Stanford engineer wins third Academy Award

Pat Hanrahan (Photo: Linda Cicero/Stanford News)
Pat Hanrahan (Photo: Linda A. Cicero / Stanford News)

PAT HANRAHAN, professor of computer science and of electrical engineering, will receive his third award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, for work that allows Hollywood to more easily and accurately reproduce real-world lighting in computer-generated films like Avatar and Monsters University.

Hanrahan and his former doctoral students MATT PHARR and GREG HUMPHREYS, who now both work at Google, are being honored with a Technical Achievement Award for what is known as physically based rendering, a process that “transformed computer graphics lighting” by more accurately simulating materials and lights in movies, the Academy said in a recent news release.

Pharr (PhD ’05), Humphreys (PhD ’02) and Hanrahan wrote software for this type of rendering. They then collaborated on a book that not only lays out the theory behind their work but also provides source code and instructions for how to actually implement it. The book, Physically Based Rendering, was developed in support of a Stanford course in image processing and is based in part on Hanrahan’s lectures for the course.

The book and software “allow digital artists to focus on cinematography rather than the intricacies of rendering,” according to the Academy announcement.

The trio are among 52 to be honored by the Academy on Feb. 15. Hanrahan’s earlier Academy Awards also are related to his work in rendering. He received a Scientific and Engineering Award in 1993 for his work on the team developing Pixar’s pioneering RenderMan software, which is still used in the computer graphics industry. In 2004, he was part of a team that received a Technical Achievement Award for research that made it possible for filmmakers to accurately depict skin and other translucent materials.

Read the full announcement on the School of Engineering website.