Beautiful Minds: Two Cornell Alums and a Cornell Professor Win Two Separate 2013 Academy Awards for Technical Achievement

Article ID: 597818

Released: 7-Jan-2013 10:45 AM EST

Source Newsroom: Cornell University

  • Credit: Theodore Kim

    A digital explosion using the Wavelet Turbulence software (Vertical image)

  • Credit: Theodore Kim

    A digital explosion using the Wavelet Turbulence software (horizontal image)

Newswise — ITHACA, N.Y. - For the Academy Awards in February, the red carpet turns Big Red.

Cornell University alumni Theodore Kim and Jeremy Selan; and Cornell professor Doug James, have won two separate Academy Awards in 2013 for technical achievement, from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Their work became impressive special effects in films like “Avatar”, “Monsters vs. Aliens” and “Spiderman 3.” The awards were announced Jan. 4, and will be given at the annual Scientific and Technical Awards Presentation at The Beverly Hills Hotel on Feb. 9.

Forget the sound of music, it’s all about smoke and fire: Theodore Kim, Cornell ‘01 and Cornell Post Doctoral researcher in 2008-09, now a University of California, Santa Barbara assistant professor of media arts and technology; Doug James, Cornell professor of computer science; Nils Thuerey and Markus Gross, both of ETH Zurich, have won an Academy Award for Wavelet Turbulence software.

This Wavelet Turbulence software generates realistic swirling smoke and fiery explosions, making it easier for Hollywood artists to control in final renderings. Developed by Kim, James, Thuerey and Gross, the software makes computer simulations of large-scale smoke and fire practical. It once took artists many hours or even days to achieve these effects. Now, time is substantially shortened to mere hours – or less. In addition to small smoke effects like a wisp from a cigarette or a campfire, Hollywood artists can now achieve a desired visual result for fireballs or volcanic eruptions.

The Wavelet Turbulence software, developed at Cornell, has appeared in many films including “Avatar”, “Monsters vs. Aliens”, “Sherlock Holmes”, “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen”, “Alice in Wonderland”, “Hugo”, “Puss in Boots”, “Super 8”, “Kung Fu Panda”, “The Amazing Spider-Man” and the forthcoming “Iron Man 3” and “Man of Steel” films.

While a post-doc, Kim created a Cornell web page dedicated to illustrating and explaining the Wavelet Turbulence software:

Meanwhile, breaking away from the size confines of desktop computer memory, Jeremy Selan, Cornell ’00, Master’s ‘03, of Sony Pictures Imageworks; Steve LaVietes and Brian Hall, also of Sony Pictures Imageworks, have won an Academy Award for the creation of the Katana computer graphics scene management and lighting software at Sony Pictures Imageworks. The Katana graphics management system takes complicated elements of large-scale scenes, and renders them manageable on a desktop computer. The Katana system provides highly efficient lighting for animation and allows artists to edit scenes too complex to fit into computer memory.

The Katana system was used in “Spiderman 3” and “Alice in Wonderland.”

Selan explains the Katana process in this short video:

As Kim and Selan have each won separate Academy Awards for 2013, while at Cornell, they were both teaching assistants in 2001 for an introductory computer graphics class.

The National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health contributed to the funding of James’ and Kim’s research at Cornell.


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