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Quick Chat: SIGGRAPH’S production sessions chair Emily Hsu

With SIGGRAPH 2017 happening in LA next week, we decided to reach out to Emily Hsu, this year’s production sessions chair to find out more about the sessions and the process in picking what to focus on. You can check out this year’s sessions here. By the way, Hsu’s day job is production coordinator at Portland, Oregon’s Laika Studios. So she comes at this from an attendee’s perspective.

How did you decide what panels to offer?
When deciding the production sessions line-up, my team and I consider many factors. One of the first is a presentation’s appeal to a wide range of SIGGRAPH attendees, which means that it strikes a nice harmony between the technical and the artistic. In addition, we consider the line-up as whole. While we retain strong VFX and animated feature favorites, we also want to round out the show with new additions in VR, gaming, television and more.

Ultimately, we are looking for work that stands out — will it inspire and excite attendees? Does it use technology that is groundbreaking or apply existing technologies in a groundbreaking way? Has it received worthy praise and accolades? Does it take risks? Does it tell a story in a unique way? Is it something that we’ve never seen within the production sessions program before? And, of course, does it epitomize the conference theme: “At the Heart of Computer Graphics & Interactive Techniques?”

These must be presentations that truly get to the heart of a project — not just the obvious successes, but also the obstacles, struggles and hard work that made it possible for it all to come together.

How do you make sure there is a balance between creative workflow and technology?
With the understanding that Production Sessions’ subject matter is targeted toward a broad SIGGRAPH audience, the studios and panelists are really able determine that balance.

Production Session proposals are often accompanied by varied line-ups of speakers from either different areas of the companies or different companies altogether. What’s especially incredible is when studio executives or directors are present on a panel and can speak to over-arching visions and goals and how everything interacts in the bigger picture.

These presentations often showcase the cross-pollination and collaboration that is needed across different teams. The projects are major undertakings by mid-to-large size crews that have to work together in problem solving, developing new systems and tools, and innovating new ways to get to the finish line — so the workflow, technology and art all go hand-in-hand. It’s almost impossible to talk about one without talking about the other.

Can you talk more about the new Production Gallery?
The Production Gallery has been a very special project for the Production Sessions team this year. Over the years since Production Sessions began, we’ve had special appearances by Marvel costumes, props, Laika puppets, and an eight-foot tall Noisy Boy robot from Real Steel, but they have only been available for viewing in the presentation time slots.

In creating a new space that runs Sunday through Wednesday of the conference, we’re hoping to give attendees a true up-close-and-personal experience and also honor more studio work that may often go unnoticed or unseen.

When you go behind-the-scenes of a film set or on a studio tour, there are tens of thousands of elements involved – storyboards, concept artwork, maquettes, costumes, props, and more. This space focuses on those physical elements that are lovingly created for each project, beyond the final rendered piece you see in the movie theater. In peeling back the curtain, we’re trying to bring a bit of the studios straight to the attendees.

The Production Gallery is one of the accomplishments from this year that I’m most proud of, and I hope it grows in future SIGGRAPH conferences.

If someone has never been to SIGGRAPH before, what can you tell them to convince them it’s not a show to miss?
SIGGRAPH is a conference to be experienced, not to hear about later. It opens up worlds, inspires creativity, creates connections and surrounds you in genius. I always come out of it reinvigorated and excited for what’s to come.

At SIGGRAPH, you get a glimpse into the future right now — what non-attendees may only be able to see or experience in many years or even decades. If it’s a show you don’t attend, you’re not just missing — you’re missing out.

If they have been in the past, how is this year different and why should they come?
My first SIGGRAPH was 2011 in Vancouver, and I haven’t skipped a single conference since then. Technology changes and evolves in the blink of an eye and I’ve blinked a lot since last year. There’s always something new to be learned or something exciting to see.

The SIGGRAPH 2017 Committee has put an exceptional amount of effort into the attendee experience this year. There are hands-on must-see-it-to-believe-it kinds of experiences in VR Village, the Studio, E-Tech and the all-new VR Theater, as well as improvements to the overall SIGGRAPH experience to make the conference smoother, more fun, collaborative and interactive.

I won’t reveal any surprises here, but I can say that there will be quite a few that you’ll have to see for yourself! And on top of all that, a giraffe named Tiny at SIGGRAPH? That’s got to be one for the SIGGRAPH history books, so come join us in making history.


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