Visiting http://ilm.com/ just now made me regret leaving, again.
When i joined ILM, i became part of a group called Production Software Engineering. We were somewhere between a helpdesk and a development team: we'd provide telephone and in-person support for the artists whenever they needed help, and develop additional software features when they needed them for particular projects. I ended up spending a lot of my time supporting the painters, developing features for them, and improving user interfaces for them so they could work faster and more easily. As time went on, our group did more and more development, and worked more and more closely with Research and Development. A little while before i left, we were finally recognized for our significant development role and became part of ILM R&D.
A guy named Sebastian Marino joined Production Software, a while after i arrived and we'd been through a bit of a reorganization. I thought of him as the new guy for some time. So it was a bit of a shock to find out that he won a Technical Achievement Award from the Academy in 2001, less than a year after i left, for his work with R & D. Now he did have significantly more experience with CG research than me (remember, i wasn't even a computer scientist), so it wouldn't be fair to say i could have done the same. But part of the reason i left is that i felt like i wasn't making progress towards anything — i was just keeping things running, day in and day out, making gradual improvements where i could. I wanted very much to have a goal, a project that i could accomplish and be proud of. I pestered my manager for the opportunity to work directly on a film production as a technical director would, but that never happened. I looked up at the people all over the company who had gone down in history for their breakthroughs in the field — in R & D it seemed like more than half the people had been responsible for some Academy Award or other — but i came to believe that it just wasn't possible to reach that level of achievement unless you devoted many years of your life to the field. Today i learned that i was wrong.
And Jeff — i know you'd think this was cool, but i won't get to be a part of it: looks like ILM is doing the effects work for the Master and Commander movie. http://ilm.com/inproduction.html .