SIGGRAPH helps students create short videos to use in job applications such as one by Engineering senior Karl Li showing liquid falling on a rabbit.

Credit: Courtesy of Karl Li and Dan Knowlton / The Daily Pennsylvanian

Computer graphics and animation students can forget OCR and join SIGGRAPH instead.

SIGGRAPH, Penn’s chapter of the Association for Computer Machinery’s Special Interest Group on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques, has recently shifted its focus to help engineering students in the Digital Media Design program apply for jobs in computer graphics and animation.

The group does this by offering students resources to help them create short demo reels to send to companies such as Pixar.

“It’s our version of a resume,” College and Engineering junior and DMD participant Jeremy Newlin said of the demos. “You submit a resume, but the main thing that recruiters in the animation and games industry are looking for … is usually two or three minutes of your work that you have been doing over the course of your academic career.”

Digital Media Design is an interdisciplinary program in the School of Engineering and Applied Science intended for students who wish to design computer graphics, animation, games, virtual reality environments and interactive technologies. Their graduates often go on to jobs within the animation industry.

However, DMD doesn’t always provide students with all the necessary professional experience to apply for jobs.

“Part of our goal is to fill in these gaps that aren’t really taught in classes but are really important when it comes to getting a job,” said Dan Knowlton, a senior in the DMD program and a member of SIGGRAPH’s board. Knowlton has interned at Google and Lucas Film Animation.

In order to fill in the gaps, they hold seminars every Sunday afternoon known as “Weeklies” which cover basic aspects of computer graphics.

Paul Kanyuk, a 2005 DMD graduate and one of the founding members of the Penn student chapter of SIGGRAPH agrees. “You’re not going to learn everything you need to know to work at Pixar in class.

“You need to go above and beyond,” he added. “The student chapter of SIGGRAPH is all people of that mindset that are basically seeing what the latest research is [and] what methods are out there to make film.”

SIGGRAPH also holds office hours, where students can get feedback on their completed reels and advice about tailoring their demo reel to the job or internship for which they wish to apply.

“Through trial and error we’ve arrived at what is a pretty good idea of what Pixar is looking for, what Dreamworks is looking, what ILM [Industrial Light and Magic, a part of] Lucas Film is looking for,” said Karl Li. “So what we are doing now is trying to pass that on.” Li is a DMD senior who was interned at Dreamworks and Pixar.

In addition, the group holds a Demo Reel Night where students, professors, and alumni watch and critique students’ reels.

“We’ve been having alums that work at Pixar and Dreamworks and Blue Sky … Skype in [on demo reel night],” said Newlin “They’ll give feedback live over Skype.”

In the past, SIGGRAPH functioned as a creative outlet for DMD students who wanted to make digital shorts and games outside of class.

But the group has moved away from doing these shorts. “In the past year or so we have tried to retool SIGGRAPH to be basically something that focuses way more on helping out” with jobs, Li said.

Since students must take core engineering courses during their first two years before focusing on DMD, SIGGRAPH Weeklies gives them an additional resource for learning more about animation.

“What we’re trying to do is give them a look forward on what they will be doing by the end of their time here. Because it’s easy to get discouraged when you are taking physics and hardware, to be like ‘I didn’t come to DMD to do this,’” said Newlin.

Ariela Nurko, who graduated from the DMD program in 2009 and was a member of the SIGGRAPH chapter, cites these weekly seminars as being important in her academic growth while at school.
“You get to learn from people who are older than you and have more experience … and who’ve had internships before,” she said.

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