2 Minutes with Eugene Fiume
November 14, 2012
A 20-year partnership between the University of Toronto and Autodesk Inc. has made Canada a leader in the expanding field of visual modelling—which is used in film, animation, architecture, medicine and a variety of other fields. The market for the tools developed by this partnership has increased from $100 million in 1992 to approximately $2 billion today.
Begun by Eugene Fiume at the University of Toronto’s Dynamic Graphics Project and Gordon Kurtenbach and Bill Buxton from Autodesk Inc., this unique partnership has produced volumes of research, dozens of highly skilled computer scientists, numerous patents and awards that include a Technical Academy Award and an Academy Award nomination for Film Animation.
My area of research is computer graphics, and I've specialized largely in the mathematical side of computer graphics, particularly in trying to understand what makes things realistic. So my area is one in which I look at the world, and don't really use mathematics to look at the world, but then try to characterize it using modelling methods from the mathematical sciences. And then, as a computer scientist, we turn these things into things that you can see and that users can use to express themselves visually.
So in the early days, this would be in the early nineties, there was actually very little understanding of just how far computers could go, especially with an area I call natural phenomena. By that, I mean things like the flow of water, the smoke billowing from a smokestack, and fire lighting an environment. The potential of this was not fully understood in the early nineties, that it could actually be used in the film business and in commercials, and the design of products. And that early insight was one that was grasped by a few people at the University of Toronto and a few people at Alias. And together, we actually orchestrated a very, very successful technology transfer project that allowed these phenomena to be implemented in the software product in a matter of a few months.
What was really interesting about that is that that was immediately then turned by a fellow called Chris Landreth into an animation that was nominated for Academy Award. Right now we're still - we still have a situation in which experts spend years learning to become experts on these visual tools, one of my wishes is that we can allow not just the consumption of content to become ubiquitous but the creation of content to become ubiquitous.
Overall, I think the goal of computer graphics is to improve our ability to create visual simulations of the world. And we're a long way from creating anything like a complete pallet of such phenomena. With NSERC funding, and with great schools like University of Toronto, and great companies like Alias and Autodesk, I've been able to stay in Toronto and to do with my students what I think is absolutely international level research. And I think the results have really borne it out. So NSERC has been completely fundamental.