AI Computer Vision & Graphics Industry

2019 Turing Award Honours Computer Graphics Pioneers Hanrahan and Catmull

The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) this morning announced Patrick M. (Pat) Hanrahan and Edwin E. (Ed) Catmull as its 2019 Turing Award winners.

The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) this morning announced Patrick M. (Pat) Hanrahan and Edwin E. (Ed) Catmull as its 2019 Turing Award winners. The highest distinction in computer science went to the duo for “fundamental contributions to 3-D computer graphics, and the revolutionary impact of these techniques on computer-generated imagery (CGI) in filmmaking and other applications.

“You shall not pass!” If your palms sweat when Gandalf confronts Balrog in TheLord of the Rings; if Buzz Lightyear’s “To infinity… and beyond!” resonates in your childhood memories; if the Jurassic Park velociraptors still give you shivers; then you owe those iconic moments of fantasy to Hanrahan and Catmull’s game-changing 3D computer graphics innovations, which continue to inform CGI techniques used in the film industry today.

Catmull received his PhD in Computer Science from the University of Utah in 1974. He is the former president of Pixar and Disney Animation Studios. Hanrahan, an early Pixar hire, received his PhD in BioPhysics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is a professor in the Computer Graphics Laboratory at Stanford University.

Catmull and Hanrahan’s work ushered in a new genre of entirely computer-animated feature films with the world’s first computer-animated feature film, 1995’s Toy Story.

One of the groundbreaking techniques developed by Catmull is Z-buffering, which can be used to determine image depth coordinates in computer graphics to decide which parts of an object should be visible on the screen. Another critical technique he introduced is texture mapping, which wraps 2D surface textures around 3D objects to make the computer-generated graphics more realistic.

Hanrahan joined Pixar in 1986 and was lead architect of the company’s new graphics system. In 1990 he published a paper introducing his RenderMan research at ACM SIGGRAPH. RenderMan separates light reflection behaviour from geometric shapes and computes colour, transparency, and texture for generated images, and allows filmmakers to render photorealistic animations into real-life scenes with vivid details.

The RenderMan system has become the standard workflow for CGI visual effects and is the first ever software to win an Oscar Award, in the Scientific & Technical Achievement category. RenderMan has been used in 44 of the last 47 films nominated for an Academy Award in the Visual Effects category, including Avatar, Titanic, Beauty and the Beast, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the Star Wars prequels, etc.

Hanrahan moved from Pixar to academia in 1989, holding posts at Princeton and Stanford universities. In the 1990s, he and his students developed programming languages for GPUs that revolutionized the writing of video games and eventually lead to NVIDIA’s CUDA.

The ACM established the Turing Award in 1966 to recognize individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the computer industry. The prestigious award is widely referred to the “Nobel Prize of the Computer Industry” and comes with US$1 million courtesy of Google. The award is named after British mathematician Alan M. Turing, whose work laid the foundation for computer science and artificial intelligence.

The 2019 Turing Award presentation is scheduled for the ACM’s annual Awards Banquet on June 20 in San Francisco, California. There has been no official statement from organizers regarding the event with regard to the COVID-19 outbreak. Synced will update readers as information becomes available.


Journalist: Fangyu Cai | Editor: Michael Sarazen

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