SIGGRAPH chair Mikki Rose on the secrets behind the conference, and where to get the best tea in Downtown LA

Plus lots of insights into sessions at SIGGRAPH you might not already know about.

#siggraph2019preview week is brought to you by Boris FX.

Mikki Rose, the SIGGRAPH 2019 conference chair, has had a long association with SIGGRAPH, both as a member of the VFX and animation community (she’s currently a senior fur technical director at Blue Sky Studios) and as a regular conference volunteer.

In this special interview with befores & afters, Rose shares her secrets for making the most of what can be a hectic week at the conference, and pinpoints a whole bunch of sessions and talks that you won’t want to miss.

b&a: What’s your super-secret strategy at past SIGGRAPHs for being able to see as much as possible? And, do you think you’ll be able to see many things yourself this year?

Mikki Rose (SIGGRAPH 2019 conference chair): To be perfectly honest, I have volunteered with the conference every year since I first started attending, so I often miss a lot of things at the conference because I’m dedicated to one area (or program). This does come with perks, though, because I get a behind-the-scenes experience from the programs I’m working with! This year I’ll be VERY busy through Monday, but after that I think my schedule will ease a bit and I hope to be able to see some of this amazing event my team and I have been working on for the last several years.

My strategy for maximizing my time on-site is not necessarily “super secret,” but it is a task that this Monica Geller-like listmaker enjoys thoroughly. I sit down sometime in the weeks before the conference with the advance program and website, and go through them with a fine-tooth comb, making lists of “can’t miss,” “want to see,” and “if there’s time” sessions and Experience Hall installations.

In prior years, I have entered these items onto three different, color-coded calendars that I can access on my mobile phone (plus a fourth for appointments). But, over the last couple of years, I’ve been using the SIGGRAPH mobile app more and more. This year we’ve created a brand-new schedule builder that is integrated with our website, so you can favorite content online and sync it directly to the SIGGRAPH 2019 mobile app! I’m pretty proud of that new offering, and I hope it helps people schedule their time at the conference so they get the most out of it!

b&a: Is there something that maybe the wider SIGGRAPH-going public, or CG community at large, doesn’t know about what it takes to organize the conference?

Mikki Rose: Leading a project like this takes a fair amount of vision and forward-thinking, and, of course, passion for the subject matter. One of the hardest things I was faced with was how to predict the future! If you think about it, I started this project almost three years ago and had to recruit a team of experts in their fields to build programs based on what I thought would be “cutting edge” now. As if that wasn’t challenging enough, we also had to think about what the economy would be like several years out, what might be going on in international politics, travel concerns, industry disruptions, and so on.

Realistically though, most of what it takes to organize the conference is time, energy, and communication skills. The sheer amount of email we work through each day is staggering!

On a more serious note, I think one thing people might not realize is that we are a not-for-profit professional membership organization hosting a not-for-profit academic research conference. Inclusion in our Technical Papers program can make or break research careers, our Computer Animation Festival is on par with privately funded festivals taking place worldwide, our immersive programs regularly draw premiere content — and are growing each year — and our Exhibition is the place to be for sales in the computer graphics industry. We host those interested in many aspects of computer graphics and interactive techniques, not just any one of these elements, and we do so without the benefit of private or government funding.

b&a: What were some of your goals going into the conference that you wanted to achieve (in terms of speakers, events, attendees, ‘the vibe’)?

Mikki Rose: My goals for SIGGRAPH 2019 were to focus on diversity and inclusion in our community, sustainability of that community and the environment that we live in, and to put on a spectacle that would entertain as much as educate. Those first two go hand-in-hand, in many ways. SIGGRAPH is a welcoming home-base for anyone interested in computer graphics and interactive techniques.

As much as it is a learning and career development opportunity, it is also an annual reunion for our community of artists and technicians who have developed these fields. We are working hard, though, to broaden our membership. At SIGGRAPH, this means focusing on the issues of diversity and inclusion in our ACM SIGGRAPH Diversity and Inclusion Summit, which takes place on Sunday, 28 July, and is a second-year workshop hosted by our organization to continue the conversation on these issues.

Some additional key opportunities to be part of the discussion include: “Untold HERstories: An Homage to SIGGRAPH” a panel dedicated to the untold history of female contributors to computer graphics; “Women in CG,” an annual panel hosted by our International Resources Committee that showcases the global female experience in computer graphics; and, a handful of other Talks, Panels, Birds of a Feather sessions, and projects. We are also supporting parents by offering low-cost childcare on-site, which has the added bonus of exposing children to the industry from an early age.

For community sustainability, our thought process is that we need to get children and young adults excited about computer graphics and interactive techniques early… and keep them interested throughout their school years so they can join our ranks down the road. This is why we have increased our efforts to welcome children and young adults to the conference through initiatives like the previously mentioned childcare as well as offering access to local student groups, updating our Pioneers mentoring program, providing reel and resume review opportunities through the SIGGRAPH Student Services Committee, and presenting the always-excellent opportunity to experience the conference from within as a SIGGRAPH Student Volunteer.

It has also been important to me, throughout this process, to make changes toward environmental sustainability. We have embraced green initiatives, such as cutting back on physical travel, printed materials, and single-use plastics, and are thrilled to elevate efforts that the Los Angeles Convention Center has already put into place over the last several years.

Finally, when it comes to spectacle, I feel strongly that the best way to learn is by interacting with information in many different ways, all of which are stimulating and enjoyable! At our conference, if you’re interested in learning about a specific topic you can: read new research papers about that topic ahead of time, attend sessions where those same papers are presented, meet and ask questions of research authors, listen to industry professionals speak about how they use various tools or techniques in real-life production, experience our Computer Animation Festival (which showcases finished products created from past and present research), access installations and demos utilizing the latest technology, and purchase tools you may need to continue your CG journey in our Exhibition.

The conference also offers many opportunities to discover unexpected, but pleasant, surprises tucked into each corner of the Los Angeles Convention Center. I want each attendee to walk away with at least one spectacular occurrence that they will always remember as their “first seen at SIGGRAPH 2019” moment. I think we’ve done a great job of packing this year’s conference week with exactly that type of content.

b&a: What session or speaker or event do you think is going to ‘wow’ people this year? (And yes, you have to name just one)

Mikki Rose: It may be cliché to talk about our keynote, in this case, but I’m going to do it anyway because it truly is the session I am most excited about this year! Victoria Alonso is the epitome of a badass woman who holds a leadership role in what is still a largely male-dominated industry, and she also lends a powerful voice to the Latin and LGBTQ+ communities. I think it’s safe to say that we’re seeing some definite progression in diversity and representation in Marvel movies of late, and I feel her influence in a major way there.

Victoria Alonso with Robert Downey Jr.

I can’t wait to hear her talk about the development of recent projects and how the mindset is shifting for the future! Victoria is someone I’ve looked up to for a long time, since I first had the honor of hosting her in Production Sessions several years ago, and I’m thrilled she agreed to come speak to everyone at SIGGRAPH 2019.

Her fireside chat-style keynote will be moderated by Matt Donnelly, a journalist with Variety, and I think the two will have a spirited conversation that is both interesting and informative…and probably very entertaining to boot. In my experience, most sessions involving Victoria are chock full of anecdotes, jokes, good-hearted ribbing, and sometimes even singing!

b&a: Best place for a coffee near the convention center?

Mikki Rose: I must confess: I am not a coffee drinker — I know, I KNOW — though I definitely do tea! I can’t really get going in the morning without a strong, Irish Breakfast-type black tea, which can be hard to find out and about! Because I usually work such long, early/late hours during the conference week, I have a hard time getting out for a cuppa, but my sources tell me that the Hygge Bakery & Café, a couple of blocks from the convention center on Hope St., is where it’s at. I’m going to try to sneak away to check it out this time around.

Follow along during this special weekly series, #siggraph2019preview, to see what’s coming at SIGGRAPH 2019 in LA in the world of VFX and animation.

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