Modeling grass with parabolas
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Getting to know Tony DeRose
- Well as a child I grew up in the age of Apollo, the moon mission. So I always knew I wanted to go into science. First I thought I wanted to be an astronaut like everybody my age. I didn't really discover mathematics until I was in 7th grade. I was building model rockets at the time and my 7th grade science teacher showed me how to use trigonometry to calculate how high the rockets were going. And I thought that was just so cool that I could, with math, figure out how high something went without having to get a big ladder or a ruler. And then in graduate school I discovered that you could put math, science, and computers together. That was computer graphics. And I was lucky enough to be there really at the beginning of computer graphics in the early 80s. So I was hooked immediately. After graduate school I went to the University of Washington and started as a professor there, where I started a computer graphics laboratory. Stayed there for about 10 years but the computer graphics community was really small at that time and everybody knew everybody. So I really stayed in touch with a lot of people at Pixar. About 10 years after I got to Washington, that was about when "Toy Story" was being finished. And I thought, "Gee, if I'm ever gonna "try something different, this is a good time." So I did the unthinkable I left an academic position and joined this little startup called Pixar. When I got to Pixar one of the first projects I got to work on was the short film "Gerri's Game". Which was really exciting because it was a chance to take some of the technology I'd been working on at the University of Washington and really apply it in the film industry. It was really successful both creatively and technically. It won an Academy Award for Best Short Film that year. And later I won an Academy Award for the work that I did on "Gerri's Game", the technical work. The technical work I did on "Gerri's Game" is talked about in the character modelling lesson with Alonzo. It's the mathematics of sub-division. So I've done various things at different times in my almost 20 years at Pixar. For the last 10 years I've been leading the computer graphics research group here. So it's our job to get out in front of technology needs of future films. We built a new hair simulator for Merida in the film "Brave". More recently in "Inside Out" one of the researchers Kurt Fleischer developed some new technology for helping animators get even stronger performances out of their characters. Looking ahead over the next five to 10 years one thing we're working on hard in the research group is how to make all these complex calculations go in real time. That is at least 24 updates per second. Right now in some areas, including simulation, the updates can take minutes or hours per frame. Getting into computer graphics these days is so much easier then when I was a kid. In fact, when I was a kid, computer graphics didn't really exist. These days if you're interested in computer graphics there are lots of opportunities online. You can go to Blender dot org for instance, download a free software package that does animation very much like the tools that we use in-house. It's free, there are lots of great tutorials. Using Blender you can get an idea of how the artists here at Pixar work. And then using Pixar in a Box you can understand some of the mathematics that Blender requires. Well for fun for the last 10 years or so my two sons and I, in fact our whole family, have been building kind of wacky projects to take to this big event every year in the Bay area called Maker Faire. In 2010 for instance we built and eight and a half foot tall animatronic fire breathing dragon. Why not, right? In 2012 we built a flight-simulator based on the TV show "Battlestar Galactica". And just this past year we took a powered exoskeleton, kind of inspired by movies like "Elysium" and "Edge of Tomorrow." In those films the exoskeletons are props and we wondered, "Hmm, could we build one "of these things that actually really works?" So my youngest son brought together seven of his friends and we took something to the faire that really put a lot of smiles on people's faces.