Who are the Siggraph Pioneers?

They’re influencers of pixels and of CG practitioners.

Karen Moltenbrey

The Siggraph Pioneers was started in 1980. It comprises a seasoned group of CG influencers from the fields of education, research, engineering, and entertainment who must have 20-plus years of (paid) experience in the industry. Many have names that are instantly recognizable for their associated work in the industry. As a Siggraph pioneer, these people have committed to continuing to serve the community in a variety of ways. They hold an annual gathering during Siggraph, hosting highly regarded speakers to this normally members-only event. However, this year, for the first time, all Siggraph attendees will be able to attend the Pioneers speaker session, which will feature pioneers from the North Carolina Research Triangle.

Siggraph logo

Siggraph has always celebrated those who have moved the needle in terms of computer graphics technology. And then there are the Siggraph Pioneers, those who have served the industry well through their work and continued service to the CG community, including but not limited to conference or journal paper reviews, financial support of the Siggraph mentoring program, and serving as a mentor. They are researchers, developers, artists, and educators, many of whom have been instrumental in the field since the early days. Many whose names are in the names of the technologies that are foundational and used in many fields.

The Siggraph Pioneers got their start in 1980 thanks to an effort by Ken and BJ Anderson. The criteria to become a Pioneer remains the same as it was when the group was formed. A candidate has to have more than 20 years of professional (i.e., paid) work experience in computer graphics—whether engineering, education, research, or entertainment—and had to contribute monetarily to support the annual Pioneers reception (currently, that sum is $10, along with a $50 annual membership fee). The annual Pioneers reception is held each year at the Siggraph conference.

While the criterion is simple enough on the surface, it’s what lies below the surface that distinguishes this group from the thousands who attend Siggraph each year, and from among the hundreds of thousands who work in the graphics industry.

Many of these folks are truly pioneers in this industry, and through their work, have revolutionized and advanced computer graphics. They are trailblazers who are committed to enriching and advancing the craft through education and interaction with the next generation. Rather than sitting passively on the sidelines, they have influenced continued discoveries, developments, and the maturation of the industry. People like  Ed Kramer, David Kasik, Susan Crouse, Matthew Conti, Donald Greenberg, Jon Peddie, Kurt Akeley, Pat Hanrahan, Paul Debevec, Jeff Jortner, Donna Cox, Jim Blinn, Ed Catmull, and many more.

The Pioneers reception is always fun and informal, with plenty of food and drink, and most of all, a plethora of interesting, engaging, and challenging conversations. While many would point to the attendees themselves as the highlight of this annual gathering of old (and some new) friends, it would be a terrible oversight not to highlight the featured speakers who have entertained and educated the group over the 44 years at the receptions. These are people whose careers have had a profound influence on the field of CG and interactive techniques. Among some of the past speakers have been CG artist David Em, Pixar co-founder Alvy Ray Smith, the Jet Propulsion Lab’s Jim Blinn, CG film pioneer Jeff Kleiser, the late VFX luminary Douglas Trumbull, and scientific visualization pioneer Donna Cox, to name a few.

In the past, the Pioneers gathering at Siggraph was a closed event for members and their fortunate guests only. It was a get-together of the cool kids who helped shape the industry. However, for the first time, the Pioneers will open those closed doors to this year’s featured speakers for all conference attendees—a rare and not-to-be-missed opportunity, especially for those in the earlier stages of their careers.

As a tribute to the pioneers of the North Carolina Research Triangle, the panel will include Nick England, Henry Fuchs, Turner Whitted, and Mary Whitton, all of whom have made significant contributions to CG while at NC State, Duke, and UNC (the triangle defined by Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill). The reception will be held on Tuesday, July 30, from 5:45–6:45 pm in the Educator Forum Rooms 205­–207.

Henry Fuchs, Nick England, Turner Whitted, and Mary Whitton.
(Left to right): Henry Fuchs, Nick England, Turner Whitted, and Mary Whitton. (Source: Siggraph)

A private social hour for Pioneers (as indicated on their conference badge) and their guests only, with light refreshments and a cash bar available, will be held from 4:30–5:30 pm in Room 201 prior to the speaker session. 

Aside from a sense of accomplishment and pride, being a Pioneer offers access to online lectures, relevant articles, and more.

Anyone interested in becoming a Siggraph Pioneer and who meets the criteria detailed above can apply here.