Disney computer scientists working at the ETH Zurich are creating the entertainment technologies of tomorrow, from hyper-realistic facial modeling to video retargeting and 3-D animation.
The future of entertainment is here. Well, it's in Zurich, Switzerland, anyway.
Everyone knows The Walt Disney Company's famous mouse, Mickey. Most also know Disney-Pixar characters like Nemo, Mr. Incredible, and Wall-E. But perhaps Disney's most fascinating players are the ones working behind the scenes on the entertainment technologies of tomorrow—scientists like those at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH Zurich), where Disney established a research laboratory 18 months ago called Disney Research Zurich, inaugurated at the end of April, 2010.
In honor of the unique partnership, swissnex San Francisco and the Greater Zurich Area welcome two of the main researchers involved. Markus Gross, Disney Research Zurich's director and head of the computer graphics laboratory at ETH Zurich, explains the novel relationship between Disney and ETH as well as some of the results already coming out of the collaboration. For example, the video retargeting algorithm developed in the lab that scales video for smaller screens (an iPad, say) by keeping important parts of the image in proportion while distorting less meaningful views.
Bob Sumner, Disney Research Zurich's associate director and head of the animation and interactive graphics research group, presents the lab's work on computer-assisted techniques for artists working in traditional, hand-drawn animation. He also describes new techniques for modeling human faces down to pore level for believable, hyper-realistic visages, the holy grail of special effects.
Markus Gross is Director of Disney Research Zurich and a professor of computer science at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH Zurich), where he is also head of the Computer Graphics Laboratory.
For more than 20 years, he has pursued basic and applied research in computer graphics, image generation and display, geometric modeling, and computer animation. His research interests include point-based graphics, physically based modeling, immersive displays, and 3D video. He has published more than 200 scientific papers and holds various patents on core graphics and visualization technologies.
Tom Ngo is the Vice President of Disney Research. Formerly, he was CTO at NextPage, where he was responsible for product management, product design, and product development and interacted heavily with customers, press, and analysts. He also served as Area Director at Interval Research, where he co-invented an efficient delivery mechanism for broadband media, techniques for synthetic computer animation, and a compact device for implementing the "cocktail-party effect." His other papers and patents are in global optimization, protein-structure prediction, and nuclear magnetic resonance.
He holds a Ph.D. from Harvard University and a bachelor's degree from the University of Cambridge, where he received the first Sir Neville Mott Prize for research in theoretical physics. He has been elected to the vSpring Capital Top 100 Venture Entrepreneurs (v|100) since 2005, and was the 2004 UITA CTO of the Year.
Bob Sumner is Associate Director of Disney Research Zurich, where he is also a senior research scientist leading the research group on animation and interactive graphics. He received his bachelor's degree in computer science from the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, Georgia, and his master's and Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
He spent three years as a postdoctoral researcher at ETH Zurich before joining Disney. He is now an adjunct lecturer at ETH and currently teaches a course on game programming, in which students work in small teams to design and implement novel video games. His research with Disney focuses on 2-D and 3-D animation as well as new techniques for interactive graphics.