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Derek Nowrouzezahrai

Derek Nowrouzezahrai

Electrical and Computer Engineering
McGill University

Chair title

NSERC/Ubisoft Industrial Research Chair in Believable Virtual Character Experiences

Chair program

Industrial Research Chairs program


Associate Chairholder since 2017


Modern 3D video games rely on multi-faceted simulations of real-world physical phenomena. The goal of these interactive gaming applications is to immerse the audience into a believable virtual environment. Unlike other forms of visual storytelling, such as film or print, video games allow the audience to actively participate and guide the narrative. One of the persistent challenges facing the interactive graphics community is improving the believability of virtually simulated characters.

The research program of this Industrial Research Chair will model and simulate authentic, believable experiences with characters in large-scale interactive virtual environments. To do so, many real-world phenomena must be synthesized accurately and efficiently (i.e., at interactive computing rates) in modern video games.

Phenomena are categorized according to whether they contribute primarily to the appearance or dynamics of a virtual character. The appearance of characters is governed by their interaction with light sources. This area of computer graphics is referred to as physically based light transport or, more simply, rendering. The dynamics of the motion of any character is similarly governed by the physical laws of motion and deformation. In computer graphics, this sub-area of interest is referred to as physics-based animation or simply animation. This IRC will address fundamental questions concerning rendering and animation to synthesize realistic experiences with virtual characters.

Broadly speaking, this research will include exploring physics-based models of character behaviour (both primary and secondary motion effects) and developing realistic appearance models for character skin, hair and clothing. We will mathematically model these phenomena and design stable and efficient numerical solvers to realize solutions suitable for interactive graphics applications.

The interactive media and video games industry has remained a major contributor to Canada’s economy, generating over $7.5 billon in annual revenue and employing well over 50,000 personnel nationwide. The benefits to Canadian industry and to academia that result from the advances developed during this IRC will be very closely related: we will address research problems directly motivated by large-scale industrial challenges. Ubisoft is one of the largest and most successful international game-development studios, and many of the challenges addressed by this IRC stem from limitations encountered during the development of their recent and most ambitious projects. With that in mind, we will also frame these problems in the context of open problems in the academic research, in the areas of realistic image synthesis and physics-based animation. Our work will satisfy many important industrial requirements needed to enable the next-generation of interactive gaming applications at Ubisoft, while also generating publishable and scalable results that drive the academic research forward in these areas. We will work alongside Ubisoft to share our results with the broader industrial gaming and graphics community in Canada.

Ubisoft relies on a diverse set of (evolving) recruiting strategies to identify strong technical personnel. The technical nature of game development requires personnel with a unique combination of high-level experience, strong post-graduate mathematical skills, hands-on creative problem-solving skills, and tangible graphics programming experience. The confluence of these skills sets apart strong 3D game developers from other software developers. The training portfolio of this IRC is designed exactly with these requirements in mind. By targeting real-world applied research problems, research personnel will build competence in the types of creative problem-solving and algorithm-design skills needed for a successful career in game development.

In addition to the technical skills highly qualified personnel will build, they will also be integrated into the game production pipeline, working seamlessly and in tandem with both R&D and product-line groups.


  • Ubisoft Montréal

Contact information

Electrical and Computer Engineering
McGill University

Email: reception.ece@mcgill.ca


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