This Oscar-Winning IIT Grad from Pune Has Changed the Face of Hollywood Animation!

Parag Havaldar developed a technology that could read and replicate expression-based facial performances. He brought down the production time of such films by a large margin.

Have you, like a million others, marvelled at the animation and special effects in movies like Beowulf, The Amazing Spider-Man, Watchmen, Hancock, Bewitched, The Smurfs 2, or Monster House? While watching these movies, it is hard for us to believe that the characters were developed in separate stages of production.

If you are a fan of these movies, the chances are that you are fawning over the work of Parag Havaldar—an alumnus of IIT-Kharagpur from Pune, and an Oscar winner!

In 2017, Parag won the Academy Award for technical development. Speaking to the OC Register, Parag said,

“Typically, in the old days, the Academy gave out awards for cameras and film. But these days, because visual effects play such a big role in the film, they’re awarding technical advancement in the field.”

Source: IIT-KGP Foundation.

A release by the Academy said, “This pioneering system enabled the large-scale use of animation rig-based facial performance-capture for motion pictures, combining solutions for tracking, stabilisation, solving and animator-controllable curve editing.”

Parag’s vision in Computer-Generated Imagery (CGI) brought down the production time of such films by a large margin, while also making the process more efficient.
He developed a technology that could read and replicate expression-based facial performances. Beowulf, which was directed by Robert Zemeckis with the help of Parag’s technology, could be filmed in just three weeks since the actors performed with sensors on their bodies. It was the post-production that took a long time.

Speaking to the Times of India, the Oscar-winner said, “Zemeckis is a visionary director. He was clear that he wanted only performances.

His idea was, ‘Why don’t we just capture the actors and get the emotions out? Everything else—clothing, make-up or lighting—can be done in post-production.'”

James Franco – (L) real and (R) digital double (2006 – SONY Imageworks) Source.

Parag worked as a lead software designer and technical developer (for Imagemotion) for Beowulf. “What we tried to accomplish with Beowulf was ahead of its time,” Parag says.

Parag was a four-year-old when his family, which is originally from Pune, moved to Zambia. He grew up listening to African languages and picked them up with ease. At the age of 11, he, along with his family, returned to Pune and Parag was admitted in St Vincent’s. He finished his primary education in 1987 and got admitted in IIT-Kharagpur. In 1996, he acquired a PhD in Computer Graphics and Computer Vision from the University of Southern California.

You may also like: Pune-Born Engineer Bags Sci-Tech Oscar For His Innovative ‘Shotover’ Camera!

In the years to come, Parag developed a revolutionary technology that would ease the production of animation films.

“If you are in the artistic side of things, understanding technology and how to harness it is very crucial. Similarly, coming from the technology side, you have to understand artistic requirements. Only then can you write software or processes that can be used by artists to create the art form that they want,” Parag told the University of Southern California.

(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)

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