UMR graduate wins Academy Award

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On August 15, 2002

Roll out the red carpet for Dr. Steve Sullivan, a 1989 electrical engineering graduate of UMR, who has won an Academy Award for technical achievement.

Dr. Steve Sullivan, EE’89

A native of Raytown, Mo., Sullivan is a principal engineer in the research and development group at Industrial Light and Magic, George Lucas’ visual effects company. Sullivan and fellow ILM coworker Eric Schafer received the award for the development of the ILM Motion and Structure Recovery System (MARS), ILM’s newest matchmoving and tracking software. This system provides analysis of camera motion and object motion and their dimensions using a rich set of user-interface tools and sophisticated algorithms.

"The system uses geometric constraints to figure out where the camera is and where it’s moving based on motion in the images," Sullivan says.

Sullivan’s work has been used on such films as Pearl Harbor, Jurassic Park 3 and AI. "Pearl Harbor is a good example of the work we do," Sullivan says. Film makers flew over modern-day Pearl Harbor shooting arial footage of the landscape below. "Before we could use that footage in the movie, we had to digitally remove the modern buildings and replace them with buildings that were there in 1941." To do this, and make it look realistic, was a challenge in the past. With MARS, the process is much more accurate, efficient and results in more authentic-looking footage.

Using MARS, an ILM artist marks several points on a frame — for example, a point on the roof of a building, a rock, a flag pole or a target intentionally placed into the scene. Then when the computer tracks the image to the next frame, it can follow those points and see the way they move. "If you do that for 15 to 20 points, there is a consistency," he says. "You can see where the camera must have been to shoot all those points and where those points must have been in 3D." Then computer generated images can be inserted with the proper perspective.

Sullivan’s award was presented at a black-tie dinner held March 2 at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel, in Beverly Hills, Calif. Actress Charlize Theron, hosted the gala and presented Sullivan’s award.

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On August 15, 2002. Posted in News