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Feb. 28, 2013

Professor assists in developing movies

By Kelsey Smith

Hollywood is in the midst of awards season, and for many this means seeing the top actors and actresses on the red carpet. But what about the people who work to make the technology that makes these films possible? Dr. Antonie van den Bogert, a professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Cleveland State University, knows firsthand what it’s like to win one of the world’s most recognizable awards.

In 2005, van den Bogert received the Academy Award for technical achievement at the Scientific and Technological Awards presentation, which takes place within the week or two before the Oscars. Despite the vast improvement in film technology thanks to thissoftware, not everyone was pleased with the results.

“There was one section of the room, the animators, who were booing,” van den Bogert said. “Animators felt threatened by the technology because they would be out of a job if you can just copy and paste movement from the real world into an animation. There probably was a similar debate on photography versus painting in the 1800s.”

This year, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presented nine awards foraccomplishments in the scientific and technical aspects of filmmaking. Unlike other Academy Awards, achievements receiving Scientific and Technical Awards do not have to have been introduced during 2012. Instead, these achievements need to show that they are of significant value to the process of filmmaking. These awards were presented at the Beverly Hills Hotel on Feb. 9.

Van den Bogert began his career in the 1990s as an assistant professor at the University of Calgary studying the mechanics of sports and injury prevention. There, he became interested in finding more reliable ways to measure human movement and worked to improve 3D technology.

A couple years after he began his work improving 3D images, van den Bogert was hired as a consultant at Motion Analysis Corp. At Motion Analysis he worked on writing software that made 3D images more “crisp.” DreamWorks then purchased this software for the movie “Shrek.” Though the company ultimately decided not to use the software for artistic reasons, having a major company show interest in this technology pushed it to develop faster.

With this boost in momentum, van den Bogert finally had developed software that could process the information from film and turn it into animation. This technology has since been used in films like “Lord of the Rings: Return of the King,” and “I-Robot,” as well as in video games.

“When I watch any movies with 3D animation in it, I am always proud to tell my kids that my math is probably in there,” van den Bogert said. “Sometimes I get distracted if I see something that could be improved, but I am always impressed with what the animators have been able to do with some of the technology we developed 15 years ago.”

Van den Bogert’s current research focuses on how humans control movement. He is trying to find a way to control the motors in prosthetic limbs so that they function as well as our nervous systems. This would make prosthetic limbs react in the same way a natural limb would.

“My vision is that these systems will someday be as smart as the human body,” van den Bogert said. “But when I watch the Olympics, especially gymnastics, I am reminded that it will be a long time before machines can replicate the entire range of human performance.”