A Conversation with SIGGRAPH 2016 Conference Chair Mona Kasra

by | 18 July 2016 | ACM SIGGRAPH, Conferences, Graphics, Interactive Techniques, Virtual Reality

We’re less than one week from the SIGGRAPH 2016 conference. Get ready for all the inspiration ahead and read on to find out some things you may not know about this year’s gathering.

SIGGRAPH 2016 (S2016): The job of conference chair for SIGGRAPH is certainly a big one. What made you decide to take on the position?

Mona Kasra (MK): Chairing a conference with as large of a scale as SIGGRAPH is a demanding task and a huge responsibility, but it is also a great honor and a rewarding experience. To me, leadership is all about collaboration and teamwork. Thus, the key to realizing a vision was working with the best team! I feel fortunate to have gone through this 18-month journey working with an incredible cohort of very creative, experienced, and expert individuals from a variety of disciplines with varying expertise. Together we planned, organized, brainstormed, and produced yet another SIGGRAPH conference. I thank them for their ongoing support, as well as their dedication and determination, and commitment to excellence.

S2016: How did you come up with the SIGGRAPH 2016 tagline, “Render the Possibilities”? How does that theme resonate with you on a personal and professional level?

MK: SIGGRAPH, to me, is the interdisciplinary point of connection and collaboration among scholars, creative practitioners, and industry professionals from various communities within computer graphics and interactive techniques. Every summer, thousands of experts and enthusiasts gather together to celebrate and exchange their innovative scholarship and practices in graphics, animation, arts, interactivity, virtual reality, and games — to name a few! For SIGGRAPH 2016, I wanted to highlight the transformational capabilities that arise when communities, systems, ideas, and techniques intermix; when communities converge; and, when new communities emerge. Hence, “Render the Possibilities” was born. The tagline focuses on the ways in which technology has the potential to push us to the next great thing, how it makes positive contributions to the world we live in, and how it extends our ability to better communicate and express ourselves. My hope is that the 2016 conference serves as a hub in which art, science, and technology connect to envision future technological possibilities and their impacts.

Furthermore, in graphics, the word “render” is used to describe the creation of an image which represents a core area of graphics. The word also predates graphics in its historic meaning of “to create or to bring about.” With that, the tagline is really a message to everyone, no matter what area they work in, to create the possibilities of the future and to bring about a better world. (And I do have to thank my partner James O’Brien, who helped brainstorm the tagline with me!)

S2016: The 2016 show has been split into four major categories: Research, Learning, Experiences, and Computer Animation Festival. What was behind the decision to categorize the conference programs in this way?

MK: SIGGRAPH is a massive conference! It offers variety of publication opportunities for contributors and variety of programs and venues for conference attendees. Because of the large scale of our conference and because of the many different communities we serve, it’s not very easy to navigate through the content, especially if you are a first-time submitter or a first-time attendee. To make finding conference programs and content easier, we categorized programs into the four major categories you mentioned: Research, Learning, Experiences, and Computer Animation Festival. The breadown for this is as follows:

  • RESEARCH includes the Technical and Art paper programs, Posters, and Talks, each of which present new contributions to knowledge in computer graphics and interactive techniques.
  • LEARNING programs (i.e., Courses, Production Sessions, and Panels) provide educational opportunities and discussion forums. They include formal presentations of topics, sharing of practical experience, and discussion of issues.
  • EXPERIENCE programs (i.e., Appy HourArt Gallery, Emerging Technologies, Studio, and VR Village) allow attendees to observe and interact with installations, apps, demos, and hands-on workshops. The majority of this programming can be found in one location throughout the conference week, the Experience Hall.
  • Last but not least, our prestigious COMPUTER ANIMATION FESTIVAL presents the world’s most innovative, accomplished, and amazing digital film, animation, and video.

S2016: How have your background and interests affected this year’s show?

MK: As a media artist and educator, I am a committed to interdisciplinary and collaborative modes of learning and scholarship. As such it was important to me that SIGGRAPH 2016 place emphasis on and highlight interdisciplinary crossovers and collaborations. For instance, Studio combines Making and Gaming through Feuding Cities, offering attendees an opportunity to compete in a physical and digital game throughout the conference week. Similarly, this year’s VR Village explores how VR and AR tools are radically changing the formats of storytelling and powering real-world applications in health, education, design, and gaming. (And these are just two examples!)

It was also a mission of mine to improve diversity and inclusion in the programming and planning of the conference. Thanks to my tireless and hardworking program committee, we actively sought diverse perspectives during the reviewing and jury process, and were fortunate to work with many top female scholars and practitioners from a plethora of specializations. We are also thrilled to have Z. Nagin Cox, Spacecraft Operations Engineer at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (NASA JPL), as our SIGGRAPH 2016 keynote speaker!

S2016: Compared to past SIGGRAPH conferences, what will be most different and exciting about 2016 for those coming to Anaheim?

MK: SIGGRAPH, as always, will be about cutting-edge content, evolving in-line with where computer graphics and interactive techniques are headed. At this year’s conference, the Experience Area is sure to be a hit: In this experiential, immersive playground, attendees can interact, make, and experience everything from mobile VR to haptic technologies, real-time game sequences, 3D printing, and augmented realities. If you want to learn and immersive yourself in the latest technology – this is the place to be. As always, the reputation of our Technical Papers program is second to none, and this year we are excited to share research across a variety of topics — fabrication, displays and interaction, DSL, and learning/neural net and perception, to name a few. Production Sessions, Real-Time Live!, and the Computer Animation Festival are hugely celebrated by attendees and this year’s lineup is, once again, very strong.

Aside from cutting-edge content, at SIGGRAPH 2016 we’ve made concentrated effort to create more opportunities for meeting-up with peers, sharing experiences, and making new connections. BarGRAPH, SIGGRAPH 2016’s official pop-up bar, is a fun new addition to the on-site experience that we hope attendees enjoy and take advantage of. BarGRAPH will be open late in the afternoon in a couple of locations throughout the conference.

S2016: You crowd-sourced a character design from artists within the SIGGRAPH community. Are there any special ways — that you can reveal — in which you plan to use this character at the event?

MK: Yes! I first have to thank all the artists and designers from around the world who participated in our “Spirit of SIGGRAPH” contest for their creative submissions. And many congrats to Mario R. Nagamura, our winner! During SIGGRAPH 2016, attendees will be able to view and take pictures with the character, officially named Shay D. Pixel, at different locations around the convention center. I hear they might even be able to take a printout home! (Keep your eyes peeled for more information on Pixel in the Official Conference Mobile App and via #SIGGRAPH 2016 in social.)

S2016: What are your top three tips for people who are unsure how to get the most out of this massive conference?

  1. Go to the SIGGRAPH 2016 website! I would especially recommend checking out the Reasons to Attend and First-Time Attendee pages. Additionally, if you’re interested in particular specialty areas (i.e., mobile, art, education, etc.), go directly to SIGGRAPH 2016 BY FOCUS to find content that will easily allow you to customize your experience.
  2. Download The SIGGRAPH 2016 Mobile App. You can find everything there!
  3. Feel free to reach out to SIGGRAPH 2016 program chairs and subcommittees. They will be more than happy to guide you or answer your questions about particular sessions/events.

S2016: In 140 characters or less, convince someone to come to SIGGRAPH 2016.

MK: Come to SIGGRAPH 2016 to learn, inspire, experience, engage, laugh, and be part of the community. See you in Anaheim! [Click to tweet this.]

Press play below to watch a brief video teasing SIGGRAPH 2016, 24-28 July at the Anaheim Convention Center. For more video content from the conference, check out the SIGGRAPH 2016 YouTube playlist. Register here.

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