A few months after returning from SIGGRAPH Asia in Yokohama I received a phone call asking me to join the SIGGRAPH 2010 in Los Angeles Student Volunteer Committee. My job would be Industry Relations and Outreach. I was stoked.
Jason Jerald was the chair of the 2010 program, and had been on the committee in 2007 and 2009 when I was an SV and TL. He was working on his PhD in Computer Science at the time, while also developing technology for Digital Artforms, and I was excited to work with him. His attention to detail and perfection impressed the gunslinger style in me, and I knew I could learn a lot from him. (and I did)
Also on the committee that year was Maya Karp, the 2011 SV Chair and someone who I had first met back in 2008 while I was a first time Team Leader in LA. Maya has one of those personalities that just makes her shine. She can be goofy as all get out but sharp as a tack. She’s a task master and a gun slinger. A good balance, that one has.
Also part of the committee that year were 2 former TL’s I had worked with in Los Angeles in 2008, Christian Wittorf and someone I said I’d mention again later, Gracie Arenas Strittmatter. Christian is the guy who builds crazy tools to do jobs nobody wants to do, and with his tools he can usually do them faster than the rest of us. He pretty much single handedly wrote our entire review process so accepting our students would be as hassle free as possible. Imagine reading 1500 paper applications… Yeah, that’s how they used to do it. Now we can distribute the load and better yet, assess the applications in better detail and be sure we are getting some _really_ awesome students. The guy is awesomely ridiculous though in personal and social life too. He’s the funniest person you’ll ever meet and he always has a huge grin on his face. The dude’s got presence. It’s awesome to be around. Although I think he does still owe me a cab fare. Not sure if we settled that one or not Christian. Gracie is the one who saved my butt in 2008 in Registration. When I had a line of 20 attendees who wanted to ring my neck for a computer system I had no control over crashing, Gracie was there to help diffuse situations and let me come up for air. Unfortunately for Gracie, this wouldn’t be the last time she would be saving me from something. More about that soon.
The final 2 additions to the team were Mary Nesnay and myself. Mary handled Communications and .H.O.L.Y.C.R.A.P. was she good at it. I swear she would respond to inquiries and questions before they even arrived in her inbox. Modern day nostradomous, she was.
As for me – I had once again managed to make people believe I could do something. This in itself is a great skill and I hope it will take me far. I don’t have much of a fall back. I’d say they kept me around because I can tell really good jokes… but I think that would be giving myself wayyy too much credit. As part of Industry Relations and Outreach I had 2 major jobs.
1) Organize, Promote, and Manage what we called “Special Sessions” – these are times when we invite speakers from the industry to come and spend time with the students in the program. They talk to them about their experiences in the industry, how they got where they wanted to go, etc. They are extremely intimate and often students build mentorships, internships, or even jobs out of these encounters.
2) Handle all donations to the SV program. This includes Luncheons, Meal Vouchers, iPads (thanks Autodesk!), books, money, and other shwag different companies are interested in donating to the program.
In addition to these jobs, I was also the mastermind behind the Student Volunteers Forums, a forum system that all the SV’s use to communicate before/during/after the conference. Keep an eye on those by the way, I’ve got some crazy ideas for them going forward.
So in February 2010 I took a Friday off work and flew down to beautiful Orlando, Florida, Gracie’s home where we were having our 2010 SV Committee calibration meeting. The 6 of us worked hard Friday and Saturday, and Electronic Arts was nice enough to lend us some meeting space in their Tiburon facility (Gracie’s 9-5). We worked hard, spent wayyyyy too long deciding between walkie talkies and cell phones, and then drew the Team Leaders out of a hat.
In addition to the work, we did a whole-lotta bonding. We ate every meal together, traveled in a small van that we couldn’t really fit in, and quoted bad movies (and by bad I mean awesome). That night we played Guitar Hero and OMG Jason Jerald is a BEAST on Guitar Hero. Seriously, ask him to play sometime. I’d say Scorpion’s watch out, but I don’t think Jason would ever try to dethrone his idols. He’s a huge Scorpion’s fan.
After we thought we had everything planned, we tried to catch the last Endeavor shuttle launch out of the Cape. It happened to fall on that Sunday morning, so we drove out to at 1AM to check it out. It was cold and wet, and were all really tired. Our flights were leaving in around 8 hours so we knew it would be a long day. We waited for a few hours on the shore where we could see the launch site, but eventually they canceled the launch due to cloud cover. We were bummed. And tired. So we went to the airport. Actually we freakin’ flew to the airport. If memory serves, Christian missed his flight and Mary almost missed hers. All in all though – a great constructive weekend. We had finished a lot of work.
The next several months I spent trying to get companies to come present to our Student Volunteers. It’s harder than it seems, especially when it’s something you have never done before and you don’t really know what to expect. Lucky for me I had this magic wand called Gracie. She had done it the year before and had everything ridiculously well organized and even had quite a few contacts I could get in touch with. She had some letters written up that I was able to adapt for the year. It worked out well.
We were able to put together some great presentations with speakers from Electronic Arts, The Walt Disney Company, Animation Mentor, Dreamworks Animation SKG, Pixar Animation Studios, The Mill, and many others. Working with these people was awesome. I had the opportunity to be in touch with and meet some of the people who either A) had jobs I had always wanted when I was in school, or B) were in charge of hiring for jobs I had always wanted when I was in school. I also knew if I was going to do this job any justice I couldn’t be a fanboy. It was hard.
In addition to our Special Sessions we also hosted a lunch with some great people over at The Walt Disney Company. They served our 400+ Student Volunteers a variety of lunches that were actually really good. (I took 2). They had speakers from all different areas of the company from ABC to Disney Animation and everywhere in between. Dayna Meltzer, my contact at Disney and their Outreach Coordinator jumped through countless hoops to finance this lunch for us, and get our students lots of cool swag. Their donations to our program that year totaled in the 5 digits. I was ok with that. If you’re ever walking around the expo floor stalking people’s name badges and you see one that says Dayna Meltzer, be sure to thank her. She’s a wonderful giver and I’m not sure how Disney got so lucky to have her.
At this point I’m not sure what it is about our business – but it seems like they all get one thing REALLY right. And that’s who their outreach people are. We ended up organizing a fantastic studio tour of Dreamworks Animation SKG in Glendale, in addition to the Special Sessions they presented throughout the week. Jim Conrads gave us a wonderful tour and explained all the perks of working at a place like Dreamworks. I wonder when Geomedia is getting a Starbucks in our office…. hmm, I’ll have to ask about that. They’ve also got a beautiful campus there, and although I’ve heard stories about the hidden pub I didn’t get to see it. Maybe next time. Then, in addition to alllll of this, Dreamworks also threw down a lot of money to sponsor our Student Volunteer Hats in 2010, a staple of the SV program and uniform. The hat designs were SEXY as can be (yes, I designed them) and the quality Dreamworks was able to source was perfect.
Our raffle that year ended up being completely stupendous. We hold the raffle based on which students were best performing and didn’t miss shifts. Part of it is also random and luck of the draw! We had a company on the show floor donate the monitors from their booth. We had Autodesk’s Jennifer Goldfinch give away a freakin’ awesome iPad and case along with several FULL licenses of Autodesk Maya and other products. Pixar gave us some teapots and posters, along with several other companies donating some really awesome shwag.
All in all 2010 ended up being a wonderful conference for me. I had learned a lot about SIGGRAPH, the inner workings of our industry, and better ways to network with people. One of the best things you can do when trying to “get to know” people, is simply that – just get to know people. Those are the relationships, networks, and connections that last. I remember the people who’s names I’ve scribbled on the back of my badge because we had an interesting conversation much better than the names on the piles of business cards I have back at home.
Next up, SIGGRAPH 2010 Asia, in Seoul, South Korea.