Interview With SIGGRAPH 2011 The Studio Chair: Chris Williams

by | 14 July 2011 | Industry Leaders, Interactive Techniques, Visual Effects

Following is a brief conversation with Chris Williams, The Studio Chair from Knowledge Adventure! (pictured at right).

He currently is their Creative Director and attended the University of California, Riverside.

For someone who is new to SIGGRAPH, what should they expect from their Studio experience this year?

This year is going to be spectacular! It is all about D.I.Y. wrapped in a Steampunk theme. The Studio has always been about getting hands-on experience with all types of equipment that one may not normally encounter in their daily lives. This year we took it a step further by focusing on cool technology and techniques that anyone could do themselves. One doesn’t need a $250,000 3D printer for rapid prototyping; you can start experimenting with something such as a $1,200 Makerbot. Since it comes in kit form, it allows for complete understanding of the technology during the construction process. It is great to discover that technology isn’t magic hidden behind a black box. Anyone can have access to it.

Not only does The Studio have some of the coolest toys at SIGGRAPH, but we also have some amazingly creative people. We have individuals from all over the world and from every discipline who are passionate about teaching and collaborating with other creative individuals. The Studio is the prefect venue for large exchanges of ideas.

When did you first come to SIGGRAPH and what specifically clicked in your brain that it was a good fit?

I first came to SIGGRAPH over 10 years ago when it was in Los Angeles. I was in awe with the assemblage of so many creative people in one place. I thought I found seventh heaven when I stumbled on the Studio. It was full of wonderful technology that attendees could use, experiment with, and learn on. There was the latest software, futuristic hardware, and a creative buzz that filled the air. I found that I was signing up for every workshop possible and ended up spending almost all of my time at SIGGRAPH there. I have never left.

How will it be the same or different from prior years?

The Studio will always be based on a “hands-on” area where technology is fueled by fun creative energy. This year is no exception! We have a host of donated equipment and software that attendees can try out, learn about and experiment with. The main difference this year is that we were heavily involved with the Unified Jury. It was a great experience to review and select projects, talks and workshops that would best fit inside The Studio. Along with curated venues, bouncy castle  the juried selections promise to bring incredible talent together and a sharing of ideas.
What is one … or a few …. of the most special aspects of The Studio to you personally?

The Studio volunteers as well as the presenters! Each year, I love returning to SIGGRAPH, The Studio and working with, problem-solving with, creating with, such talented people. It really is like returning home and seeing old friends and family. Everyone who volunteers their time, equipment, and software really cares about teaching and sharing with others new technology and ideas. That is pretty special. That is SIGGRAPH.

Past attendees’ comments mentioned that the Studio atmosphere was a bit chaotic, how have you tried to address that this year?

What is great about The Studio is that it is always a bit chaotic. Even with all of the endless hours of planning, most of the donations and workshops aren’t finalized till the 11th hour. It should be commended the amount of corporate wrangling and solicitation it takes to host The Studio. Most of everything at The Studio is donated and all the time is volunteered. With that said, each year we outline new pipelines and procedures that will make for a more organized attendee experience.

Participating in the formalized venue of the Unified Jury was a monumental step in better organization. This year we have also tried to create a layout that allows for easy flow-through of traffic while encouraging exploration of each venue. Regardless, The Studio will be a fest for the mind.

What are some of the things you are most excited about in the Studio?

I am usually excited about getting “hands-on” experience with the latest technology and software. I look forward each year to which new 3D printer will be available or newest motion capture technique that will be in The Studio. This year, I am really looking forward to all of the great talks and presentations in The Studio!

I am incredibly excited that we will be starting off The Studio with the highly anticipated roundtable talk with Cory Doctorow moderating! We then continue the week will all sorts of industry talks, creative talks, hands on presentations, and fun workshops. I like that The Studio talks and presentations are a little more personal. Instead of being in a giant room with an industry legend on some tall far-away edifice, attendees are up close and personal and can ask questions. It is a little more interactive than just spectating.

What drew you to volunteer to be considered as The Studio Chair this year?

I wanted to give back! For years, The Studio has provided numerous techniques and experiences that I have been able to use in my professional life. I have learned many methods in The Studio and applied them in creating our company’s video games. Besides the obvious tips and tricks for 3D modeling and animation, there have been many non-obvious ones which include large format printing for advertising, pre-press printing and color correction for retail venues as well as lenticular imaging to showcase our 3D products. Because of the SIGGRAPH Studio, I was able to bring additional value to my company and colleagues. I find it an honor and privilege if I can help and teach others so they can benefit from the same experience.

On a personal level you have managed to stay with the same company for 16 years – which is rare in any industry – what makes it such a good fit and how have you done it?

I love the company that I work for, Knowledge Adventure! The company has been around for about 20 years during which it merged with Davidson and Blizzard (way before WOW) which then was acquired by Cendant, Havas, and finally Vivendi/Universal. I have had the benefit of working on all types of titles, licenses, and art styles. The work is hard, but we also play hard. The office is full of toys and we shoot Nerf guns at each other everyday. I have a great and incredibly talented team whom I would go through the “Gates of Hell” with.

We noticed you have an inspiration for talking spirits and skateboards, please elaborate on that interesting combination.

Creating Ouija boards and skateboards is a direct result of The Studio. While SIGGRAPH was in San Diego, a laser engraver was donated to The Studio and I fell in love with the sheer potential of the machine. For the next couple of months, I saved my pennies (lots) and bought my own laser. I liked the detail that the laser could give me so I wanted to produce art with incredibly intricate designs that I could combine with woodworking. The spirit boards came out of my fascination with the Victorian Era and the skateboards from growing up in California. I never would have been creating these boards without the experience gained from The Studio.

[Editor’s note: Image on the left is one of his creations.]

Sources tell us that you have a particular passion for Circus Peanuts, any validity to this rumor?
I love Circus Peanuts and will consume about a bag a day. I use them as mini-brain batteries (in fact, I just ate four so I could write this :). I am naturally spastic, but I don’t think the “Peanuts” help matters. I love the taste, texture, and that they are a “fat free candy.” It is a “win – win”. The love is probably more about their texture as I dislike “peeps” and regular marshmallows (mushy).

The best is when someone tries them. It only happens once! They twist their faces up as soon as the sugar overload hits them (amateurs). They usually only finish half which usually means “more for me.”

Fun fact – When they were designing Lucky Charms, they first used bits of Circus Peanuts for the marshmallow addition. It was a success as they took longer to get soggy in milk. The rest is history. I also like Lucky Charm marshmallows but they are too small and too hard to get a good mouthful.

Usually when I say that I eat lots of circus peanuts, people often conclude it is the nutritious natural nut not a big squishy orange facsimile of a peanut. It’s like a cartoon peanut and that makes me happy.

Finally, to achieve your personal “Mission Accomplished” for The Studio in 2011, what would you hope attendees feel as they look back on their Studio experiences?

I would hope that attendees feel that they experienced many new and interesting technologies and techniques which they could bring back to their place of work and share with colleagues. In addition, I hope that they are inspired both technically and creatively by the workshops, sessions, presentations, and the people. I figure if they can take away a useful experience or technique that they can apply to their daily lives, then we have been successful.

[Editor’s note: The Studio is packed with content including Studio Workshops, Digital Artistry Sessions, and Studio Talks. Attendees are encouraged to plan in advance as there will be limited capacity.]

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