In this three-part series, SIGGRAPH Student Volunteer (SV) alum and guest blogger Jessica Sommerville looks at how the SIGGRAPH SV program has shaped the professional lives of some of its alumni.
I truly believe that SIGGRAPH and more specifically the Student Volunteer Program (SV) is the reason I am where I am today. At present I work in the modelling department at Animal Logic, the studio responsible for The Lego movie and Happy Feet.
My experience as an SV can be summed up in one word, and that word is awesome! In fact this is the word I use several times in a video that was taken after my first SV experience in 2012 which you can still find on YouTube today. I was at a loss for any other word, partly due to extreme camera shyness but also because it really was just that.
When I attended my first SIGGRAPH in 2012 I knew very little about the VFX and animation industry. I was finishing up an undergraduate in design majoring in graphic design. I had not heard of SIGGRAPH and was fortunate enough to meet Tomasz Bednarz who was and still is a very active member of the SIGGRAPH community. I told him about my interest in technology and in the animation industry and he encouraged me to apply for the student volunteer program. I’m so glad that I took his advice as this experience cemented my desire to enter the industry. I feel very fortunate that this goal was able to come to fruition within a year and a half of making this decision.
I owe this largely in part to the people I met, the things I learned and the experiences gained at this conference. This got me thinking that other students must feel as grateful as I do. Year after year I would run into familiar faces, and I knew that, just as I was, these student were hooked. After approaching and speaking with seven other SV alumni I found that similar themes started to emerge. The word “people” appeared most frequently.
The interviewees unanimously agreed, it’s the people that make the SIGGRAPH experience truly great.
This includes both the people who attend and work with SIGGRAPH. When you attend the conference, especially as a student volunteer, there is a real sense of community. This isn’t surprising when you put so many like minded individuals in such close proximity. You are not only interacting with fellow SV’s to whom you can easily relate; you will also meet seasoned industry professionals who work for studios you aspire to work for one day yourself.
The next most common topic that made itself apparent when speaking with my fellow SV alumni was that of “mentorship” and “learning”. The whole SIGGRAPH experience is about people sharing their knowledge, whether it be a large company imparting what they have learn’t at a talk or production session or someone you might meet in a line or party at the conference. I would most definitely encourage branching out and meeting knew people at SIGGRAPH as there are so many talented individuals that attend both SIGGRAPH and SIGGRAPH Asia conferences, you never know who you might run into.
Many of the SV alumni I have spoken with have had positive experiences regarding these key themes and will elaborate on them in their profiles below. These profiles will focus on how being a part of the SIGGRAPH SV program has helped advance students in their professional lives and careers.
Fernando works as an animator at DHX media. The company is a prominent producer and international distributor of children’s television.
“By being an SV you get the chance to interact with the new generation of creators that will soon join the industry, a generation of which you are part.”
Fernando explains that your fellow SV’s become friends “that ultimately become your professional contacts and will give you constant feedback throughout your career.” He goes on to say that with broad access to the conference you get access “not only to the content, but to the creators of that content, since you get to work with them in the different venues and they are usually very open to talking to the Student Volunteers and share their experiences.”
He tells us that, “beyond the networking and training you are exposed to, you also get a sense of belonging. At least in my experience, being part of the SV program helped me push my motivations beyond just hunting for the next shot on my reel or the next line in my CV, after being a Student Volunteer my goal wasn’t just to build my career but to be part of the community that is helping shape the career I want to pursue.” Fernando expands on how his SIGGRAPH experience provided him with a sense of belonging saying, “Since I get to witness first hand the development of the work and techniques that shape the things I do every day as an animator.”
Also he implores us not to forget the benefit of the tailored content that only SVs have access to, such as presentations, portfolio reviews or even mentorships, which he believes are invaluable.
Rianti is a SIGGRAPH Asia veteran and is currently employed as an artist for the gaming company COLOPL Inc. in Tokyo.
Rianti says that there were many highlights being apart of the SV program. “But the most memorable moment was last year at SIGGRAPH Asia Kobe 2015 experience as Student Volunteer Program sub-committee member. I had the opportunity to create new style of SV Uniform using Happi (a Japanese traditional clothing). It was a challenge at first, but the SV Program chair gave me a lot of creativity freedom so the whole design process was fun. I love being able to contribute my knowledge to this awesome program and the feedbacks about new uniform were really positive! It gave a unique identity to that particular SIGGRAPH SV Program and gives more pride to the SV who own the uniform. I like to create work that able to inspire/makes people smile. I think this is one of those cases.”
Rianti was one of the fortunate people to be offered work at the conference. “I got my first job at UBISOFT Singapore through job fair at SIGGRAPH Asia 2008! I got a chance to talk with the recruiter since I was wearing the SV Uniform. My fellow volunteers, who I served with during that conference are now part of companies with big names. Companies such as Dreamworks, Google, Pixar, and many more. I got a lot of opportunities and side jobs also from fellow SIGGRAPH SV’s. And not to mention the friendships formed through the years; those who are accepted into the program will be your future colleague and collaborator; which will; make your career path more interesting. Oh, and have I mentioned about SV Portfolio review? I got a lot of advice and suggestions from one of the Prometheus directors, Disney and Nickelodeon Artists through SIGGRAPH! I am no longer a student, but every time I return to SIGGRAPH, I can feel the excitement in the air around the SV Office. The SV Program and its people remind me of what I am passionate about; why I am in industry, and what I can do from now on. As a person in the entertainment industry, I think this is extremely important. If you want to inspire people with your work, then you yourself have to be fun and inspirational.
“SIGGRAPH Asia still allows recent graduates to apply for the program, so I encourage you to keep participating! And if that`s not possible, there always way to involve like XSV Program and even become a Committee member!”
I hope that reading these profiles gives you an insight into a variety of different experiences people have had at SIGGRAPH and how their experience has helped them and also shaped them both personally and professionally. To sum things up I will finish the story of my own experience and how it helped get me where I am today. I was able to get some great mentorship advice from artists at Disney and DreamWorks whom I stayed in contact with over the years. I’m truly grateful for the knowledge they shared with me as it helped me to realise the standard of work I had to achieve and how to get there. It was at the SIGGRAPH job fair that I first met Patricia and Nick, the recruiters at Animal Logic. I was able to build a sense of rapport which started the relationship that would end with me landing my very first feature animation job.
If you’re a student interested in working with technology or animation and vfx in some shape or form I would not hesitate in recommending the student volunteer program to you!
Stay tuned for Part 2 in this series. And be sure to share your own SV story in the comments below!