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SIGGRAPH Five-Minute Career Mentor

by WebSysAdmin last modified 2008-04-28 11:19

John M. Fujii - SIGGRAPH 96 Conference Chair

Purpose

This document is a snapshot of experiences that I have shared with our SIGGRAPH community over the years. It can help orient new career seekers to the possibilities in the rapidly expanding fields of computer graphics applications and education.

The title comes from what I have touched upon in multiple "five-minute" conversations with SIGGRAPH attendees. They just got pieces, however. You get the whole thing (written down for you, no less). I essentially wrote the type of document I would have liked to find when I was starting out. Hopefully there's something useful for you here.

 

Disclaimer

The opinions I express here are my own and not those of my employer. Use of any of this advice is completely at your own risk. ACM SIGGRAPH, the author, and contributors can not be responsible for the reliability or use of any information contained in this or related documents.

Copyright © John M. Fujii ( fujii [at] siggraph.org ) 2008 - reproduction by written permission only

Last update: 27 Apr 08

 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

  1. Where do I start?
  2. What kinds of jobs are out there?
  3. What should I do about my résumé?
  4. How do I demonstrate my talent to an employer?
  5. What education do I need and where can I find it?
  6. What skills and experience do I need?
  7. What resources are out there for me?
  8. Do you have any personal pearls of wisdom for me?

 

Where do I start?

I get this question a lot. I'm writing this document to help answer the many questions that come out of this one. As a mentor, I've met a variety of people asking this question:

  • Students charting their futures
  • Individuals making career / discipline changes
  • Enthusiasts / hobbyists considering it as a career
  • Entrepreneurs looking to create their own opportunities
  • Recruiters starting up new programs
 
And the list goes on. No matter where you start, I'll always ask:

  • Why are you doing this?
  • What are your goals?
  • What are your expectations?
  • What are all of your skills and talents?
  • What options are you willing to explore?
  • How far are you willing to take all of this?
 
Do some work. Be ready to answer those questions. The clearer you are with them, the better chances that you will have with your search. Spend some time researching where you are and what is available to you. Really think about these questions as you read this document. They are here to provide you a framework. The more time you spend at this, the better the results will be.

 

What kinds of jobs are out there?

There are a huge number of possibilities (including those that you might make for yourself because of your special talents). Here are a few off the top of my head:

  • Animation
    • 3D productions: roles include data building, texture painting, animation, scanning / compositing, effects programming, matte painting, tool design, motion capture, shader design, lighting, system administration
    • 2D productions: scanning / image cleanup, ink & paint, compositing, special effects
  • Design
    • Graphic design - digital typography, separations (print), Internet layout and content creation
    • Industrial design - tools development
  • Research / Development
    • Research and Development (R&D) of digital technologies - tools, interfaces, hardware, software, algorithms, specialized solutions, system integration, quality assurance, learning products (documentation and support), product packaging and delivery
    • Academic research in areas of graphics - algorithms, theory, application
  • Education
    • Although education is listed twice here, this section pertains to actual education required about the technologies and concepts, not necessarily the use of them to further education, i.e, teaching the fundamentals of computer graphics. In all sectors (such as K-12, university, post-grad, or industry), there is a strong need for education about developments in computer graphics and interactive techniques. The development of technologies to further this education are also actively growing.
    • Technical Writing is an important field of education about computer graphics. Good writers are invaluable in bridging new ideas to their audience. When well grounded in the technology and techniques, they are even more sought after.
  • Marketing
    • Good product marketing comes with a formal understanding of a problem and its solution space. Marketing opportunities include direct sales, public relations (PR), outbound activities (customer awareness), trade show development, and retail.
  • Management
    • Management comes in a variety of forms. It may oversee product development (R&D), it might regulate system administration, or it could direct focused programs for marketing. The key here is people experience coupled with practical knowledge of the problems at hand.
  • Application
    • Entertainment
      • Content creation - involves many of the roles outlined in "animation" above; sometimes known as Digital Content Creation or DCC
      • Concept creation and delivery - mediums include motion pictures, CD-ROM, Internet, immersive experience (such as theme parks), video games (such as home arcade systems)
    • Science
      • Visualization sciences include research disciplines such as physics, medicine, chemistry, astronomy, geology, meteorology - all of which use computer graphics and interactive techniques to further their quests
      • Other interesting fields actively using computer graphics technologies include natural conservation sciences, historical research sciences (reconstructions and visualizations of ancient structures), and statistical sciences
    • Engineering
      • Many engineering opportunities exist that either develop technologies useful for other disciplines or are application users themselves. Some of them that come to mind are aerospace, chemical, electrical, industrial design, mechanical, mining, nuclear, and petroleum.
      • Computer engineers can include hardware architects, systems designers, software engineers (high-level = application design; middle-level = programmer library interfaces; low-level = systems software and device drivers)
    • Communications
      • Expertise in computer graphics technologies coupled with other experience may lead to video broadcast industries, print media, or some sort of related visual arts
      • Performing arts roles such as directors, producers, choreographers, set designers, costumers, and music composers have all seen useful applications of computer graphics technologies in their disciplines
    • Education
      • Education applications include formal institutions (K-12, university), industry (such as customer support or marketing), and broad cross-discipline applications where the technology is not the primary focus (but it is an active enabler).
    • Business
      • Almost every discipline of business out there is employing the computer and its powerful potential for graphics to further the business function. In previous talks, I've categorized the application of computer graphics in most situations as being driven by F.E.A.R.:
        • F = Fast (interactive, responsive visualization important)
        • E = Easy (reduces repetitive labor, allows high-level focus)
        • A = Accurate (accuracy and reliability crucial, such as in medicine)
        • R = Real (simulation of natural phenomena critical to believability)
      • Most business functions in many industries today rely on computer graphics solutions that are usually driven by the above categorizations in some combination / compromise (for example, accuracy may give way to speed for fast interaction - like games)
      • Expertise in the technologies available today (and tomorrow) can help career definition in many other fields (for example, medical sciences)
    • Design
      • Visual design employs many tools, including powerful computer graphics systems. Some forms of design currently leading this way include graphic design, industrial design (such as automotive styling), clothing / textile design, furniture, architectural design, and movie / theater set design.
      • Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs) are a growing area of graphics that is underestimated. This field really helps to make an application effective to the user because it dictates the paradigm by which work is accomplished with a program.

Note that if you don't see something you think suits your goals, then consider creating your own opportunity. This might include consulting, writing books, giving lectures, or a raft of other possibilities that you can create by bridging your talents with other business angles.

 

What should I do about my résumé?

I've looked at literally hundreds of rÈsumÈs in my career so far. It is hard to generalize what I think they should look like to a given job prospect, but here is what I find useful to me, personally:

  • Name, address, telephone number, fax number, e-mail, web address (optional)
  • Simple statement of employment objective - one to two short sentences at most
  • Experience
    • three to five short descriptions of past jobs including responsibilities and delivered results
    • if you have a lot of experience, make sure that the ones you list showcase a different ability in each case - state that it is a highlight rather than a total summary
    • list most recent experiences first
  • Skills
    • list skills with programming languages (C, C++, HTML,...), applications (Photoshop, Alias | Wavefront,...), operating systems (UNIX, Windows NT)
    • if you have design skills (such as writing application programs), list those, too, and what problems you actually solved
    • don't be exhaustive, meaning don't list every last one that you know if it's a huge list, especially if you've only used them in passing and are not an expert in them - pick the most important ones
    • when I read this list, I'm looking for your ability to use a particular package, but even more important, your diversity of skills and talents
    • if you have published articles, don't forget to list the most important ones and where
    • don't forget to list related skills - for example, if character animation is your bag, don't forget to list your acting and storytelling experience
    • if you can afford the space, don't forget one or two things not related to computing such as hobbies that show other creative sides of yourself (some people get hired simply because they had something uniquely in common with the interviewer - go figure)
  • Education
    • list your most recent educational experiences and degrees
    • if you were employed, don't forget any significant training experiences you might have had as part of your personal development (this might include SIGGRAPH Courses)

Now, here are some formatting and process hints:

  • if at all possible, keep your rÈsumÈ down to one page, cleanly typed and comfortably spaced (note - if you've already had a long career, one page may be too little space, but you are trading off potential appearances of rÈsumÈ fraud, so take care)
  • make certain that you organize the page so that it can be easily scanned
  • always spell check your work (and have it proofed gramatically by a trusted advisor) - nothing speaks louder than a sloppy attention to these details
  • do not use any casual or informal tone in your writing
  • an indented hierarchy (with headings) helps reading your statement
  • don't feel you need to include everything you've ever done - if you have way more than will fit on a page, you may wish to say things like "experience highlights"
  • you only get one chance to make a first impression - be careful about dressing up your page with gimmicky graphics or other unnecessary verbiage - on the other hand, don't think that content can stand alone - presentation makes a difference, too. In short - reflect who you really are, just don't over do it
  • remember that your rÈsumÈ may actually be scanned electronically - simple, clean, and common typefonts help optical character recognition (OCR) programs to do an accurate job
  • if you are submitting rÈsumÈs electronically (or posting them to the Internet), think about the types of keywords that your record contains... it may be screened even before it reaches a human viewer

Important Note - if at all possible, investigate your target job opportunities and make certain that your rÈsumÈ reflects positive attributes about yourself that will make you attractive to the employer. Find out everything you can about the opportunity and make certain that your record reflects these matches in a memorable way. Don't be modest (but don't over embellish, either) - good interviewers will detect what is really you.
 
Important Note - the rise of search engines like Google and Yahoo means that you are more than you are on paper. Reviewers are not limited simply to what you "say" you are on paper - if they are interested, they may check up on you by simply typing your name into a search engine. Beware! - activities you may think are separate or are innocent may actually show up on the radar of those researching you. If you have websites, entries on YouTube, or any other outlets that may reflect differently upon you than on your rÈsumÈ, then it may be wise to reflect upon whether or not you mention/explain those elements before they are "discovered" by other means. Beauty pageant contestants aside who have suffered embarrassments from their previous "photo shoots", similar stories abound from online research of applications that left different and unfavorable impressions of short-list candidates.
 
Do your homework on the job you want. If you need to, tailor your rÈsumÈ exactly to that opening. It will make it easier for your prospective employer to see they really want you. It is not bad to have a few different types of rÈsumÈs to fit a particular interest. In fact, if you call the human resources department of your target company, you can find out things like what open positions there are, what they call them, who makes the hiring decisions, etc. Tailoring your rÈsumÈ gives you a better chance of having your record routed to the right people, standing out high above the generic "trawling" application.

 

How do I demonstrate my talent to an employer?

After you have completed your rÈsumÈ, your next step is how to demonstrate all of those fantastic skills you have acquired.
 
In the age of the Internet, if you are searching for a job remotely (not face-to-face), it might help to establish a personal home page with examples of your work as a digital portfolio.
 
Portfolios, whether or not they are electronic, should showcase your talents in a simple, effective manner. Organize your best work in a way that helps your audience realize the depth and breadth of your talent and experience.
 
Do not overwhelm your interviewer with too many examples of the same type of work unless you know they want to see it.
 
Here are some things I look for in a portfolio:

  • good quality imagery that ties back to key points in the rÈsumÈ - don't skimp on output quality (35mm slides, high-resolution color output [inkjet or dye-sublimation])
    • these days, many people create CD-ROMs or DVDs for their imagery - if you do this, don't assume the type of platform that will be used to view it - Windows versus Mac OS X can be an issue if you go outside of a Adobe PDF or JPEG/PNG file set... animation files such as AVI, FLV, MOV, MPG4, etc., can be a problem in a pinch... hence why carrying a regular physical art portfolio with a good presentation still works really well for face-to-face meetings (whipping out your laptop or imposing on theirs only slows things down sometimes)
  • variety to the examples, especially those that show me the degree of mastery with a type of technique or tool (for example, images of complex 3D models you may have built or texture maps that you have painted)
  • showcase creativity - if there is something special about a problem you solved, include a very brief description with your image to help your audience appreciate it - why should they care?
  • make your portfolio easy to handle and access specific examples - if you have to spend time flipping through it to find things, you'll lose the patience of your audience
  • if your portfolio requires unusual playback (such as a tape player for music), don't forget to take that to the interview (if you are going to an animation interview, however, they will usually have a VHS video deck [or sometimes a computer, but don't count on it] there)
  • if you are sending someone your portfolio for consideration, send only copies, not originals, usually in a standard format such as 8.5" x 11" (or A4)

Many people seeking jobs at SIGGRAPH conferences are looking for employment in the computer animation field. A standard portfolio that you might include with your rÈsumÈ is a demo reel (or demo tape).
 
Many demo tapes submitted by hopeful candidates fail them because one or more attributes below happen:

  • tape is too long - should be no longer than 3 minutes (much less if possible)
  • tape lacks production quality - if you can't reproduce good examples of your work, seek professional help (poor quality audio can be distracting, for example)
  • tape is unfocused - better to use one or two longer pieces that are great than a montage of shorter pieces that are bad - remember, you want to showcase specific strengths
  • quality is better than quantity - make certain that your mastery of the concepts of animation and production show through in your pieces... not simply that you've done a lot of animation (there is a lot of bad animation out there)
  • content wins over image - today it is easy to get professional looking results with tools that people can get - there is no substitute, however, for having something good to say - clever stories in animations shine through more easily than weak ones hiding behind a lot of special effects (the motion picture industry is learning this the hard way)
  • tape doesn't reflect anything about the animator's strengths (as listed on their rÈsumÈ) - material appeared irrelevant to type of job being considered
  • tape has excessive amounts of leader - if it takes too long to get through your color bars, you've probably lost the sense of investment by your reviewers
  • tape is not unique - reflected only class assignments and when viewed next to other applicants from that school did not stand out as original

Here's a checklist of some things to consider:

  • Professionally produced NTSC VHS 1/2" video cassette is the standard acceptable format, especially for an informal interview (DVD's may also be permitted but sometimes more risky due to possible incompatibilities with the format you create - don't assume reviewers are going to want to wrestle with making your content play on their computers)
  • Label the cassette and container with name and contact address / phone
  • Label the cassette with index of contents with length in minutes:seconds (mention if colorbars / tone included)
  • If possible, put contact information on the video tape itself as a title slate - makes it easy to identify for reviewers
  • DO NOT send your only MASTER tape - send a DUPLICATE
  • Enclosing a return envelope with postage may make things easier although it is still no guarantee of return
  • Don't skimp on quality - send your best, but pick and choose where you send tapes if you don't have a lot of copies to distribute
  • If possible, ship in a good quality, durable container (professional tape stock comes in its own locking container)- avoid fiber packing envelopes since, if damaged, the fibers could get into your tape and damage their playback equipment - they may not look at your stuff at all then!
  • Material should be no more than 2 to 3 minutes long, with most recent work first
  • Don't use copywritten music or sounds on your work - obtain written permission (and acknowledge it on the tape) or create original sound / music for it
  • Make certain that you create some piece of original work beyond assignments being done by your peers (otherwise it may not be memorable when viewed along side tapes from your school)
  • If you are submitting work from a group project, credit the others and point out exactly what you did - otherwise you may be rejected for misrepresenting yourself, especially when the work shows up on other reels
 
Important note - when applying for a job really important to you, make certain that you make your materials easy to handle, well organized, and complete. Make certain that you provide your rÈsumÈ, portfolio, image samples, demo tape, etc., all in the same package and all marked (minimally) with your name and contact information (in case it gets separated). Anything that could cause a reviewer to hit a speedbump in reviewing your materials (such as separate envelopes, having to get online to view something, having to find a player for an uncommon tape format, etc.) could spell doom for your chances. Make it easy. Make it delightful. Be thoughtful.

 

What education do I need and where can I find it?

This section is devoted to educational resources that are available to you. Skills and experience sets are covered in the next section below.
 
Schools
 
If you can, I definitely recommend exploring advanced education opportunities before jumping directly into the career fray. The greatest advantages are improving your experience and skill sets, connecting with others who share your interests, building your confidence, strengthening your discipline, and gaining access to a variety of computer equipment better than the average home office can offer.
 
Undergraduate and graduate degrees better position you for many types of work out in the industry. Education is an investment in your career. Tehnical positions often require a minimum of a bachelor's degree.
 
A tip for job seekers - if you are targeting a particular employer, you might want to see if you can find / contact any members of its staff to find out where they were educated. If you know they will be represented at a SIGGRAPH conference, for example, you might:

  • stop by their booth and ask questions
  • see if the company has any postings in a career center
  • be on the lookout for their employees - read those badges!
  • don't forget to pick up a copy of the current Program and Buyer's Guide - it lists many contact addresses throughout its pages
 
In a grossly simplified view of the world, there are (at least) three major areas of computer graphics practice: application, creation, and education.

  • Application concerns the focus of skills through the use of tools to reach a result. This applied art is often realized in architecture, art / design, computer animation, visualization, and production.
 
  • Creation (as I am loosely defining it) primarily centers around the synthesis of ideas and tools. People who are interested in this aspect usually become developers of tools in disciplines such as engineering, computer science, mathematics, and industrial research and development.
 
  • Education formally grows knowledge in areas of creation and application through the focused teaching of technology and technique. There are a growing number of institutes, universities, colleges, and design centers that specialize in delivering this type of computer graphics related education around the world.
 
An excellent resource listing of educational programs around the world can be found at the ACM SIGGRAPH Education Committee's website:
http://education.siggraph.org/
Listed under SIGGRAPH Education Directory on that page, this Internet tool organizes many schools by program type, area of focus, geography, and keyword search.
 
 
Classes / Learning Products
 
Another source of focused education comes from courses taught specifically about a given application program. People interested in learning to use a program like Adobe Photoshop have many options available to them, such as:

  • manufacturer certified instruction programs (usually you can find leads to this at their websites or phone their customer service numbers for help)
  • tutorial books / video programs (fine booksellers usually stock instructional books on many programs and you can also use Web search engines to find related resources)
  • specialized university / community college classes (check your local listings or explore the resources at the education site listed above)
  • trade shows (trade shows and conferences in certain areas of interests offer tutorials for a broad range of applications)
  • user-group meetings (these are more specialized, but they put you in contact with power users of a given application - consult the website or customer service line to determine if one exists for your interests)
  • classified ads (if you are in a remote area, you might be able to find a classified ad in a local newspaper that will connect you with people and / or resources for private tutoring - probably the least reliable source of leads, but I've seen listings made just like piano lessons, so give it a try!)

 

What skills and experience do I need?

This is a tough question to answer. Different jobs require different skill bases. Here are some of my thoughts on the matter.
 
Disciplines
 
Before you even embark on the other things, make certain that you have a mastery in your chosen discipline. For example, animation has a huge history beyond the computer. Make certain that you have a solid foundation in traditional animation before considering a career in it. The same goes for design, engineering, education, marketing, science - anything. Some may argue this is not necessarily true, but for those cases, they are the edge and not the norm. Do everything you can to get a grounding in your chosen field.
 
Basics
 
Basic computer knowledge is a must. As tools of your trade, you should know as much about them as you can - the more the better. You should be able to do things like move around and find things in the file system, understand how to access and control connected options on the computer, and really know how various utilities work on specific data files.
 
If you can, work on a number of different types of computers to generalize your experience base. Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of various systems gives you an edge to using the right tools to solve your problems. Specializing with a given system may make you a real master in that area, but your flexibility (and suitability) may be limited.
 
Learn the terminology that applies to your areas of interest. It will make you a better communicator with your colleagues. Most important, however, is not to just learn the buzz-words. Know what they mean and why. Remember, you are selling yourself as an expert to other experts. I can usually ascertain when someone is just putting on an act versus true expertise.
 
Specifics
 
Understanding one or more programming languages is always a plus. It acquaints you with the logic of the machine and it also allows you to craft small tools that you might need to perform your job. In terms of general languages, you might think about C or C++. If you thinking about a job where there is a lot of computing, then you should be Linux / UNIX aware with some experience in using shell scripts, Perl, and tools. (Scripts are often used to automate processes.) Most DCC production houses are employing some flavor of Linux in their pipelines. Sometimes database skills are a plus such as MySQL or PostgreSQL. Familiarity with development paradigms and the tradeoffs of Waterfall versus Agile development models can also be beneficial.
 
If you going into graphics programming, you should know not only fundamentals of graphics, but you should be familiar with graphics toolkit libraries such as OpenGL and window libraries like X or WindowsNT. Many vendors give you choices, so you should explore what the native offerings are on a given platform used by the employer of your choice. If you're interested in the Internet phenomenon, then experience with HTML, Java, Flash, etc. seem to be a must.
 
If you are going into engineering or other industrial concerns, a good grounding in structured system design, computational theory, algorithms, and data structures will be key to your success. The more advanced experience you have, the greater chance you have of finding optimal solutions for problems given to you.
 
In general, no matter what career you seek, how you design solutions is of highest importance. In the examples above I've mentioned programming languages and tools. It is not just how you say something (programming) but what you say (design) that counts. Be a good designer of solutions.
 
Solid grounding in 2D and 3D graphics principles is also a major plus, especially when considering careers like animation. You should know principles like 3D viewing methods, how rendering simulations work, and what types of data representations there are for images, objects, and materials. In the 2D realm, you should know about image processing, user interfaces, and things like digital design and typography.
 
Application packages to know are always a big question I've gotten. "Which ones do I need to know?" Again, that's a tough question. I usually try to encourage people to learn the tools that they have the most interest in using and the ones they will have the most access to right now. Often times that means what ever they can afford on their home computers or what a school laboratory might offer.
 
Make certain that you are really learning the concepts behind a tool, more than just expertise in how the tool presents it to you. (I've seen students madly looking around for a certain type of button on a new application when the function they wanted was labeled as something else. If you know what you want, then you just have to find it under the new paradigm you are using.)
 
Projects / Scenarios
 
Here are some ideas to help you gain practical experience and have something to show for it when you're done:

  • Write an Application Program - People who are interested in programming often write something like a ray-tracing renderer. In fact, if you take a university level course on computer graphics, you will often do something like this as an assignment. Programming something like this gives you greater knowledge about the workings of a renderer and it helps to practice your organization of large software systems.
  • Apprentice / Intern - This is probably harder to do and more rare, but if you can, try to hook up with opportunities to work on projects that will exercise your skills. By talking with people, you may be able to network your way into an opportunity that's helpful to your growth. Caution - If you get into a situation where you might be doing work (like animation) for someone, make certain before you begin that you will be able to keep a copy for your portfolio. I have heard tales of woe where people did work essentially for free and then didn't have anything to show for it. Be clear what you want to get out of an experience before you start it! Another note - It's not bad to intern for something that is not a perfect fit. You can pick up invaluable skills with some jobs that pay huge dividends later. For example, I've heard of interns working in sales offices configuring machines for clients. This means they learned more about system administration than graphics, which was useful even if it didn't fit their original goals. Valuable lessons anyway!
  • Master a Technique - Some people like to specialize in a type of technique (such as texture painting). You might like to set out a goal for yourself to really learn all you can about a specific area. This might include reading journal articles, contacting researchers, writing tools, and practicing your technique on a lot of little projects of your own imagination. If you pick a variety of techniques, you will have quite an effective selling point for certain types of jobs.
  • Make a Movie - Do an animation that tells a story that you want to tell, not what you think others want to see. Some of the best ones I've seen from student animations are ones derived from personal experiences, family stories, cultural myths, or other interesting vignettes. If you're not good with stories, try animating a simple procedure (like how to bake a pie). Don't get too ambitious on your first try. Above all, have fun.
  • Build a Model - Create a 3D representation of something you want to see. If you have enough skills, you might try building a simple house or building from an architect's drawings. Remember, you don't need every detail down to the nails and electrical outlets to get a good walk through model.
  • Create a Web Portfolio - Organize your digital work into something you might make available on the Internet along with your rÈsumÈ. It is a helpful thing for people to be able to screen your work from a distance. Note, however, that if you are worried about protecting the copyrights of your images, you probably should not post them. Caution - don't forget to send a paper copy of everything you think is important as a portfolio sample for openings for which you are applying. Screening committees may pass over your submission because they don't have time to run to a computer and look over your site. When applying for a serious job - send them a CARE package with everything!
 
The important thing about these projects are that most of them are driven by your own interests. Creativity is the name of the game in the graphics industry, so sharpening yours is always a good thing.
 
A story from my past - I've programmed everything from databases to animation systems to huge utilities libraries. Most of the projects came from either problems other artists were trying to solve or opportunities to try out algorithms to solve a business need. Along the way I got to really practice and apply the theory that I had learned in applications of some substance. Above all, I got practice, practice, practice in programming, problem solving, application design, optimization, etc. Every time I had a chance to help others solve problems, I saw it as a chance to grow myself as well with experience.
 
Miscellaneous Details
 
A few miscellaneous details for entertainment content creation (like animation). Although I am not endorsing specific packages, here are some of the many I've seen on rÈsumÈs that show where people are learning their principles from:

  • Adobe Photoshop - image processing package
  • Autodesk AutoCAD - 2D / 3D computer aided design / drafting package
  • Autodesk 3D Studio MAX - 3D animation environment
  • Alias | Wavefront products - 3D modeling / animation software
  • Avid products - film / video / special effects editing systems
  • Electric Image products - 3D animation and rendering systems
  • Pixar RenderMan - 3D animation systems and languages
  • Softimage - 3D animation and rendering systems
  • Gimp - open source image processing package
  • Blender- open source 3D creation system

 

What resources are out there for me?

There are numerous resources out there for you to explore. In fact, there's probably too many of them to search, especially when trying to get a handle on your future directions.
 
Here is a non-exhaustive list of interesting resources to consider in your journey. Please note that these are randomly selected references and do not constitute an endorsement.
 
Internet
 
Resources on the Web:

 
You can find more by going to Internet search engines like Google (http://www.Google.com/) and look up references on computer graphics, animation, computer visualization, etc., to find more relevant sites.
 
Books
 
Here are a few standard references on general theory and practice. Most can be ordered through your local booksellers or from Internet vendors such as Amazon.com (http://www.amazon.com)

  • Foley, James D., Andries van Dam, Steven K. Feiner, John F. Hughes, Computer Graphics: Principles and Practice, 2d ed., Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Reading, Massachusetts, 1990, ISBN 0-201-12110-7
http://www.aw.com/cseng

Definitive technical reference text on the principles of 2D and 3D graphics, starting at raster graphics primitives and working up through rendering, modeling, and animation concepts. 1174 pages, including bibliography, index, and color plates.
 
  • Glassner, Andrew S., ed., An Introduction to Ray Tracing, Academic Press Inc., San Diego, 1989, ISBN 0-12-286160-4.
    http://www.apnet.com

A fine, technical overview on the principles and implementation of the rendering technique known as ray tracing. World famous contributors cover topics such as algorithms, physics, sampling, implementation, and an excellent biography. 327 pages, including bibliography, index, glossary, and color plates.
 
  • Kerlow, Isaac Victor and Judson Rosebush, Computer Graphics for Designers and Artists, Second Edition, John Wiley and Sons, New York, 1996, ISBN 0-471-28808-X.
    http://catalog.wiley.com

An introduction of computer graphics principles and practice as related to the design processes of graphic designers and artists. Liberal illustrations and patiently clear descriptions cover terminology in easy to understand chapters. 306 pages, including bibliography, index, and color plates.
 
  • Masson, Terrence., CG 101: A Computer Graphics Industry Reference, New Riders, Indianapolis, Indiana, 1999, ISBN 0-7357-0046-X
    http://www.peachpit.com/

A new reference guilde detailing numerous elements of the computer graphics industry including various job descriptions, demo reel guidelines, a timeline for computer graphics milestones, current and past CG company profiles, and many stories from the industry. 500 pages, including references, glossaries, index, and many plates (black and white, color).
 

Excellent basic technical text for college level introductory course on computer graphics. Covers basic raster graphics through brief descriptions of rendering algorithms. Even as an older text, it still covers basic implementation algorithms in thorough detail. 443 pages, including references, exercises, index, and color plates.
 
  • Watt, Alan and Mark Watt, Advanced Animation and Rendering Techniques: Theory and Practice, ACM Press, Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Reading, Massachusetts, 1992, ISBN 0-201-54412-1
    http://www.aw.com/cseng

Review of state of the art techniques in rendering and animation aimed at advanced students, professionals, and implementors. Techniques and theory covered in sufficient detail to enable implementation, including sample code from case studies. 455 pages, including bibliography, index, and color plates.
 
Numerous texts exist for specific application programs available for personal computers. Popular applications, such as Adobe Photoshop and Autodesk 3D Studio Max, have books by experienced professionals who sometimes include diskettes or CD-ROMs with electronic images and exercises. Be careful to note which version of a book you are purchasing if the program is available for both Windows and Apple Macintosh computers.
 
For animators, a must is:

  • Thomas, Frank and Ollie Johnston, Disney Animation: The Illusion of Life. Abbeville Press, New York, 1981, ISBN 0-89659-232-4 (deluxe version 0-89659-233-2)

    The definitive coffee table volume on the magic of animation, Disney style. This is a must because it helps you to really begin to think about the appearances, rhythms, and gestures we have come to expect of character animation. Recommended even if you are not considering animation as a career. 575 pages, including index and color plates.
 
Journals / Periodicals

  • Animation Magazine - http://www.animationmagazine.net - monthly magazine covering the whole industry of animation - from classical to computer and beyond.
  • Computer Graphics World - http://www.cgw.com - monthly magazine dedicated to reporting the latest in 3D graphics - CAD, Animation, Visualization, Virtual Reality, and Multimedia. The PennWell Publishing Company - http://www.pennwell.com - also publishes Digital Magic, Electronic Publishing, and Computer Artist.
  • Digital Imaging - email: mpn@designlink.com - bimonthly magazine that focuses on the industry of digital imaging and production.
  • IEEE Computer Graphics and Applications (CG&A) - http://computer.org/cga - bimonthly technical journal covering the spectrum of theory and practice in computer graphics - thought-provoking columns by mega-luminaries Jim Blinn and Andrew Glassner each issue.
  • WIRED - http://www.wired.com - hip monthly magazine that spans the whole galaxy of the digital revolution - cover articles get right to the point with industry movers and shakers like George Lucas and Steve Jobs.
 
A number of specialty journals and magazines exist for sub-specialties in the field. Check in with people you meet to see what they read.
 
Conferences / Trade Shows

  • SIGGRAPH - an annual, international conference that attracts anywhere between 25 - 50,000 graphics practitioners to a week of presentations, discussions, festivals, trade exhibitions, and experiences. For career seekers, it is the Mecca to see, meet, and mingle with the industry's finest - special services like career centers and job fairs take place for registered attendees. Check out: http://www.siggraph.org
  • Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) - a popular conference focused on the video and computer entertainment market. Developers, content creators, distributors, vendors, etc. all converge to wheel and deal in the market that generated some $6.3 billion (1998) in the United States alone. Check out: http://www.e3expo.com
  • National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) - an annual conference and tradeshow for the radio and television industries as sponsored by the National Association of Broadcasters. Computer graphics as a technology and medium is making its way into this group. Check out: http://www.nab.org
  • COMDEX - mega-mega-event of the computer and electronics industry. If you've done Comdex in the Fall, then you've been to Las Vegas where it takes over vast regions of the city and the mind. Comdex has other incarnations throughout the year, all designed to be the launching points for the year's newest products. Check out: http://www.comdex.com
 
Admittedly, these references are North America centric.
 
Europeans can check out the activities of Eurographics (http://www.eg.org) and Imagina (http://www.ina.fr/Imagina).
 
Members of the Pacific rim can check out the likes of the Digital Content Association of Japan (DCAJ) (http://www.dcaj.org/outline/english/index.html) formally known as NICOGRAPH.
 
Special Interest Groups
 
There are many special interest groups out there for computer graphics. The ones I've participated in the most have to do with the Professional Chapters of ACM SIGGRAPH. These groups, organized throughout the world, serve to bring computer graphics professionals together to network and further their interest in the state of the art.
 
Check out this website for a chapter near you: http://www.siggraph.org/chapters/

 

Personal Pearls of Wisdom

Here are some personal opinions I've formed over the years. There is no formula for success, although I think common sense (whatever that is) is a thread throughout these points.
 
Working with computers is not for everyone. They test your patience, your attention to details, your values, and your sense of fun. They are a tool that can simultaneously do many wonderful and cruel things to your life. Your spirit can drain away with these digital vampires, although I contend that it's not so much the machine as it is the personality type in front of it. It's easy to get totally immersed in the task. Sometimes the results are exhilarating. Other times they're downright depressing. Be ready for the roller coaster and some really hard work.
 
Remember, you define the reward from the machine. Not the other way around.
 
Okay, you've been warned. I like to check with people that I talk to so that they're not surprised later by the hard work ahead. It's not fatal for most of us, but it sometimes can have some tricky lessons buried in the journey.
 
If you're still with me, here's what I think:

  • Be excellent at what you do - whatever you do, do it really well. Expand all of your strengths. Also, one of the biggest aces in the hole is to have a large number of differing strengths to draw upon - versatility. Personally, I call this being a multi-disciplined** individual. Characteristics of some of the most talented people I know is that they have a wide variety of interests that keep them going. Usually these unrelated interests form a complementary and balanced foundation for creative work. Mathematicians are often great musicians. Great animators have a good sense of rhythm and movement (like dance and acting). I come from both an art and science background. Every unique talent and experience you have can be applied in some of the most interesting situations. Don't specialize too early. Don't ignore your hobbies, for example, as areas of interest to develop. The bottom line is to invest in many places - it can pay off later in many ways!
 
**Mutli-discipline - to me this means having good knowledge and mastery in more than one discipline. However, take care how you represent yourself. Don't assume that if you have dabbled in an art or science that you can pass yourself as an expert if you are not. People have washed out of jobs, for example, because they mis-matched their skill / experience levels with what was actually required.
 
  • Network with people - engage people as much as you can, especially at events like SIGGRAPH conferences. All of these people have great dreams, ideas, projects, and other contacts that might really benefit from what you have to offer. After all, you're looking for jobs where you can make a difference (and pay the light bill, but that's not nearly as fun). You would be amazed at how even the smallest scraps of information can make a huge difference in your careers. Keep your eyes and ears open. If you are sincere when approaching people, you will make some amazing connections. In this business, people skills are a must.
 
  • Be honest - know your own limits. If you oversell yourself, you can easily burn yourself out and damage your reputation. If you are in a production situation, it doesn't help to say yes all the time when you really know it should be no. When you interview, it's important to sell yourself, but really skilled interviews can tell when you're lying. Don't think you can easily catch onto everything you'll need. Bluffing can only lead to a crash and burn situation. Also, you need to be honest with yourself as much as you have to with others. Be clear about what you want and how you're going to get it.
 
  • Be realistic - know what you want to do and have at least one backup plan. If something doesn't pan out, figure out how much you are going to keep trying to get it. That's why having all of those other backup talents is important. Not only can it help keep the lights on and food on the table, but it can save your sanity. Competitive tendencies are amplified by computers, I think, so you're going to meet some egos wherever you go. Don't forget to pack a parachute. You'll be happy you did.
 
  • Be committed - know what your passions are for computer graphics and live them deeply. Many people I run into don't even know what really gets them going in life. The ones I've met who know what these passions are for themselves are highly successful and balanced individuals. Since computer graphics demands such a huge amount of focus, attention, patience, etc., I've come to realize that only the most hearty and most committed really do well here. If you love what you do, the rest will eventually come.
 
  • Exercise your creativity - just like all other aspects of your health, you have to get out there and run your creativity around the track once in a while. If you don't, it just wastes away like muscle. Part of keeping fit creatively is tied to your passion about what you're doing. In computer graphics, people go to SIGGRAPH conferences to touch base with the common passions we share and to re-energize themselves for the coming year. Now, doctors will tell you that you should exercise more than once a year to make any difference in your health, so you should continue to take care of yourself so that you and your future employer are successful for many years to come. Figure out how you can keep your creativity up and you will always be a sought after resource.
 
  • Never stop growing - along with keeping your creativity fresh is the notion that you will never know everything there is to know for your work. Keeping yourself engaged, especially in those diverse, unrelated areas of your life will keep you really going in your work life. Don't be afraid to try things or see things you've not done before in your life. As rich as our SIGGRAPH community is, for example, some of its greatest advancements have come from outside thinking, because these people solved problems with solutions that weren't constrained by inside thinking rules. In other words, I think we will only advance as far as those who are doing the advancement are willing to grow and take risks. As I am constantly reminded by my parents - "nothing ventured, nothing gained."

 

Acknowledgements

I'd like to thank my SIGGRAPH reviewers for their help and contributions to this document:

  • Aliza Corson - Los Angeles SIGGRAPH Professional Chapter Chair
  • Mk Haley - SIGGRAPH 2008 Conference Director of Encounters
  • Scott Senften - SIGGRAPH 2002 Emerging Technologies Chair

I'd also like to thank the many friends and people I've met along the way who helped me in the SIGGRAPH world. Some of this work is a gift from them, too.

Good luck to you in your future career!

Samurai John 8^)


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