Some people say I'm crazy for putting all my personal stuff out here on the web. I probably am.
I'm not normally an exhibitionist, but since I started building nests in Cyberspace in 1993, the Web has become the repository for every kind of data, image, music, video, every sort of human endeavour imaginable.
Search engines have made it possible for people to easily find anything.
The connections with other people of similar interests opens up a whole new world of possibilities, so I welcome it! I feel its worth it to put up these pages to cover some of my work and play activities, as well as some of my distant past. Most of these pages were written well before Google and Facebook became so prominent, but I have kept them to provide my own lens to look at the past. Through these pages, I've heard from people I worked with many years ago that I had no idea where they had moved to or what they were doing. I've been contacted by people who have found the most random things on my pages and asked me questions about them, and usually I have some bit of information to add to help them out. Some say its dangerous to put too much personal information out on the web, but I believe its a positive thing, and worth doing.
I'm a native of Kingsport Tennessee, graduated from Dobyns
Bennett High School in 1969, went to the
University of Mississippi, where as a sophomore, I ended up being the
chief engineer of the Media Center in Bishop Hall.
(Hey, back then an FCC first-phone meant something!)
I met my former wife there, and we enjoyed living in
Oxford, Mississippi in a
huge old 100 year old house in
the country. Working full time at the Media Center
while taking courses in Broadcast Management,
I graduated in 1977. In 1980, we moved out to LA, having
had enough academia for two lifetimes.
I worked for several years at Image West, one of the first computer animation companies in Hollywood. It was a great place to learn how the advertising business works, how clients think, how things get animated, how analog circuits do neat 3D calculations (noisily) in real time, how to design and build a complete facility from the ground up and how small companies shouldn't try to do major R&D projects.
Then in 1984 I moved on to Omnibus Computer Graphics, one of the first commercial "digital animation" companies. (I know, I'm showing my age!) I had the impressive title of VP of R&D, and I had an office on the lot at Paramount Studios in what they told me had once been Mae West's dressing room. (Who keeps track of that kind of stuff, anyway!). I worked on a couple of films, Explorers for Paramount, and Flight of the Navigator for Disney. I learned a lot there about how movies are made, how special effects work, and how bitchy (but beautiful) film input and output can be.
Those were interesting years. Of all the places we lived, my favorite was up in Box Canyon near Chatsworth, with a spectacular view of The Valley. We got to experience earthquakes, drive-by shootings (not quite first-hand, thankfully), and a REALLY EXCITING brush fire that came within a few feet of our house as I stood with my wet ski-mask and drooling garden hose valiantly trying to fight it off. (I won, but barely!)
While at Omnibus, I worked on several feature films, managed the development of a 3D software package we called PRISMS, through a Canadian R&D grant. Those were also interesting years. Omnibus got a bit too obsessed with making money by fiddling with the stock, rather than concentrating on figuring out how to make the fledgeling Computer Animation business make money. Omnnibus ended up buying its two largest competitors, Digital Productions and Robert Abel and Associates (both of which were on the verge of bankruptcy) and trying to "merge" them into some giant corporation that would benefit from some ill-defined "economies of scale". The DP group was heavily into working with the Cray XMP and the Triple-I Digital Film Printer, and optimizing their DP3D fortran to run quickly on that expensive beast. The Abel group had done an amazing amount of very high quality work, but was having the same problem we all were, which was that Hollywood could care less about what computer animation could do, and so it was practically impossible to make any money in the business. None of the groups wanted anything to do with the others, there were major incompatibilities in hardware, software, operating systems, sales reps, you name it!
Sadly, in 1987, the whole messy thing collapsed, and the three largest computer animation companies turned hundreds of top people out on the streets in one fell swoop. Nevertheless, a lot of good came out of that collapse. Many of those people (myself included) went on to form their own companies, and might have never done so otherwise. I was actually a house-dad with our recently newborn daughter Ellen for a few months there, while I determined that I still wanted to be in this crazy business, and it was a very interesting and rewarding experience. I took on a consulting gig with Ken Holland, while he was with Composite Image Systems and ended up partnering with him in International Graphics Consultants in Burbank 1987.
Ken had built and run a company called Image Transform, and had practically invented the DigiScan for the Rank-Cintel telecine. We built a system that could use standard D1 digital video processing to scan movie film at twice normal TV resolution, and we had a small group of animators doing CGI. We did the opening animation for the ABC Emmy awards in 1989, and did a lot of animation in Mexico. Ken wasn't that interested in the computer graphics part of what we did, but he taught me a lot about scan and standards conversion technology, film I/O, noise reduction, and high definition TV. He had an actual working 3M Electron Beam Film Recorder, which we fired up and did some CGI tests with.
In 1990 we moved back to Kingsport. I set up ZFx inc., in partnership with my dad, Larry Sieg and my brother, Alan Sieg. ZFx has produced high-end computer animation and graphics for TV commercials, as well as developing content-management software for database-driven websites.
Part of the reason we could live in quiet East Tennessee and still work in these markets was because we used the Internet to connect with clients, ftp movies and stills, etc. We developed some interesting techniques that allowed clients to check on the status of their jobs without having to travel.
Then in 1994, the Internet was starting to heat up. We literally had people coming to our door saying they'd heard we had an Internet connection, and could we "let them on" through ours. We studied the situation carefully, consulting with some good friends in Atlanta who had started an ISP and decided to jump into that business too. So, in November, 1994, The Tri-Cities Connection, or TriCon was born.
I can remember worrying whether we would be able to get 250 people to sign up, which was our initial break-even for Tricon. On the day we had almost 2,000 subscribers, I had finally had a wild enough ride! I was convinced that the future of ISPs was to become a phone company. I'm sorry, but I've always hated phone companies, and I wasn't sure I wanted to become one! So in August of 1997, we sold Tricon to NetAccess of Abingdon, Virginia. (NetAccess was sold to a big phone company in Virginia that put it into a new company called NTelos. I have no idea how it has all morphed into whatever it is now!)
Interestingly enough, Internet access, graphics, programming, all these things have grown together, so that I don't see how we could separate them today. The Web quickly became multimedia-rich, commerce enabled, and we had clients clamoring for websites, snazzy graphics, and the self-maintanability our Business Center software provided. We did not anticipate the business models of providing free software and services in exchange for personal information to sell advertising that has become the standard.
ZFx is still in business today, but primarily providing consulting services.
Old Chinese Curse: May You Live in Interesting Times