Logo: University of Southern California

NAE Conference

September 08, 2004 —

                                                               Photo by Irene Fertik 
Chris Kyriakakis in his sound studio
Engineers at the University of Southern California developing entertainment technologies to bring Hollywood's boldest visions to the screen are participating in this week’s “Frontiers of Engineering” symposium in Irvine, Calif.

The three-day symposium, being held Sept. 9 – 11, is sponsored by the National Academy of Engineering and brings together young engineers in industry, academia and government who are performing cutting-edge engineering research and technical work in a variety of disciplines.  Three of the more than 100 participants are USC engineers.

“Engineering and Entertainment,” one of three main sessions, was co-organized by Chris Kyriakakis, associate professor in the Viterbi School’s Integrated Media Systems Center (IMSC) and director of the Immersive Audio Laboratory. The session focuses on three areas of innovation in entertainment: picture, sound and actors. 

"New audio and video technologies are emerging that will dramatically change the entertainment experience from a passive spectator event to one that is fully immersive and puts people in the experience,” Kyriakakis said.  “Technologies under development at the Viterbi School of Engineering, such as 10.2 channel immersive audio and Remote Media Immersion will help fuel this change."

“Anyone who has seen one of the summer blockbuster movies has witnessed the dramatic increases in computer-generated realism in recent years,” added Paul Debevec, executive producer of graphics research at USC’s Institute of Creative Technologies and a participant in the session.  “Visual effects supervisors now report that bringing even the most challenging visions of film directors to the screen is no longer a question of what’s possible. With today’s techniques, it is only a matter of time and cost. “

Computer graphics techniques for simulating how light reflects off of and through surfaces have been the driving force in this movement to improve the realism in movies.  According to Debevec, computer graphics artists, who have found ways to channel the power of these new tools, are applying these techniques to the visual effects process. 

In his presentation, entitled “Capturing and Simulating Physically Accurate Illumination in Computer Graphics,” Debevec will discuss new techniques that can bring unimaginable realism to visual elements, making them nearly indistinguishable from reality.

Elaine Chew, assistant professor in the Viterbi School's Epstein Industrial and Systems Engineering Department and a senior investigator at IMSC, is also attending the conference.

Chew is a computational scientist and contemporary music pianist studying engineering approaches to music performance and analysis.  Her work is highly interdisciplinary and centers on building computer models to extract musical features and create visualizations. 

In a related project, Chew is also working to create technologies that will allow musicians in different locations to perform together over the Internet.

“Frontiers of Engineering” is being held at the National Academies' Arnold and Mabel Beckman Center in Irvine and is exploring topics in multiscale modeling, designer materials, engineering for extreme environments, and engineering and entertainment.  Film and television director Alex Singer is the featured speaker. His credits include episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Lou Grant and Hill Street Blues.

For conference details, visit the National Academy of Engineering website at http://www.nae.edu/nae/naefoe.nsf.
--Diane Ainsworth