photo by Andreas Psaltis © 2022 ACM SIGGRAPH
We normally don’t recommend spending your time thinking about the past … but for SIGGRAPH 2022, we’ll make an exception! Every year, a select group of motivated rising stars in CG, known as Student Volunteers (SVs), volunteer to support the SIGGRAPH conference. Because SIGGRAPH 2022 was our first year back in person since 2019, we chatted with four SVs to hear about their experience volunteering for our first-ever hybrid conference. Learn about the CG journeys of SVs Angel Lam, Hunter Mascia, Elena Ramírez, and Luz Jimenez Vela, and hear about their SIGGRAPH 2022 experience.
SIGGRAPH: Tell us about your career/education background. How did you get involved with the SIGGRAPH Student Volunteer program?
Angel Lam (AL): It all started when I decided to leave my love for math and technology and followed my passion for animation. Little did I know that I can combine my love for both technology and the arts. I moved from Thailand to study film and animation at the Rhode Island School of Design, where I completed my bachelor’s degree. I have been a lifelong fan of Disney and Pixar animations, and while watching YouTube videos about the history of Pixar Animation Studios, I came across a SIGGRAPH conference videos when Pixar first had its booth there. I later found out about the Student Volunteer program and decided to apply for it. My first time volunteering for SIGGRAPH as a Student Volunteer was Los Angeles in 2017, and I kept coming back ever since. I moved back to Thailand for two years, so I also volunteered for SIGGRAPH Asia. SIGGRAPH introduced me to the intersection between art and technology, a place where I truly belong. The S3 Mentor Program I participated in during my first year as a volunteer guided me into the technical directing career path. SIGGRAPH nurtured my curiosity in computer graphics and inspired me to return to school as I am now finishing up my master’s degree in computer graphics technology at Purdue University.
Hunter Mascia (HM): I recently graduated from Rochester Institute of Technology as a film and animation major. While at RIT I worked for Magic Spells Studios, was a resident advisor, study abroad global ambassador, and a sustainability leader. Additionally, I worked on multiple films and games, like “Forever Bronze,” “Celia,” “War Room,” and my capstone film, “Sweet N’ Salty.” I am now part of the Disney College Program and preparing to be a Team Leader (TL) at SIGGRAPH Asia 2022. I learned about SIGGRAPH and the Student
Volunteer program through attending my university’s chapter meetings. I applied and was accepted as a Student Volunteer for SIGGRAPH 2019. I have applied for the program ever since and got the opportunity to be a Team Leader this past conference at SIGGRAPH 2022 in Vancouver.
Elena Ramírez (ER): I study art and animation at Tecnológico de Monterrey. In 2018, a classmate attended SIGGRAPH in Vancouver and came back full of excitement to tell everyone about his experience. A friend of mine became super excited with the idea, and next December they dragged me in front of a computer and made me fill out the application for SIGGRAPH 2019. We both made it through the selection process, and next July we were attending out very first SIGGRAPH. I was immediately smitten with the conference and have come back ever since.
Luz Jimenez Vela (LJV): I am studying in the physics department at Florida State University as a graduate student in astrophysics. My involvement with SIGGRAPH mainly came from my joy in watching the Animation Show of Shows since undergrad and finally learning about the SIGGRAPH conference and everything that it encompassed in 2017. I applied to be a Student Volunteer in 2018, got rejected, and did not apply in 2019. With a bit more experience and contacts in the CG world, I decided to try again in 2020. This led me into becoming a virtual SV in 2020 and 2021. This past summer, I was a first-time, in-person Team Leader in Vancouver.
SIGGRAPH: Tell us about your experience being a volunteer at SIGGRAPH’s first-ever hybrid conference. What were some of your favorite memories from this experience?
AL: Volunteering for a hybrid conference was quite a unique experience, especially because the SIGGRAPH I remember is always in person and filled with crowds and energy from all over the world. The highlight of my SIGGRAPH experiences is always the people, and the hybrid conference just opened more doors to more people who we may not meet in person. We interacted with attendees and fellow volunteers in the Discord rooms. Gathertown was a really fun experience because we got to play games and decorate our SV lounge with fancy things that may not be possible in real life.
HM: The highlight of SIGGRAPH’s first hybrid conference for me was networking. The conversations in between panels and shifts are a very special part of SIGGRAPH. Throughout the conference I learned about the atmosphere of Pixar from my co TL, Jackie, and also found out we grew up one town over from one another. I connected with my former classmate, Bailey, and learned the details of her new rigging job. I even had the chance to get a portfolio review from a CFX artist at Animal Logic. These were just a few of many conversations, all of which proved to be very special to me, and are a part of what makes attending SIGGRAPH unparalleled. My favorite memory of the conference would be the business card table in the Student Volunteer office. I enjoyed seeing it fill up and deplete everyday and watch as it became a great conversation starter for the SVs to mingle.
ER: This was my first year since 2019 attending an in-person SIGGRAPH and also my first as an in-person TL. I absolutely adored the whole experience, as I also was in charge — along with my amazing TL partner Ashley Chu — of my favorite venue, the Experience Hall. I saw the most amazing science and art hybrid expositions, all while introducing SVs and participants alike to the many wonders of this unique place. My days at the conference went away like running water, filled with the most incredible experiences. However, If I had to choose, I’d say one of my favorite experiences was hanging with a couple of SVs and exhibitors while testing their prototypes before opening hours. We had so much fun!
LJV: This was also my first time as an in-person participant, so I really wish I could compare this experience to how it used to be before. However, all I can say is that it was phenomenal. At the end of the day my favorite memories come from the people I met and interacted with — the Student Volunteers, my entire TL team, the Student Volunteer board, representatives from two of my favorite studios (Walt Disney and Laika), my past Production Sessions team and leaders (I was so happy to finally meet them live), SIGGRAPH conference leadership, and literally everyone I came across on-site! Not to mention I finally watched my favorite event live: the Electronic Theater.
SIGGRAPH: What advice would you give future Student Volunteers who aspire to follow in your footsteps and venture into similar career paths and volunteer opportunities as you?
AL: Always keep an open heart and mind because life is full of opportunities, especially if you attend conferences like SIGGRAPH where people are always willing to talk to you and help you. You can learn something new every day! I am also very lucky to meet kind people in the industry who have mentored me throughout my career. Finding the right mentor who can connect you with the right people and give you the right mindset is always a great thing to have.
HM: The advice I would give to future volunteers is to challenge yourself and seek ways to leverage your opportunities. One way to do this is taking on leadership positions. In my experience, doing this has afforded me the ability to identify companies’ expectations of new hires and their leadership. An example of this is how reviewing SV applications has helped me identify the differences between strong and weak applicants, and I aim to distinguish those differences when crafting my own applications. It’s given me the desire to observe my leaders at Disney and see how their actions deeply affect the balance of our work ecosystem. Leadership calls for active problem solving and crisis management. As a resident advisor, I was often the first and sometimes only person to deal with issues affecting my residents, forcing me to step up to the plate and draw up solutions. While stressful, it allowed me to create confidence in myself. The best way to learn is by doing, within reason. I encourage future SVs to put themselves into positions that may seem uncomfortable and see how they grow.
ER: I think the most valuable advice I have received on volunteering is to be kind and connect with the people around you. You’ll soon be surprised to find out about the amazing human beings who will unravel before your eyes if you show interest in their passions and take the time to listen to what they have to say. Also, don’t be afraid to be yourself in front of others. You’ll find amazing people along the way. Last but not least, be sure to take good care of yourself. Drink water, rest, eat. You can do better at anything you put your mind to if you are feeling your best.
LJV: If you think that your career pursuit does not belong at SIGGRAPH, it probably does. The SIGGRAPH conference encompasses essentially any life pursuit if you allow yourself to discover the entirety of it. It gives one the opportunity to ignite ideas within oneself to innovate and simply move you forward in your career and as a human. I believe that if you want to venture into one of these volunteer opportunities one must realize this: There is a place for everyone here.
Step up to the plate! SIGGRAPH 2023 Student Volunteer applications are opening soon, and you’ll want to be the first in line to submit. Take a look at our past resources here to help you prep.