  SIGGRAPH has this special way of making you feel like you are dumb and lazy.  This is because the smartest, most creative,and most amazing people in the world are sharing their knowledge and skills with you for five straight days.  You leave SIGGRAPH extremely excited and motivated.  You look at old problems in new ways.  You leave thinking about things you have never thought about before.  So, be humble, and learn all you can from everyone you meet and everything you experience.

 Finally, who was one of your greatest influences in your career?
For me, that has to be my father the late Gabriel William Solomon, who was an attorney and civil rights leader for people less able to defend themselves.  He literally risked his life to help others.  So, I feel I owe him. I have to do my part to give back too.  I just happen to help others via SIGGRAPH and teaching at Cogswell College.  It’s less risky, Dad. 🙂

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