I wake up at 6am with the sound of a mandolin in my ears. Russian voices can be heard from next door. I turn in my bed thinking ‘For a five star hotel, they don’t have thick enough walls.’ I finally get up and look outside, ‘but they do have a five star view.’
This is how my first day in Limassol started, at St. Raphael’s hotel, with a spectacular view and russians playing the mandolin. The sea looked so inviting, but I spent most of the day preparing my presentation. ‘Ah, this is torture, but it must be done.’
Although I’m in my natural element walking around the stage pretending to be a pirate and giving orders to my ship mates, I don’t like presentations, at least not formal ones. I guess I haven’t convinced myself yet that although people may judge, they really want you to succeed. I didn’t know what to expect from the conference I was about to attend, I just knew that the mustard suit my mum made me buy would be like a kangaroo sticking out from a flock of sheep.
The next day (08/11/2018) was the first day of MIG18 (ACM Siggraph’s Motion, Interaction in Games conference). I was in limbo state, not too nervous, not too calm. I went to the sea to rest my thoughts, as the sun was slowly lifting its head over the morning sky. My room card had stopped working by the time I got back from the sea and a light breakfast. Reception quickly sorted it, but it was 8:30 and I had to dress up for my presentation at 9:00. Guess what? The maid was in the room, making my bed. ‘Erm, do you mind if I change in the bathroom.’ I said, holding my mustard suit, which had been dry cleaned the previous day.
It turned out I didn’t have to hurry so much, Prof. Nadia Magnenat Thalmann wanted to swap presentations with me, since she had a plane to catch. It’s funny that she presented exactly what I wanted to hear: a way of classifying (salsa) dancing using simple motion features. Yes, salsa can be decomposed into simple patterns of movement, emotions can be decomposed into action features. What else can be simplified and understood about the human nature? What are the invariants to human perception as Rogelio Cardona-Rivera implied in his wonderful keynote on The Science of Game Design. I go deeper and ask myself, what are the simple patterns of movement that unite us all, that move us to tears, that enhance our empathy towards one another. Can we use technology to understand such patterns and, subsequently, understand one another?
Machine learning is the hot topic of the day (for how long I wonder). It also was ridden all over the conference, with topics like Data-driven Autocompletion for Keyframe Animation by Xinyi Zhang et. al, Physics-based Motion Capture Imitation with Deep Reinforcement Learning by Chentanez et. al, two very good key notes on ML by Daniel Holden and Jungdam Won etc. Although my initial attitude towards ML was skepticism, I must confess I finally saw what all the fuss is about. If my interest is to understand behaviour from the intrinsics of a character outwards, ML was doing the opposite. Since capturing the complexities of human nature in a closed form equation is virtually impossible, why not humbly understand its approximations by analyzing as many people as can fit in a database? Yes, I’ll think more about it…
Now for some cheese:
The number of surprises was endless, but I’ll just mention a few wonderful events and people that made my experience at the conference worthwhile. I loved how friendly everyone was, people really were curious and wanted to help eachother out. The organizers, Panayiotis Charalambous, Yiorgos Chrysanthou, Ben Jones and Jehee Lee were very welcoming and down to earth, always making sure we were having a good time. I loved Matthias Muller’s keynote on Physics Based Dynamics. I realized I had quoted him in my thesis as he was awkwardly receiving a fertility totem as a thank you gift for his talk.
I was humbled and happy to meet the charming, smart, warm and confident Xinyi, Athomas, Bea, Anastasia, David, Usman, Luis, Loic, Daniel, Philipp, Dario, Yuri, Jason and many, many others :). Sorry I haven’t managed to talk to everyone!
Last but not least, the day out in Nicosia and the two amazingly cypriot dinners really got everyone to socialize and loosen up. Do I even need to mention the cypriot dancing? It was nice to see people volunteer and do curious glass balancing or oversimplified zorba moves around the restaurant. It was funny that every type of dance had some form of courtship: courting in the wheat field, courting by the well, showing off glass balancing in front of the young bride to be :))
Our Nicosia tour guide reminded me of a confident cypriot granny who knows exactly what to put in her meze dishes. She walked us around Nicosia and shared the city’s disputed history. Probably the most haunting moment was when we saw the green line wall separating the greek and turkish cypriots. The police there seemed friendly enough, however, which gives me hope. I loved the quaint, narrow streets with fairy lights illuminating the pavement, the local crafts shops and the friendly people around. It was nice to see young people trying to revive the old market place with art.
All in all, MIG18 in Cyprus was awesome and I hope to come again! Thank you for the adventure!