Films like "Avatar," "The Dark Knight" and "Star Trek" transport viewers to another world — with the help of innovative computer graphics. Two pioneers in the field — Doug James and Pat Hanrahan — were recently announced as winners of the 2013 Katayanagi Prizes in Computer Science, given by Carnegie Mellon University in cooperation with the Tokyo University of Technology (TUT).
The two prizes, honoring the best in the field of computer science, were endowed by Japanese entrepreneur and education advocate Koh Katayanagi, who founded TUT and several Japanese technical institutions.
"Although selected independently, both recipients have made major contributions to the field of computer graphics," said Randal E. Bryant, dean of CMU's School of Computer Science. "Their work has yielded many benefits, ranging from more realistic animation for Hollywood movies to improved modeling and visualization of real-world systems and new approaches to high-performance computing."
Doug James, an associate professor of computer science at Cornell and a former assistant professor of computer science and robotics at CMU, was honored with the Katayanagi Emerging Leadership Prize in recognition of demonstrated research leadership promise.
James recently received an Academy Award for his outstanding work, sharing the 2012 Technical Achievement Award for his role in developing Wavelet Turbulence software. This software rapidly generates realistic swirling smoke and fiery explosive effects and has been used in more than two-dozen popular movies.
He was also the recipient of a National Science Foundation CAREER Award, a 2006 Sloan Research Fellowship and a 2011 Guggenheim Fellowship. In 2005, he was one of Popular Science's Brilliant 10 young scientists.
James' current research includes physically-based animation and multi-sensory physics applications, such as sound rendering and haptic force-feedback rendering.
Pat Hanrahan, the Canon USA Professor of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering at Stanford, was selected for the Katayanagi Prize for Research Excellence in recognition of outstanding, sustained achievement.
He was the chief architect of RenderMan while at Pixar Animation Studios in the early '80s, a system that creates imagery of virtual scenes and characters and is still widely used in the movie industry today. For that work, he shared a 1992 Academy Award for Science and Technology. He received a second Academy Award in 2003 for developing illumination algorithms for simulating realistic lighting and improved physical models of materials such as skin and hair.
Hanrahan has also received three university teaching awards, the Spirit of America Creativity Award, the SIGGRAPH Computer Graphics Achievement Award, the SIGGRAPH Stephen A. Coons Award and the IEEE Visualization Career Award.
In recent years, he has developed a range of tools for the interactive visual analysis of large data sets and co-founded Tableau, a data visualization firm.
James delivered a public lecture at CMU on September 12 where he received his prize and a $5,000 honorarium. Hanrahan will present on September 26, where he will receive his award and a $10,000 honorarium.
Top photo: James' Wavelet Turbulence software in use in the film "Battleship," by Universal Pictures.
Second photo: Pixar rendered "Cars" in PRMan, the studio's commercial version of Hanrahan's RenderMan.