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Archive

May 2004: Volume 1, Number 2
   

TRITON TIDBITS FROM CAMPUS AND BEYOND

May 2004
Oscar and Gollum

 
     

Henrik Wann JensenComputer professors don't often win Oscars.   But last February, Henrik Wann Jensen, an   assistant professor in the Jacobs School of Engineering, walked off with one of the precious little statuettes. Along with two former colleagues, Stanford University professor Pat Hanrahan and Cornell University assistant professor Stephen Marschner, Jensen was recognized at the Academy's Technical Achievement awards in Pasadena, Calif., for “pioneering research in simulating subsurface scattering of light in translucent materials.”  

The creators of previous generations of computer graphics assumed that the light that was shone on a surface reflected back from the same point. This made translucent material such as eyes, skin and teeth appear hard. After studying the medical research, Jensen realized that light penetrates the surface of skin and scatters. The photons then reflect out at varying angles.

“This scattering effect below the surface was understood as a medical phenomenon,” says Jensen, “but wasn't incorporated into computer graphics until our model, which mathematically accounts for the way those photons scatter.”

Movies such as Lord of the Rings and Terminator 3 have used Jensen's technology to create realistic-looking skin and more lifelike creatures.   So next time you marvel at Gollum, remember that those photons penetrating his skin and scattering are actually just complex algorithms.   Or maybe it's just best to marvel.

RELATED LINKS

UCSD Jacob's School of Engineering
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Academy Award News Release
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Henrik Wann Jensen's Home Page
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Virtual Skin Looking Even Better BBC News
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"This scattering effect below the surface was understood as a medical phenomenon," says Jensen, "but wasn't incorporated into computer graphics until our model."