Meet Alain Chesnais

by | 25 August 2016 | ACM SIGGRAPH, Industry Leaders, Research

Alain Chesnais

photo: Alain Chesnais (center) with LEGO Alain and friends

This Q&A was originally published in the ACM SIGGRAPH Member ProfilesAlain Chesnais is a long-time volunteer with SIGGRAPH and SIGGRAPH conferences. He was this year’s ACM SIGGRAPH’s Outstanding Service Award winner. You might  have seen him and LEGO Alain at SIGGRAPH 2016.

1. What do you do, and how long have you been doing it?

This question has two aspects that are equally important to me: what I do professionally and what I do as an ACM SIGGRAPH volunteer. Let me address both of those for you as they are so tightly integrated that it’s often hard for me to determine where my professional activity ends and when my volunteer activity starts.

I’ve been doing computer graphics since the mid 80’s. I was hired by Nicholas Negroponte to work in the research center he set up in Paris at the time, CMIRH. There I worked with Henri Gouraud and discovered computer graphics.

2. What was your first job?

I’m assuming you mean my first job after getting my graduate degree, otherwise I’d have to answer meat delivery boy when I was 14 in Queens, NYC. My first research position was at CNRS in France where I was doing research in performance modelling to determine the performance of massively distributed systems. I had the pleasure of working with Danny Hillis to model the performance of the connection machine before it was actually built at the time.

3. Where did you complete your formal education?

I did all of my college degrees in Paris, France across several universities while studying at l’Ecole Normale Supérieure de Cachan.

4. How did you first get involved with ACM SIGGRAPH?

I first started out by volunteering to stuff envelopes for the Paris SIGGRAPH Chapter in the mid 80’s. These were real envelopes sent via snail mail at the time 🙂 At one of our chapter meetings the chair of our chapter made a call for volunteers to and I signed up. I haven’t stopped volunteering since then.

5. What is your favorite memory of a SIGGRAPH conference?

One of my favorite memories of a SIGGRAPH conference has to be SIGGRAPH 1998 when, after 2 and a half years of development effort, we released Maya 1.0 in February of 1998, then released Maya 1.5 in July of 1998 with a Windows version that no one expected we were actually working on. I was director of engineering on that project with Venu Venugopal and Gary Hooper. It was probably the most exciting period I have ever lived through. We knew we had developed something really special, but really couldn’t judge its true impact until the SIGGRAPH conference that year. The enthusiasm around our product was so phenomenal. It was amazing! What was even more surprising was how enthusiastic the response to the Maya 1.5 release at the conference was when we announced Windows support after a secret development effort that I had led.

My other favorite SIGGRAPH memory was when Patrica Beckman Wells presented me with LEGO Alain as a thank you gift for helping her out on her doctoral thesis, He has since traveled the world with me and we have captured over 4000 pictures of him with key SIGGRAPH people over the years! Follow LEGO Alain on Facebook at:

6. Describe a project that you would like to share with the ACM SIGGRAPH community.

The most exciting project I led at SIGGRAPH was the development of the SIGGRAPH Asia conference. During my Presidency I wanted us to look at broadening SIGGRAPH internationally. We launched a mission to evaluate the potential of creating a conference in Asia. This study was led by Y.T. Lee from NTU in Singapore. The results came back in overwhelming support of developing a SIGGRAPH branded conference in Asia. That conference is now a reality and has, in its very short lifetime managed to become one of the top 5 conferences that ACM sponsors every year!

7. If you could have dinner with one living or non-living person, who would it be and why?

Read the rest of the interview at

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