Animation At Work & Play
Even if you've been wowed by the antics of Spiderman swinging across
the New York City skyline, you probably don't know the half of what
you're seeing. For sure it's not a stunt man who's crawling up tall
buildings. Instead it's the seamless integration of computer graphics
and the live action of real people. "The audience doesn't know if it
is totally computer animated, totally live action, or both," says Doug
Dixon, an independent Princeton technology consultant, editor, author,
frequent U.S. 1 contributor, and speaker specializing in digital
media. (Check out his information packed website at
First of all, Spiderman, whoever he is, is not webbing his way across
the "real" New York City. (Of course in a world where the folks who
make movies and TV ads want fancier effects than they can get with
actual people, one might ask what "real" is anyway?) He's making do
with a computer generated model of the city, which includes not only
the buildings, but the rooms that face out of the buildings.
Even the crowds of people swarming the streets are not real people.
The computer generates them, dressing each individual uniquely and
moving each one differently. "It gives the impression that each of
them is an individual," says Dixon.
The movie cuts between overhead shots that are computer generated and
close-ups of the live action of real people, and the result is a huge
cost savings. Scheduling problems are reduced, you don't have to close
streets, you don't have to gather together crowds, and you don't have
to a pay for a stunt man or the insurance that covers his potential
The professional organization that deals with animation is the
computer graphics special interest group (SIG) of the ACM (the
Association for Computing Machinery). It is known as SIGGRAPH. The
mother organization has been around for a long time - as you can tell
by its name, says Dixon - but SIGGRAPH concerns itself with the
hottest technologies and the artistic products made possible by these
Dixon will be a host of a show of computer animation declared to be
the best in the world at the SIGGRAPH conference last summer in
Boston. The event takes place on Thursday, October 19, at 7 p.m. at a
joint meeting of the Princeton ACM and IEEE-CS chapters at the Sarnoff
Corporation Auditorium at Routes 1 and 571. There will also be
networking, a silent auction of "hot gear," informal exhibits of
high-end graphics work from central New Jersey, and a free raffle of
graphics/media books and software. For more information, go to
SIGGRAPH's summer conference in Boston included exhibits of emerging
technologies from more than 230 companies, a juried art show with 107
artists selected from 1,000 submissions from 29 countries, a juried
film show, and an academic segment that included 86 refereed papers
and a number of panels. To be more inclusive, the conference also
offered hundreds of informal poster exhibits of graphics works. There
were 20,000 attendees from 80 countries.
This yearly conference is the spot far on the horizon that animators
move toward all year as they prepare work to submit to its juried film
show. Out of 726 total entries, SIGGRAPH selected 97 pieces, out of
which 34 were dubbed the "best of the best."
The October 19 showing - the organization's 27th annual - is going one
better: "We've picked the best of the best of the best," says Dixon.
The clips in the hour-long show will range from gee-whiz commercials,
to video games, to films that huge teams worked on for a year, but it
will also include student and individual work done on PCs with tools
that regular computer nerds can buy and use.
Representative of trends in the industry, three genres of film will be
most prominent at the festival:
Computer-generated/live mix. The movies like Spiderman that seamlessly
mix computer generated segments with live action. Another example
Dixon shares are the "disgusting-looking pirate ghost creatures in The
Pirates of the Caribbean.
Fully computer-generated. You can make use of animation to create
movies in which human beings as we know them are entirely absent. The
characters may be cartoony-looking people or even cars, as in Pixar's
recent movie, "Cars." Another animated feature film, "Over the Hedge,"
features squirrels, raccoons, dancing badgers, and turtles who walk
upright, have big expressive faces, and talk, but they still have to
look like the type of animal they are. Disney has produced "The Wild,"
and Sony Pictures has brought out a haunted house movie.
This realm of animation demands a tradeoff between making things look
real versus cartoony. With the squirrel's long, furry tail, for
example, the hair has to move if the wind is blowing. If the squirrel
is running, then the hair should be moved back by the force of the
wind. In planning how a squirrel will walk, the animator can use
hand-drawn pictures, a film of a running squirrel, or a human dressed
up like a squirrel. Another consideration is the film's environment.
In films out on the water, a computer often models the motion of
waves, wind, and rain.
Scientific graphics. Computer graphics help scientists who need to be
able to visualize very complex systems, whether on a macro level,
perhaps a hurricane or a tornado, or on a micro level such as the
movement of nuclear plasma or the action of cells in the body.
"Either they are too big to observe or too small or too dangerous,"
says Dixon. "They want to collect data and try to look at that data in
ways that let them learn things that they can't actually see."
Scientists need to simulate and they need to write programs that take
the data from big supercomputers and evolve it into the future, for
example, to predict the path of a hurricane. One current venture
involves using data acquired from mapping and photographing Mars that
allows people to visualize walking on the surface of Mars. "This will
enable geologists to see things that they really can't see otherwise,"
Because animation is often project based, hiring cycles for animators
bear some similarity to those of the broader movie industry, which
staffs up for feature films, and then staffs down. "But there is
always demand for good animators," says Dixon. The industry requires
different areas of expertise. It needs the artists who design the
characters, the animators who design the motion, and environment
designers to determine what the streets and houses look like.
"And you need programmers in all environments to make it all work,"
says Dixon. He says that there are always "pages and pages" of ads for
animators in industry publications like "Game Developer" and "Computer
Dixon describes the artistry of the films he will be hosting. "Some
are photorealistic, recreating natural environments like you see in
Star Wars. Some are painterly, drawing-like, and cartoony, and it is
not the technology, but the artistry that is of interest." He says
that more than half of the "best of the best of the best" films were
done on PCs with tools like Adobe Photoshop, Adobe After Effects, 3D
Studio Max, and the higher end Maya.
"Students with fairly simple tools but a lot of creativity can go
far," says Dixon. "A lot of hiring goes on at SIGGRAPH. The major
companies come, including Pixar, Sony, Dreamworks, and Blue Sky. They
are not looking for people brilliant at a particular tool. They are
looking for creativity. That's what's so exciting."
Phil Saunders, who teaches interactive multimedia and art at the
College of New Jersey and at New York University was on the art show
jury and is a former exhibitor. He will talk about what it was like to
choose art for the show.
Eliot Feibush of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory is among the
professionals who will be showing work at the Princeton meeting.
Feibush's work simulates what happens in plasma.
There will also be informal demos of local student and corporate work.
Although Dixon played around with computers in high school, it was at
Brown University that he got hooked, particularly on the "visual
aspect of computing." After graduated with a degree in computer
science in 1977, he worked in video and digital media at Sarnoff and
Intel, but burned out on software development, moving on to product
development and product and project management.
Dixon really has fun with his technology and he is a natural for
sharing it with others. He writes to communicate technological
information to real people, and he makes his writing and presentations
available to all comers on his website.
Dixon also consults and develops technical communications for clients,
including Adobe, Intel, and Sonic Solutions, and he serves as an
expert witness in litigation involving digital media and DVD
technology and products.
Dixon says that typically a couple hundred people show up at the
IEEE/ACM animation event, which high school and college students are
encouraged to attend. "It's very inspiring to see the range of things
people are doing," says Dixon, but then he expresses what has really
motivated him to come see all 27 yearly animation gems: "It's just
fun." - Michele Alperin
Writing Laws For Cyberspace
It's been one of those quiet revolutions. This past decade's amazing
technological changes have rippled, rather than rampaged, into our
lives, each generally welcomed with calm accommodation. We depend upon
technology at work, at home, and on the road. To be unplugged is
increasingly to be unmoored. Yet we have been stung by technology - or
have friends who have been stung. Youngsters have been propositioned,
identities have been stolen, private medical and financial records
have been broadcast, swindles of every sort have been perpetrated. We
demand justice for these cyber-offenses. Are there laws to keep us -
and our children, and our data - safe from electronically-enabled bad
Actually there are, and they are multiplying right along with
technological advances. Members of the New Jersey Bar's Internet &
Computer Law Committee say that it would take more than a week to
cover the recent issues and new statutes. Yet in a crash course, the
New Jersey Institute of Continuing Legal Education offers "2006
Technology and Computer Law Conference" on Thursday, October 19, at 9
a.m. at the New Jersey Law Center in New Brunswick. Cost: $169. Visit
Comprised of individual presentations and a roundtable discussion, the
panel is designed to be of interest both to attorneys and to business
owners. Speaking on branding and domain security is Susan Goldsmith,
of Newark-based Duane Morris. Several members of the New Jersey State
Bar's Internet & Computer Law Committee are making special
presentations. They are committee chair Daniel Winters of ReedSmith;
committee vice chair, Darrin Behr, who speaks on VOIP, voice over
Internet protocol; and former chair Michael Dunne of Pitney Hardin in
Morristown, who addresses Internet privacy and security. Ronald
Coleman of Bragar, Wexler & Engel; Brett Harris of Wilentz, Goldman &
Spitzer; and Daniele Schnapp of ReedSmith in New York are also
Goldsmith's, in her fifth year with Duane Morris, works in the same
building in which her attorney father and grandfather worked before
her. A native of West Orange, she says she was grew up knowing "that I
was always destined to be a third generation lawyer." After graduating
from the University of Pennsylvania in l981 with a bachelor's in
business and marketing, she attended Rutgers University Law School.
Goldsmith and the other panelists say that the legal teeth we so
desperately seek in the electronic media do indeed exist. However,
since the tools, infringements, and protections themselves are new,
many people are not familiar with them.
Cybersquatters. Currently over 33 million domain names are registered.
Add to this millions more protected brand names and logos applicable
to all media, and there is huge potential for infringement. Most
domain infringement is simple - the intentional or unintentional use
of a pre-existing domain name on the web.
The predators' aim is to use your company's and products' hard won
reputation to siphon off profits. But not all domain thieves are
profit motivated. Disgruntled employees and customers have been known
to pirate the company's domain name, simply to redirect the visitor to
a hate website.
In either case, the original domain owner has recourse, but first he
must discover the copier. The first sign that one is victim of a
theft, says Goldsmith, is that strange messages will begin to flood
into the business. The company owner can wait for this warning sign,
or he can begin to poke around preemptively. Using a series of search
engines, begin to hunt through variations of the company name and the
names of its executive. To go a step further, hire a watch service,
such as Thomson & Thomson of Quincy, Massachusetts
www.thomson-thomson.com). Such services will not only monitor and
track your domain globally, but many will also help prosecute
It costs only $10 to $50 to register your website's name. (See
www.register.com). Those seeking an extra measure of security may want
to register their site at not just ".com," but also at ".biz" and
".net." If your site has a hyphen, it is best to register both words.
Once you locate a cybersquatter, Goldsmith warns against taking
excessive action. Yes, you want to send out a letter informing the
individual of your prior claim to the domain title. "But be very
careful about how you word any actions you might take if they do not
cease and desist," says Goldsmith. "These could come back to haunt you
as an implied legal threat."
Goldsmith suggests that the better course is to keep control of the
action. Inform the cybersquatter, in a most amicable way, that you
have all the pertinent patent and registration information for the
domain name, and that you are happy to send it upon request. Mention
your assumption that the copying was, of course, an oversight. But
within this velvet glove of the polite missive, begin stockpiling your
written claim evidence.
Telephony privacy. Ever since the old party lines died out, the
telephone has been deemed a private person-to-person communications
device. Attorney-client conversations given over a land line are still
considered privileged, regardless of what federal agency would like to
But when telecommunications became possible via computer, new
expectations of privacy had to be analyzed and established. E-mail and
in-home wireless, with its original narrow frequency, were considered
about as secure as a note pinned to the back door. As a result, legal
applications remained vague.
Yet recently, presenter Darrin Behr points out, E-mail has come to be
viewed under the law as affording sufficient expectation of privacy to
meet standards of attorney-client privilege. Further, he adds, "There
are plenty of opinions indicating that Voice over Internet Protocol
has the same privacy expectations."
The process of communicating both voice and images in real time over
the Internet paths has matured both in capability and protection.
Security experts themselves are noting that the VoIP service is more
difficult to breach than a land line. However, as the newer technology
is applied to increasingly large and sensitive business operations,
nobody is taking security for granted.
Building walls. "All levels of government are demanding more and more
of institutions to make it harder and harder to obtain a client's
personal information," says Dunne. Cybersecurity appears to be one
issue on which government and business most heartily agree. The
penalty a bank or brokerage house faces should its ledgers be hacked,
or the financial hit an insurance firm or hospital would face should
its patient records be published online would far outweigh any federal
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation has issued a guidance paper
concerning the use of VoIP in banks and lending institutions. It
acknowledges the efficiency and low cost of this mode of
communications, but at the same time notes the potential for disaster
inherent in having both data storage and communications carried on a
single wire. The National Institute of Standards and Technology has
recently published a report "Security Considerations for VoIP." The
paper notes that in both homes and in major companies VoIP has
increased rapidly throughout North America, yet it is sometimes
"awkwardly installed," leaving great security gaps.
Cyber criminals have so many more tools than bank robbers do. Law and
policies to corral them are being written all the time, but it's hard
to stay ahead. In the next decade our communications gadgets and
methods will most likely have undergone another quiet revolution. And
just as likely, humankind, with the same ingenuity that brought forth
the new devices, will grapple the new problems and, with a little law
and a little inventiveness, will try to solve them.
- Bart Jackson
Help For Small Business Owners
As everyone knows, owning and running a business is full of
challenges. But for minority-owned businesses those challenges are
amplified. "It is hard for us to get a foot in the door when it comes
to securing jobs in the area," says William Burnett, owner of W.R.
Burnett and Sons (609-743-5601), a South Brunswick-based business that
offers paving and hauling services throughout the state. "When I
started out it was very hard. It's still a struggle out there. Certain
jobs we are still excluded from. We are not even given the opportunity
to bid on them."
Burnett is one of the honorees at Metropolitan Trenton African
American Chamber of Commerce's (MTAACC) Empowerment Fund Dinner on
Wednesday, October 25, at 5:30 p.m. at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in New
Brunswick. Cost: $150. The keynote speaker is Cory A. Booker, the
mayor of Newark.
W.R. Burnett and Sons is being honored for its contribution to a
recently completed site preparation job where it provided the paving
and excavation for a $3 million project in conjunction with Grace
Cathedral First Born Church. "MTAACC is an organization with many
highly qualified members who are capable of doing excellent work in
Mercer County and throughout the state," says Burnett. "We are
certainly very happy to be receiving such an honor."
The MTAACC Empowerment Fund's mission is to foster support of
community and private sector relationships in order to better serve
the interests and needs of women, African Americans, and other people
of color. Other honorees at the dinner include James Kocsi, of the
Small Business Administration New Jersey District Office, Linda
Johnson and Roslyn Council, who will receive an education award for
their work with breast cancer awareness, and Bishop Jerome S. Wilcox,
Pastor of Grace Cathedral First Born Church.
Burnett's company is a success story that from which many small owners
can draw inspiration. Born and raised in South Brunswick, Burnett
graduated from South Brunswick High School in 1973. He started his
business almost by accident in 1987. "It all started out with my dad
owning a couple of trucks that he used for hauling," says Burnett. "I
just started working with him. As time went on I began to take on more
and more responsibility and then, after a while, I took things over."
Now focusing primarily on asphalt paving as well as hauling services,
Burnett initially limited his services to hauling. It was only after
his sons grew old enough to work in the business that Burnett added
paving to his company's services. "We started paving things like
driveways and sidewalks," he says. "At first, all the paving work was
done by hand, but as the business prospered and the jobs got bigger,
we began buying more trucks and heavy equipment."
His sons - Shawn, James, and Khataan - are still an integral part of
the company. In fact, W.R. Burnet and Sons is pretty much a family
affair. "I guess you could say that the company is family owned and
operated," says Burnett. "I have brothers who run the trucking part of
the company, my sons do the paving, and my father does the maintenance
work on the vehicles. My wife, Anita, does all the clerical work." In
addition to the seven family members, Burnett has 10 non-family
While many dream of quitting their work-a-day job and starting their
own business, Burnett is a testament to the fact that the reality
usually means more work rather than less. On an average week, he puts
in 60 to 80 hours. "The thing about running your own business is that
when you get done you, really aren't done," says Burnett. "It's not
like you can punch a clock at the end of the day. A lot of times my
weekends don't belong to me. I go out a lot trying to get more jobs,
doing estimates, and things like that."
On the other hand, Burnett says that owning his business brings
rewards that would be impossible to get in a traditional nine-to-five
day working for someone else. "If you are in it just for the money, it
just takes too much of your time," he says. "I'm lucky to have so many
of my family members involved, because that allows me to share the
responsibility a bit and that takes some of the stress for me."
Burnett says is grateful for the opportunities that MTAACC provides
for minority-owned businesses. He says that it is important for small
businesses to build on past successes. "I'm finding it a little easier
now because most of the people I work with already know me. That's
because I've either done work for them in the past or because I get
references from other clients. I have no complaints. I'm satisfied
with the decision I made years ago to do this."
- Jack Florek
The Road To Success Begins With a Map
Phyllis Sisenwine, a business coach and speaker, says that business
ownership is in her blood. "I just recently found out that my
grandmother used to own four different candy stores in Manhattan in
the 1920s," she says. "She didn't trust other people to run the store
for her so when she wanted to take a vacation she would just sell the
store and then buy another one when she got back. It was really
unusual for a woman to be a business owner in those days. She was a
very remarkable woman."
Sisenwine is the principal in Langhorne-based "Powerful Coaching"
www.powerfulcoaching.com) and specializes in coaching business
owners, lawyers, executives, and other professionals. She talks on
"How to Get All the Business You Want in Record Time" at a meeting of
the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) on Thursday,
October 26, at 6 p.m. at the Grain House Restaurant in Bernardsville.
To register or for more information, call 908-647-5801.
Attracting more business, especially in a challenging economy, is a
top priority for many business owners, big and small. The secret,
Sisenwine says, is largely one of focus. "Most people have the best of
intentions in growing their business and following through with
necessary tasks. But the problem is that they let things get in the
Losing focus is something that most people experience to one degree or
another both in personal and professional life. "Staying focused is
important because procrastination is the big problem for most people,"
she says. "People say they are going to exercise or lose weight and
they never do it. They wind up sleeping a little later in the morning
than they should or deciding that the cookies in the kitchen smell
pretty good after all. They never reach their goals, and it is the
same in business."
Sisenwine, who started her coaching business in 1997, says that she is
living proof that reaching your goals can be exciting and financially
rewarding. "After working for 20 years for a company selling office
supplies, I completely reinvented my life," she says. "The company I
worked for was sold to the Staples office supply store and I decided
to go into my own business."
Initially Sisenwine started coaching sales people who she knew. After
some success, she decided to go to coaching school, where she took
nearly 40 courses and earned her master certification. "Right away I
started coaching sales people again, but then I found that a lot of
executives and lawyers wanted to hire me to teach them better ways to
create business development opportunities," she says. She now coaches
clients all over the world.
Most of her coaching is done by phone. "Coaching is really about
support and strategy," she says. "It's kind of like coaching athletes.
All the best tennis players and golfers have a coach. I feel that when
I work with people, I am in their corner for them. I provide time for
my clients to think out loud."
Born in New York City, Sisenwine and her family moved to the
Philadelphia area when she was just four years old. "My grandmother
was an entrepreneur and so was my father," she says. "He started a
screen-printing t-shirt business in New York and then built it up in
Philadelphia." She earned her bachelor's degree from Temple University
before starting her career in sales. Two decades later Sisenwine
earned her coaching certification from Coach U, based in Andover,
Kansas. She is married and has three grown children.
For those business owners or budding entrepreneurs interested in
reaching their goals, Sisenwine offers the following advice:
Investigate obstacles and set goals. Ask where you want to be in a
year and investigate what has been holding you back. It may be a lack
of time, an inability to delegate enough, or not having workable
systems in place, but all these road blocks can be successfully
managed. "At its most basic level, setting goals is quite simple,"
says Sisenwine. It's a matter of stopping long enough to figure out
where you want your business to go, creating a time line, and making
an incremental plan.
Clear away the clutter. According to Sisenwine, clutter is more than
having a sloppy home or office. It is a real energy drain that keeps
people from getting to their goals. "When I start coaching a client I
ask them what does their desk or office look like," she says. "Usually
they moan and groan. But it is necessary to take the time to get rid
of clutter, because how can you have time for new business when you
can't handle the basics? You need to be organized."
Vanquish the time crunch of shoulds. Many people think that they don't
have enough time to do the things necessary to get their business to
another level. But, according to Sisenwine, it is possible to set
priorities and thereby create the time you need.
People think in terms of "should," as in "I really should get more
business." Better to change the "should" to a "will." People suffering
from the "shoulds" tend to find that it's almost five o'clock - day
after day - and they haven`t followed through on any of their plans.
Being open to possibility is another skill that can pay big dividends.
Reinventing herself after working for 20 years took courage as well as
personal insight. This is something that Sisenwine hopes to transfer
to her clients. "Being a coach is something that I never thought I
would be doing," she says. Losing a job gave her an opportunity to
reassess her career, and like so many other downsized professionals,
she found that unemployment was one of the best things that could have
happened to her. - Jack Florek