Like drinking from a fire hose

That was the tongue-in-cheek remark our TA Peter Rock made at the end of SGI’s last tutorial week session. For me, a fresh CS graduate who always managed to steer clear of the dark abyss where “real math” hides, that remark hit close to home. I think it is fair to say that even for the most math whizzy of us fellows, whether it felt like drinking from a fire hose or a squeeze bottle, the tutorial week left us undeniably very well hydrated.

The week started with Oded Stein’s lecture, an extremely friendly introduction to this new world of geometry processing. For me, it felt like a mixed bag of known concepts, brand new stuff, and some in-between. Maybe because of this, Oded’s lecture was just the introduction I needed to feel like I could do this thing. Surely enough, a few minutes after Oded finished his lecture, pictures of mangled triangle meshes and Gouraud-shaded goats started to flood our Slack. Not only could we do this, we were doing it!

Finally, Prof. Justin Solomon made some remarks at the end of the day that resonated with me so much; I hope I never let myself forget. I do not remember his exact words, but the message was: “math is hard for everyone. There’s no shame in it. Your job is not to understand things right away. Your job is to ask for help until you do.”

What followed the next day was a lecture by Derek Liu, showing how a few lines of math wizardry in MATLAB could perform shape deformations. Things were starting to look like the SIGGRAPH videos I’ve been drooling over for years! As is to be expected, with great wizardry comes great amounts of students asking for help. I was among them. Yet, Derek was so incredibly patient in walking all of us through each mathematical question and their respective MATLAB lines, I left the session actually knowing how to do those things. For someone who loved the videos but never understood a line of the papers, it was a day to remember.

The day continued, then, with Eris Zhang’s lecture, which took Derek’s concepts even further. It was mind-blowing to think a few months ago, a video of Eris’ work was one of those I was drooling over, and now she was there, teaching us the ropes, using excerpts from the video as an example! To me, that is the perfect picture of what an invaluable experience SGI is.

The third day was a very different experience (for me). Silvia Sellán’s lecture brought me a new point of view for things like splines and NURBS, concepts I had previously taught as a TA for semesters on end (albeit years ago). Her approach was very lighthearted and humorous, yet very grounded, making sure everything was accessible and carefully explained. The exercises were equally well thought out. Even so, I eventually needed to ask for help on a more “mathy” task, but Silvia did not give me the answer. Instead, she smoothly guided me through figuring it out for myself, which was amazing! Her closing remarks were: “now make sure you help others who struggle as well.” To me, this way of thinking summarizes the incredible spirit we’ve been having throughout the program.

The day closed with a talk by Shadertoy’s Íñigo Quilez, which first introduced us to rendering using SDFs, then completely opened Pandora’s box. Íñigo’s message was: “you are future researchers, well, here are some things for you to think about.” As honored as I feel by his trust in us, I must say I was too mesmerized by the rendering possibilities to think about how to solve the issues. As someone who used traditional rendering approaches for a long time, the world of SDFs felt like a trip to wonderland for a Mad Hatter’s tea party. A trip I wish to repeat soon! Again the feeling I had on the previous days is repeated: I had been visiting Shadertoy since before college, looking at the walls of code and wondering how they yielded such mesmerizing results. Well, now Íñigo has shown us the way, and the ball is on our court. Amazing.

I could go on for pages talking about the following days, including the incredible first week of research, but I believe this is better suited for a subsequent post. Overall, I can say that I feel extremely fortunate to be a part of this thing, be hand-fed this select knowledge from such experts in the field, and now have such an overview of what paths I can take in my career. SGI is proving to be much more of a game-changer in my life than I could have ever previously imagined. To everyone who made this possible, my sincerest thank you!!


SGI: The First Day

July 19th 2021, the long anticipated day that SGI 2021 begins. I woke up nervous and excited. I reviewed the first 4 exercises, ate breakfast and then logged into Zoom from my bedroom in Winchester, VA. I joined the other fellows, professors, and invited guests who all logged in from their respective time zones all over the world. My nervousness faded when Oded Stein, before he began his lecture, said “If you’re here, you already fulfill the prerequisites”. It made me feel at ease and realize that we were all picked to be here for a reason and while some people have different strengths than me, I was chosen and I should be here too.

Oded Stein began his course on basic techniques in geometry processing by first explaining what geometry processing is. This was very helpful as I could now understand what it is from a few different perspectives as well as have a good answer for when people ask me what I am doing this summer. The course was a great introduction as I had never been introduced to any topics in geometry processing and the exercises helped greatly. My favorite exercise was on Shading and Perspective. I was able to take my new friend Spot the cow and give him multiple makeovers. I changed him from ombre, to blue, to red (my friend who is a ginger specifically asked for this one). I added different lighting and even gave him a shadow. I learned how to change the perspective so his proportions would look more realistic, and take away the axis so there was less distraction.

Another thing I really enjoyed was the talk from Ryan Schmidt, from Epic Games. The part I found particularly interesting in his talk was how geometry processing is used all over, especially in the medical field; to make prosthetics, help doctors 3D print arteries and organs to visualize before surgery, and even dentists use it to scan and model teeth.

The First Day was awesome and I can’t wait to continue to learn and research more in this area in the weeks to come. 🙂