Posted by: kurtsh | March 6, 2006

NEWS: Microsoft Researcher wins Oscar

Congratulations to Microsoft Researcher John Platt for winning an Academy Award last night for Technical Achievement in Computer Graphics!
Also from our internal company newsletter:
And the Academy Award Goes to …
By Julie Evans
February 24, 2006
John Platt, a senior researcher for Microsoft Research, was in Beverly Hills, Calif., last weekend, accepting his award at the “other” Oscar ceremony – the Sci-Tech Academy Awards.
Given annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences – the same group that will distribute the much-awaited Oscars on March 5 – these awards go to people whose passion for technology makes movies possible. These winners’ names aren’t in lights but the award is a career highlight, all the same.
“Our work was quite ahead of its time; we had to wait until the late 1990s until computers could catch up to really see its full benefits,” said John Platt.
Rachel McAdams of “Wedding Crashers” fame presented a Technical Achievement Award to Platt for a paper he co-wrote nearly 20 years ago as a graduate student at the California Institute of Technology.
At the time, Platt said, the industry was struggling to simulate realistic objects that behaved elastically in the real world, such as clothes moving on a character or flags flying in the breeze. He and fellow researcher Demetri Terzopoulos came up with a computer algorithm to solve the problem and published it in a paper titled “Elastically Deformable Models.”
While the cutting-edge paper made quite a stir in academic circles at the time – to date, 688 papers have cited it – it drew little attention beyond. Platt, now 42, continued to work periodically on computer graphics, but didn’t build his career around film technologies. The paper hadn’t been on his mind for years. Then in January he was notified of the award.
“I saw an envelope from the academy in my mailroom box, opened it and was amazed and incredibly pleased,” he said.
Platt said the award was a surprise, but the fact that it has taken 20 years wasn’t.
“Our work was quite ahead of its time; we had to wait until the late 1990s until computers could catch up to really see its full benefits,” he said, noting that computers today are 10,000 times faster (per dollar) than they were in 1987.
Microsoft Research senior researcher John Platt accepts his Academy Award on Feb. 18. At right are actor and host Rachel McAdams and fellow researcher Demetri Terzopoulos. Photos courtesy of A.M.P.A.S.
The algorithm wasn’t patented, and he has no way of knowing which films it has been used in. His name has never appeared in film credits. He said the clothing we see into today’s animated movies such as “Polar Express” and “The Lord of the Rings” probably aren’t using the original algorithm, but descendants of it.
The Feb. 18 ceremony he attended with his wife was “more relaxed” than the star-studded event that draws millions of TV viewers each year – no red carpet, no wild parties afterward, no bulging gifts bags. They arrived in a taxi rather than a limo.
Another big difference: No statuettes for the winners, just framed certificates, which Platt said he’ll keep on his fireplace mantle. His wife, Platt said, plans to get him a replica statuette at Archie McPhee’s, a Seattle novelties store.
Platt said he was fascinated to see the other innovations, particularly the technologies such as cameras that can completely compensate for boats rocking, cameras that can move 360 degrees around a moving car, and 80- foot booms that hold a camera perfectly still.
Platt is the third Microsoft employee to receive an Academy Award. In 1997, Jim Kajiya, GM at Microsoft Research, received a technical award, and in 1996 and 1998, Alvy Ray Smith, a former Microsoft researcher who also co-founded Pixar, was honored.


%d bloggers like this: