The Canadian Human-Computer Communications Society honours the memory of Michael A. J. Sweeney through an annual award to the best student paper presented at each year's Graphics Interface conference. The winning paper is selected by the program committee from among the papers accepted for the conference for which one or more student authors are presenting the paper.
Michael Sweeney was born on the 7th of April 1951. He grew up in Hamilton, Ontario and attended the Universities of British Columbia, McMaster, and Waterloo. He contributed significantly to the computer rendering capabilities of several leading modeling and animation companies. He died on the 3rd of July 1995. Mike was a remarkable individual, and to ensure that his contributions do not go unnoticed, CHCCS has established the Michael Sweeney Student Award, which will be used to encourage student contributions to Graphics Interface.
In setting out to write this, I looked for a model from our field to follow and found none. Computer graphics is a young discipline, and it has not had much experience in honoring its departed groundbreakers. For those of us who knew Mike, we did not expect to be gaining that experience now. The email notice that came last summer, succinctly informing us that Mike had passed away in his sleep, was without warning or preparation. We were stunned. Mike had been marshaling the troops for several months, firing questions, networking, demanding, picking up contacts, all in a tornado of enthusiasm and energy in his new position at DHD in Montreal. The sudden silence was incomprehensible.
Mike worked to the fullest, with a talent that is all the more remarkable in view of his physical limitations. Mike's promising early studies in music, as a classical performer and a developing composer, and in microbiology, as an honors student at the University of British Columbia, were cut short in 1978 by an automobile accident that made it very difficult for him to speak and impaired his motor control. A blow that would have stopped many was, for Mike, overcome by switching to Computer Science. Mike graduated summa cum laude in 1982 from McMaster University with a BSc, and he received a MMath in 1984 from the University of Waterloo.
I served as Mike's master's thesis advisor. In reality, this required me to run like crazy to keep up with Mike's ideas and progress. I never quite managed the pace. Mike's project, thousands of lines of code that Mike had clearly in his head and could recall any portion of in an instant, achieved a milestone in rendering at the time. More significantly for Mike, it provided the groundwork of his future career. Working with four of the pioneering companies in computer modeling and animation - Omnibus, Alias, Abel, and SoftImage - Mike developed, or contributed significantly to, their rendering software. Mike set the tone for high quality image synthesis in commercial software. When you next look at a film attributed to one of these companies, remember that every pixel of every frame has been touched in some way by Mike.
More enduring in the memories of his friends than his intelligence and talent will probably be Mike's impish humor. Life was not to be taken seriously; the serious was to be ridiculed and impaled. And Mike's own condition was the least to be spared. David Donald, Mike's employer and friend at DHD, delivered a eulogy filled with anecdote and warmth. One story, I recall as pure Mike, had to do with his own treatment for the constant motor spasms that cut into his typing and slowed the progress of his conversation. Not liking the side effects of medication that had been prescribed, Mike would keep a low level of cheap white wine in his blood. As David related, the only effect this had was to allow Mike to keep his eyes open when the spasms occurred. Mike communicated many of his immediate reactions through his eyes, and closing them meant losing the thread of dialogue. As Mike came to realize that his friends at DHD were willing to wait through the gaps and did not mind, he sent David a message one day: "Dave, do you mind if I stop drinking? It'll take me a little longer to programme code, but I'll stop falling over when I walk.'' This illustrates Mike's remarkable sense of humor.
Mike is survived by his mother, Helen, his father, Arthur, and his sister, Margaret. He is survived, as well, by friends, colleagues, and acquaintances who have been touched by his presence and his passing.