Logo: University of Southern California

Academy Award® Shines Light on Innovations of ICT Researcher

Paul Debevec and three colleagues recognized for Light Stage Technologies achievements in creating digital actors

February 22, 2010 —

A researcher whose work involves precisely lighting actors had the spotlight shone on him at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Scientific and Technical Awards on Saturday, February 20.

Paul Debevec, associate director for graphics research at the USC Institute for Creative Technologies and a research associate professor in the computer science department of the Viterbi School of Engineering, received a  Scientific and Engineering Award for the design and engineering of his Light Stage technologies, which have been used to create believable digital faces for films including Avatar, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and Spider-Man™ 2.

Together, off campus. From left, ICT Research Professor of Computer Science/ Director of Technology Bill Swartout; Chair, USC Viterbi School of Engineering Department of Computer Science Shanghua Teng; ICT Executive Director Randall Hill, honoree Paul Debevec, and USC Viterbi School Dean Yannis C. Yortsos.
The award recognizes more than ten years of research, development and application of technologies designed to help achieve the goal of photoreal digital actors who can appear in any lighting condition.

Debevec accepted the award along with colleagues Tim Hawkins of LightStage LLC, John Monos of Sony Pictures Imageworks, and Mark Sagar of WETA Digital who co-developed the system with him.

“It’s an incredible thrill to have the results of our work recognized in this way,” said Debevec. “There just aren’t that many computer scientists who get to bring an Academy Award back to the office.”

Many USC stars were in attendance for the awards ceremony, highlighting the interdisciplinary reach of Debevec’s graphics work, which enhances storytelling through credible visual effects. Along with Debevec and his mother, were Randall W. Hill, Jr., executive director of ICT, Bill Swartout, ICT’s director of technology, Elizabeth Daley, dean of the USC School of Cinematic Arts, Yannis C. Yortsos, dean of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering and Shanghua Teng, chair of the Viterbi School Computer Science Department

Glory Day: Winners pose with Elizabeth Banks at the February 20 Award Ceremony

“This award really validates the quality of research that Paul and the ICT Graphics Lab have been performing over the last ten years,” said Hill. “Paul has truly set the bar with a unique and pioneering technology that has become invaluable to filmmaking. We look forward to future developments of this technology which will allow for the creation of photoreal, interactive virtual characters who can be used in all sorts of applications.”

The Academy’s Scientific and Technical Awards honor the men, women and companies whose discoveries and innovations have contributed in significant, outstanding and lasting ways to motion pictures, according to the Academy. This year they bestowed 15 awards to 45 individuals for such behind-the-scenes technical work in a black-tie ceremony held at the Beverly Wilshire hotel.

"The audience that saw Paul Debevec receive his award was remarkable: an amazing gathering of technical and artistic creativity, paying tribute to the best of their own,” said Yortsos. “I felt privileged to be there and enormously proud that one of the honorees is a professor in the Viterbi School of Engineering."

With the success of this year’s blockbuster Avatar, it is hard to ignore that leading role that digital characters are taking in films.

“I was delighted to see Paul Debevec and his associates honored Saturday night with an Academy Award,” said Daley.  “I continually marvel at the pace of technological growth in the industry, which is opening new avenues for storytellers and artists to realize ever-greater visions. Paul’s years of hard work have yielded groundbreaking results, and I’m looking forward to the future innovations that are sure to come from the tools he has created. ”

Actress Elizabeth Banks, the host of the Scientific and Technical Awards, will present a short review of the ceremony during the Oscar telecast on March 7 at the Kodak Theater.