Interview – Prof Anil Kokaram: The Oscar Winner

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Prof Anil Kokaram is currently an associate professor at the Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering at Trinity College though you may have heard of him due to his Oscar win at the Scientific and Technical Academy Awards in 2007. Kokaram found himself winging his way to an LA awards ceremony to celebrate his win due to his work as a consultant with The Foundry, a the UK-based firm which is one of the world’s top names in visual effects for post production.

Anil with his award, "I keep it beside the desk at home"

He gained his Oscar for his work on the Furnace tool set; a visual effects and image-processing software, part of which was Kokaram’s winning idea of ‘the inbetweener’, that, in his own words, “is the concept of trying to make pictures in between existing pictures”. Over the last decade, it’s been used on such films as The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, The Matrix Trilogy, Batman Begins, Fantastic Four, King Kong, Casino Royale, Superman Returns, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe and X-Men 3 The Last Stand. Furnace can also remove characters from scenes, or indeed add them in if needed as well as being capable of restoring old footage. Not too shabby.

Kokaram is also head of the SigMedia Group in TCD who specialise in work with digital cinema, multimedia information retrieval and video over wireless. Much of his current work is focusing on the possibilities of 3D, using it in areas as varied as sport to dissection.

During a working trip to Paris this week he found the time to talk to us here and the Trinidad native turned out to be a bloody nice chap talking about Avatar, 3D Dublin. He also calls James Cameron Mr. C. Maybe it’s something Oscar winners get to do.

Komplett Blog: You recently shot some 3D footage of Dublin, in what type of projects are you going to use this in?

Prof Anil Kokaram: We will be using this for demonstrating our ideas for new stereoscopic post-production tools. There are always shooting accidents on set, and our shoot was no exception. Except with stereoscopic cinema, there are two cameras that can go wrong, and we had all manner of problems like water drops on one lens and not on the other, mismatched focal lengths, poor camera alignment. We will be correcting a lot of these problems with our new automated tools and then putting the clips together in some kind of coherent “short” film. We have no idea what that is going to look like yet.

Would you buy a 3D TV yourself? Have any designs from Sony, Samsung etc impressed you thus far?

I like the Hyundai polarised screen technology actually, and we have already bought one for the lab. The shutter glasses technology probably gives better pictures but the glasses are way more expensive. I am going to wait to see what 3D content comes along before I get a 3D TV for myself though.

What about 3D gaming, do you feel this has real potential over the next few years?

Yes indeed. The advances in computational platforms and graphics cards definitely make this not only feasible but totally immersive. We are engaged in a project which you can out more about at www.i3dpost.eu that is exploring how the lessons in stereo cinema can be leveraged for games.

Kokaram liked how The Matrix Trilogy used his work... maybe not the overstuffed storyline though

You’re doing some 3D work with the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) and Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA) that involves trying to present lectures on anatomy in 3D format for students of both surgery and art.  It’s quite an ambitious project – how is it going so far?

We finished a shoot last November – when we also filmed Dublin in 3D – and Dr Valerie Morris (RCSI) with Dr David Corrigan (Sigmedia) is editing the 3D material now. Prof Clive Lee – who is professor of anatomy at the RCSI and professor of anatomy of the RHA as well as a collaborator on this project, is already using some of the footage to show 3D surface anatomy examples in exhibition lectures. It was a very difficult exercise doing the shoot but we all learned a lot about stereo cinema photography and shot composition and definitely worth doing.

Is the SigMedia Group involved in any interesting upcoming projects?

The most interesting one is our use of the 3D Dublin footage in making short clips of 3D Dublin. We believe we are the first to do this. It will be a few months before we show off the material to the public however, since the process of stereo HD post production is quite challenging.

Are you currently working with The Foundry on any more technology that may be used in being used by filmmakers or in other fields?

The Foundry has already released Ocula for stereo post-production and it has been met with wide acclaim in the post production community. It was used in Avatar by some of the post-pro houses that worked on the movie .. some of my motion estimation technology is buried in there somewhere!

Avatar gets a tentative thumbs up from 3D guru Kokaram

What were your thoughts on Avatar?

Amazing technology. I was expecting more live action 3D however, i.e. 3D of real people and a real/this world, but what Mr. C has achieved is certainly eye catching.

So then, which is your favourite movie from the ones that have used technology you were involved in creating?

Hard to answer that as its difficult to say that my technology was principal in creating a movie. It’s all about the story you see. But I suppose The Matrix trilogy is the best example of “motion estimation for building new pictures” and so I’ll pick that as my favourite, although in King Kong, some of my noise reduction algorithms were used in making the final pictures, and it is a good story, so maybe that comes second.

So, considering that includes the second and third Matrix movies, that’s based on how they used the technology rather than the films then?

‘Nuff said.

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