Please tell us about yourself
On February 11, when the annual scientific and technical awards of Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will be presented at Beverly Hills, among those receiving the awards will be an Indian American technologists — Kiran Bhat.
The team of Kiran Bhat, Michael Koperwas, Brian Cantwell, and Paige Warner will receive it for the design and development of the ILM (Industrial Light + Magic) facial performance-capture solving system.
What did you study?
After completing his schooling (from Class VIII to XII) in Coimbatore, Mr. Bhat went on to do his double degree in EEE and Mechanical Engineering at BITS Pilani and his Ph.D. in robotics and artificial intelligence from the School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburg.
How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and fascinating career?
The 41-year-old technologist had his interest in robotics and digital control theory even while he was at BITS Pilani. “I was always fascinated with understanding movement and nature. So, studying facial movements and representing it in a computer felt like the ultimate challenge in this aspect. Representing faces in a computer is tricky to get right — we have to capture both, the large scale movement and subtle movements and nuances as they are very important in conveying emotion. The best way to solving this was to use computer vision technology, which I has been pursuing right from my Ph.D. days,” he told The Hindu by e-mail.
What was your career path?
Mr. Bhat, who had his first stint at Hollywood in 2000 when he spent a semester interning at ILM, returned to ILM full-time in 2006 and the team developed the ILM facial performance-capture solving system. Hulk (The Avengers), Maz (Star Wars Episode VII) and The 4 Turtles (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle) are some of the famous characters for which this technology was used, he says.
He worked on the technology for six years, from 2009 to March 2015 when he left ILM, and is now the CTO and co-founder of Loom.ai, a San Francisco start-up building advanced machine learning and VFX technology to bring virtual communications to life.
A large part of movies now are using an abundance of digital technologies. “I feel that the next few years will see a surge in high-quality digital characters, in part due to advances in performance capture,” he says.
“Look for what the top students around the world are excited by, and try to see what’s unique about those topics,” is Mr. Bhat’s message to students.
Last year, Cottalango Leon, who is also from Coimbatore, received the Technical Achievement Award with J Robert Ray and Sam Richards for the “design, engineering and continuous development of Sony Pictures Imageworks Itview”.