SIGGRAPH Spotlight: Episode 8 – SIGGRAPH Asia’s Pisut Wisessing and Marisa Ginger Tontaveetong

SIGGRAPH Spotlight: Episode 8 – SIGGRAPH Asia’s Pisut Wisessing and Marisa Ginger Tontaveetong

In this latest SIGGRAPH Spotlight installment, ACM SIGGRAPH International Resources Committee (IRC) member Bektur Ryskeldiev (Ph.D. candidate, University of Aizu) sits down with SIGGRAPH Asia 2017 Student Volunteer Chair Pisut Wisessing (Ph.D. candidate, Trinity College Dublin/ADAPT Centre) and Computer Animation Festival Producer Marisa Ginger Tontaveetong (executive director, ASIFA-South) to talk about their careers, work with SIGGRAPH, and insights on the upcoming conference in Thailand, 27-30 November.

Listen on SoundCloud below or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or Stitcher.


FULL PODCAST TRANSCRIPT

Bektour Ryskeldiev (BR)
Hello, Pisut and Marisa! Welcome to our podcast, and thank you for joining us today. Can you tell us more about what you do, and what is your background?

Pisut Wissessing (PW)
Hi, everyone! My name is Pisut Wissessing, and I’m the chair of the Student Volunteer Program at SIGGRAPH Asia 2017 in Bangkok this year. I’ve been involved with SIGGRAPH Student Volunteer (SV) Program, both in North America and in Asia, since 2010. This will be my 10th time including both North America and Asia. Now, I’m a PhD student in Trinity college in Dublin, Ireland, and before I started my PhD, I used to work at Dreamworks Unit in Technicolour India and Brown Bag films in Dublin. I actually got my job from somebody I knew in the SV program!

Ginger Marisa Tontaveetong (MT)
Hi! My name is Ginger Marisa Tontaveetong, and this year I’m helping out with the Computer Animation Festival in SIGGRAPH Asia as a producer, and basically it’s working with the 2 co-chairs to facilitate the screening. I’ve been also involved with SIGGRAPH both the Asian and North American chapters. I started off as a student volunteer at the North American chapter in 2013, and then started to become a team leader and also working with the Student Services (SS) in America, where we actually coordinate portfolios and set up portfolio reviews connecting ACM student members to industry professions. Currently, I’m located in Atlanta. I’m finishing off my MFA in SCAD and I’m working at Magic Lantern studio here as an animator. Other than that, I also run a non-profit organization, which is a chapter of ASIFA, which is an international animation society where we do animation screenings and also different types of workshops, so we do a lot of animations during different types of panels.

BR
So I think you already answered my next question. I was wondering how did you first get involved in SIGGRAPH and the community. Marisa, you started in North America as far as I understand?

MT
Yes, I did! It was really interesting because originally when I was in Thailand, SIGGRAPH was always one of those names that popped up in books that I was reading about, especially books about Pixar and how they got started showcasing some of their technology. So, I always put it in the back of my mind, and when I came to the U.S., this was a conference I wanted to get involved in. So, I started to do a little bit of research, went to the website, and saw that they took student volunteers, and usually the conference pass is quite expensive, so with the Student Volunteer Program, you get in as the pass is actually free. So that was one of the deciding factors that made me want to volunteer with SIGGRAPH.

BR
How about you, Pisut?

PW
Yes, it is similar. My first SIGGRAPH was in 2009 in New Orleans, but I was just an attendee, and I was a masters student in the Digital Production program in Clemson University in South Carolina, and SIGGRAPH that year was in New Orleans, so we drove down there, and the program paid for my registration, which was awesome! So the next year I wanted to go, but they only funded us to go to SIGGRAPH one time, so we had to find a way to finance ourselves to go to SIGGRAPH again. That is where I found the Student Volunteer (SV) Program, for which me and my friend applied and got in. That was 2010 in LA, which was my first time volunteering in SIGGRAPH, and I continued doing this for a few more years till I graduate, and then we couldn’t do it in North America anymore. So, I turned to SIGGRAPH Asia because in the Asian chapter, we have this special rule that people who have graduated up to 2 years ago can still apply. So, after that, I have been doing SIGGRAPH Asia for 7 years straight!

MT
My first SIGGRAPH Asia was 2015 in Shenzhen, which was super interesting as well.

BR
Wasn’t SIGGRAPH Asia 2014 in Shenzhen? It was my first SIGGRAPH Asia as well!

PW
Yes, 2015 was in Kobe.

MT
Then Macau was last year. Yes, sorry to blur all the dates!

BR
My first SIGGRAPH was in 2014. That’s how I got introduced to the Student Volunteer (SV) Program myself. So, it’s very interesting; it turns out you both started in American SIGGRAPH communities and moved over to Asia at some point, and have you noticed any differences in working with students at SIGGRAPH and SIGGRAPH Asia? For instance, the organization of the conference and the program?

PW
Yes, Asia is definitely smaller. However, on the plus side, you get to know people better because it is smaller. You know almost everybody in the SV program and outside the program as well. Another good thing about Asia is that, every year it changes from one country to another. Usually, after SIGGRAPH Asia, you stay a few more days to travel with your friends from the conference, and I have a lot of friends that i still keep in touch from SIGGRAPH Asia from 2011-12.

MT
I agree with Pisut about SIGGRAPH and SIGGRAPH Asia. There are also a lot of familiar faces that once they do SIGGRAPH in the U.S., they decided that they want to try something new like cultural, and they also apply for SIGGRAPH Asia, which is also interesting because as Pisut mentioned, location changes a lot. Currently, the North American chapter goes in between Anaheim, LA and Vancouver as of now, but with the Asian Chapter, it is going to go to Tokyo, then to Australia, so it is always a great opportunity for travel. The other thing too is that with the North American one, definitely the size is the difference. The North American one I think, usually has more than a thousand applicants for the SV program, and then they choose probably like around 300 SVs at the end. The sizes tend to be a little big bigger, but my experiences with the program in Asia, the size is a lot smaller. How much is it around usually, Pisut?

PW
We get around a third of the North American application numbers, so around 300-400 applicants out of which we select around 150.

MT
So with the Asian one, I usually find that I’m able to actually, within the whole conference, meet the majority of the people who volunteer, and I think the other thing too is the special rule is really good with flexibility, so the people you tend to meet in SIGGRAPH Asia who are volunteers are already working professionals.

PW
So that rule was started to accommodate two things: one because it is in Asia, the travel costs are a lot as people have to travel from other continents. So, when we accept people who have graduated, they are working so that can afford to fly over, and that helps increase the number of applications. That also gives them the opportunity to volunteer again after they graduate.

MT
The other interesting thing about SIGGRAPH Asia for me too is the language. Because SIGGRAPH is an international conference, but also sometimes it goes to different parts like China, you are meeting a lot of attendees that are speaking a difference language.

PW
Language and eating! When you go to SIGGRAPH Asia, you want to eat with the locals, so that they take to the real authentic food places, but you can’t communicate with the food vendors. So, you go with a big group with people who know how to speak Chinese or Japanese, and that was a lot of fun, which is how you bond with other SVs.

BR
Yeah, I remember looking for street food places in Macau. That was a very interesting experience! So, Marisa, you are helping with the Computer Animation festival and Pisut, you are managing the SV Program – what kind of topics are the students applying to the conference interested in? Has the SV program already started accepting applications?

PW
We already opened; the deadline for SVs is 12 August, and for Team Leader is 15 July. You mean topics in general?

BR
Yes, for instance, a few years ago and last year, SIGGRAPH was all about the mobile industry. Since last year, everybody is talking about VR stuff and I’m wondering what is going to happen this year in SIGGRAPH Asia.

PW
OK, I haven’t seen the submissions yet. My guess will be the VR trend will continue as well as the 3D printing, which has been very trendy over the past few years. Also, games, mobile games, web game technology like game engines, I think will play a small role in animation and visual effects production in general. So, we might see more of those.

MT
In my side, I would definitely say check out the Computer Animation Festival (CAF), not just because I’m helping out with it, but because we usually choose the premier in Asia, where they have some of the best CGI, visual effects, and we will also have a lot of interesting panels coming up. The submission dates are open till the 19 July, and the main focus of Computer Animation Festival is usually advancement of technology and CGI animation, but for SIGGRAPH Asia this year, we are also focusing on local content, too. So we are probably going to have a track for like local content itself. So if you are interested in seeing how it can be different from the one in North America, this is one of the tracks that would interest you.

BR
Do you know for instance, in Thailand, what kind of direction animation is moving towards, and the studios that people might want to work in there?

MT
Yes, because our CAF festival chair, Juck Somsaman, is actually the owner of the Monk Studio, which is one of the premier animation studios in Thailand, and the Monk Studio does a lot of outsources content for Japan and also the U.S. So if you have seen things like Rango or Final Fantasy, then the Monk Studio has worked on that and various other projects. They have also had an animation short called Nine, which is really beautiful if you want to search for it online.

PW
Nine is also a good mix of 2D and 3D animation.

MT
So Nine, the short from Monk Studio, is definitely one to watch for. Other than that, we have some other animation studios that are usually based for content for TV like the Lunchbox studio and also Riff studio, which is co-producing work with Japan. It is for the animation feature Force of Will, which is also another very interesting one to watch. Riff Studio is also producing a lot of really good things.

PW
Thailand may not be known for feature animation and feature film visual effects. However, if you look into commercials, look up YouTube for instance, there are a lot of funny commercials from Thailand. That is the kind of production industry that exists in Thailand. Yeah, another good that Monk Studios do is they accept international internships.

MT
Yes, they do, which is amazing. In fact, one of the past SVs from the North American SIGGRAPH, Yuriko Oto, was also part of the internship. So it is definitely open to all internationals.

BR
Any other notable labs or universities or companies that we should keep track of in Thailand who we could see in SIGGRAPH Asia?

MT
Yes, so, if you are talking about companies or universities, with Animation and Multimedia, my university was Bangkok University. So they also do a lot of multimedia work and product quite a bit of animation. There is also Mahidol University, which also has an animation curriculum. There is a lot of different curriculum in Thailand itself. We don’t have a lot of higher education specifically in animation, just yet. However, everything other than that is pretty good with Multimedia. Anything you want to add, Pisut?

PW
You know more than me considering I did my study in the US!

MT
Well, when I was in Bangkok a few years back looking for an animation school in Bangkok, especially one that has an English curriculum, and back then they didn’t have anything yet. So I was taking Computer Graphics and Multimedia, which actually gave me a lot of generalist skills that I still use today but for higher education. I came to SCAD, Savannah College of Art and Design, because it was something I wanted to study more in depth and I don’t think Bangkok has changed that much since then.

PW
Yes, definitely a few years ago there was nothing. There was a school that offers Computer Graphics courses but more on the technical programming side rather than the artistic side. 10 years ago, there were only a few schools around the world that offered animation like SCAD, Ringling, but now everywhere in the world they offer more animation and production courses, which is a good sign. Now it is also easier to learn because back then you couldn’t get a free license for Maya or Houdini. Everything cost so much that you had to go to school to learn these tools, but now everything is more accessible – even with online resources you can learn from.

MT
I also noticed that there are lots of little workshops and courses because that’s one of the things I did when I was in Thailand. So I could take a lot of workshops and courses from studios like Kantana, one of the studios in Thailand, brought in animators from Pixar like Mark Oftedal and animators like Tod Polson to teach some of the curriculum. I enrolled in those workshops that were very specific. Now, there are also schools like called bare visualization that teach a little bit of graphics, visual effects, motion, depending.

PW
The key to learning is the language. If you know English, now you can find any instruction online. There are a lot of good tutorials free online on YouTube. So I used to work with Houdini a lot, and most of learning came from online sources. Therefore, having a good understanding of English is the key and helps a lot.

MT
I agree with that. Also, what I personally learned too is that something I find interesting; I go online on some forums and find someone who is skilled in that and pay them some money to teach me online. So it is not limited to location because things like Blender or Houdini, I usually have some of my friends or some people from some CGI forums help me out since it is faster for me to learn that way.

BR
Interesting! So in that way how do you see Thai animation industry progressing given the whole international collaboration and outsourcing factors?

PW
In Thailand, it is getting much better now with the government trying make Thailand the digital content hub of Asia. They have just started a new program, part of which is funding SIGGRAPH Asia this year.

MT
Another thing about the community in Thailand is that there are a lot of little festivals because recently one of the festivals that just finished was the Thai Animation festival, which was a showcasing of local Thai animators, and there are also Thai digital content festivals. Along with that, there have been more promotion of animation in Thailand in general. I know for a fact that ASIFA has started a chapter in Thailand, too. ASIFA is an organization that runs the Annie awards and has chapters in New York, Atlanta, which has expanded to cover more of the south and it is the one I’m involved with. There are ASIFA chapters in 50 places around the world like Brazil, Hong Kong, and many other different places. Different chapters have their own little agenda similar to SIGGRAPH chapters.

BR
I also understand there is a Thai SIGGRAPH chapter. If I were a Thai student, how could I join the chapter and ASIFA?

MT
There is a Facebook group and a website you can go to. If you google ASIFA Thailand, that will be the first link available. The association itself is called Association Internationale du Film d’Animation. I’m sorry if I butcher that as I don’t know French. It was founded in Annecy, France and was originally the voice for animators, especially political animators, because it started off as a newsletter. Different chapters had different agendas and what they promote. ASIFA Thailand, you can join by becoming a member, and they usually have regular animator meetups.

PW
The main driving force for SIGGRAPH Asia in Bangkok this year is the Bangkok SIGGRAPH chapter. I’m looking forward to joining the chapter after I finish my PhD, when I return to Thailand to work there. You can look them up, too. They organize a lot of activities related to Computer Graphics and Animation. Their Facebook link is facebook.com/bkksiggraph.

BR
Any other non-SIGGRAPH-related facts as to why I should visit Thailand?

MT
Come on, the food, everything! It’s cheap! If you want to go to the market, if you want to go to the beach, everything!

PW
You have to plan what you want to do. So spend a few days in Bangkok, then maybe go to the north to Chiang Mai or to the South to the beaches and the sea like Phi Phi islands, since a lot of tourists go there. Also look up some places a little bit northern, so that you can enjoy the beach without too many people.

MT
You can get food for like two dollars! Just in general, it is a very popular tourist destination. People are generally very friendly, and it’s Thailand! It’s Bangkok!

PW
The people are very nice, and they will try to help you, especially outside the city, they love tourists. They will try to talk to you and try to help you. Don’t be afraid to ask them for help. Their English may not be very good, but they will try to help you.

MT
Also if you see some of the video clips on Buzzfeed with all the weird food, they even had a little even where they took had KitKat, little flavors of KitKat and some were papaya flavor, durian flavor, and you can find all types of weird food including bugs. I think you can find what you are looking for in Bangkok. If you want to see temples or see the nightlife or go shopping or see the floating, train and flower markets, everything is available to you!

BR
That is a lot! I’m definitely visiting it now!

PW
If you spend some time before SIGGRAPH, there are things to do in Bangkok itself.

BR
Is the time around SIGGRAPH Asia going to be a tourist season? Should I book really in advance?

PW
It is the Thanksgiving weekend, so I’m not sure. It is not that high compared to Christmas.

MT
Christmas is a big one. I’d say also to add to the one before, there are many shopping malls. If you want to shop, you just go to one area, Ratchaprasong, and then you can go to 4 to 5 shopping malls all in the same area, and they are all mega malls! They are Huge!

PW
One piece of advice though, we are still in the mourning period of King Rama the IX, so I would suggest when you come to Bangkok, you should dress properly. Try to wear black or muted colors, and if you visit the Grand Palace, just keep in mind that we will still be in the period.

MT
I think doing a bit of research before you travel and finding out what’s appropriate or not is quite helpful.

BR
That makes sense. Thank you very much for joining us today, and we will see you at SIGGRAPH!

One Response

  1. A great conversation discussion about SIGGRAPH and SIGGRAPH Asia. Great job, Ginger and Pisut!

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