And the Oscar goes to...a computer scientist?

Ron Fedkiw, an associate professor of computer science at Stanford University picked up an Oscar for his work in liquid simulations.

Fedkiw picked up the Scientific and Engineering Awards Academy Plaque gong with fellow computational scientists Nick Rasmussen and Frank Losasso Petterson for the development of the Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) fluid simulation system.

The production-proven simulation system achieves large-scale water effects within ILM's Zeno framework. It includes integrating particle level sets, parallel computation, and tools that enable the artistic direction of the results.

Although perhaps not as famous as the other Hollywood A-listers honoured at the awards ceremony, the computer scientists' work can be seen in blockbusters including the roaring waves in Pirates of the Caribbean or the lava flows in the final duel in Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith.

‘A lot of my work was on computational methods for fluids and solids for computational physics applications,’ Fedkiw said. ‘It turns out to be quite useful for movies as well.’

For much of the past decade Fedkiw has been working in films while continuing his academic research. His big break came in 1998 when he began working for a company that was producing 3D water simulations using algorithms known as Navier-Stokes equations for a number of different customers, including Hollywood studios. A few years later. He accepted an offer to work for Industrial Light and Magic (ILM), the special effects company founded by George Lucas, creator of the Star Wars trilogies.

While at ILM, Fedkiw teamed up with Nick Rasmussen and Frank Losasso Petterson to create a system to realistically simulate low-viscosity liquids such as water.

Fedkiw has worked on approximately 20 films, including some of the Harry Potter series, as well as Terminator 3 and Poseidon, two films he cites as among his best work.

Fedkiw is now working on simulating human motion, research that is supported by the National Science Foundation. ‘My main focus these days has been on virtual humans and solid fluid coupling,’ he added. ‘We'd like to do humans swimming, for example.’

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