by Li Yusheng and Wendy Ju
Marc Levoy is an Associate
Professor of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering
at Stanford University. Levoy is a pioneer of computer-assisted
cartoon animation, creating tools instrumental to the shows
such as The Flintstones. His later interests in
volume rendering and technology and algorithms for digitizing
three-dimensional objects won him a 1996 SIGGRAPH Computer
Graphics Achievement Award. He is currently researching sensing
and display technologies, image-based
graphics in art history, preservation, restoration, and archaeology.
|What first drew you to computer
In the first week of my freshman year in
Cornell University's School of
Architecture, I was assigned to draw a cube in perspective
remove the hidden lines. This seems easy, but the cube had
holes cut into it and several protrusions, so the work was
Since the work was also methodical, it seemed to me that
could be programmed to do it - both drawing the perspective
removing the hidden lines. Having learned to program a computer
high school, I thought I would give it a try.
day, the prof
wandered by my drafting table and found me scribbling on
coding sheet instead of completing the assignment. He sternly
to put it away, take out my T-square and triangle, and
learn how to
draw like a real architect. He also told me to go visit
a Professor Donald Greenberg, who knew something about computers.
suppose this Professor Greenberg laughed at my silly idea?
Well, I did
as I was told - I resumed the tedious task of drawing
the cube, and I
made an appointment to see Professor Greenberg. When
Fortran coding sheet, he burst into laughter - my worst
fear! But the
next instant he was showing me an article by Ivan
described how a computer *could* make perspective drawings,
remove hidden lines. I was entranced. The date was 1971.
I spent the
next 10 years under Don Greenberg's wise mentorship.
|Do you have any favorite computer graphics
If Don Greenberg was my mentor in the early
days, Ed Catmull and Alvy
Ray Smith were my teachers. Although I never worked at the
Institute of Technology, I visited frequently during the late
learning more about computer animation from Ed and Alvy on
than the NYIT administration would have liked. Their creativity
astonished me, their enthusiasm infected me, and their openness
inspired me. I can never thank them enough. During my time
University of North Carolina ten years later, my mentors were
Whitted, Henry Fuchs, and Fred
Brooks. Fred taught me how to
Turner taught me to think out of the box, and Henry taught
me how to
act on my ideas. On a more practical level, they also encouraged
supported my work on volume rendering. Finally, strange as
sound, I consider Pat Hanarahan - who shares my laboratory
- a mentor as much as a colleague. But so does everyone who
|What was the first time you
contributed to SIGGRAPH?
I contributed here and there to publications
by Don Greenberg
throughout the 1970's, but my first authored SIGGRAPH paper
1977, "A Computer Animation System Based on the Multiplane
It described my (somewhat lame) attempt to simulate using computer
graphics the unique multi-layer camera Walt Disney used on
feature animations (Snow White, Pinocchio, and Fantasia). Most
computer-assisted cartoon animation systems include this capability,
although it's doubtful they owe much to my fumbling first attempt.
| What year/city was your first
SIGGRAPH? Which was most intense? Why?
I attended the first official Siggraph,
in Bowling Green, Ohio in 1975.
There were hardly a hundred or so attendees. One evening during
conference, a screening was given of Peter Foldes'
Hunger, which used key-frame interpolation techniques developed
Marceli Wein. With this film, computer graphics became a storytelling
tool. I was captivated. I returned to Cornell and worked for
10 years on computer animation, leading to a Bachelor's and
thesis on the topic, and to the Hanna-Barbera computer animation
|What contributions to SIGGRAPH
are you most proud of?
||My acheivement award was for work in volume
rendering, but I didn't
invent volume rendering. Judging from the online citation indices,
guess my 1996 paper on Light Field Rendering, with Pat
been the most influential. If you measure pride in terms of
sweat, and tears, my 2000 systems paper (with many co-authors)
the Digital Michelangelo Project tops the list.
|What's your favorite thing
at this year or last year's SIGGRAPH?
||My favorite thing at *all* SIGGRAPHs is meeting
with colleagues - old
and new. The SIGGRAPH proceedings is about ideas, but the conference
is about people.
|What near/intermediate developments
in CG do you look forward to?
I am enjoying watching graphics scale down
in price and size. Last
summer, I saw a 3D model of Michelangelo's David rotating on
phone. New killer apps for graphics will certainly come out
astonishing downsizing. Also, like many researchers I am watching
interest as digital cameras become smaller and cheaper than
wristwatches. This trend has already brought vision and graphics
researchers together. It will undoubtedly spawn new markets,
will create new opportunities for research. If the 1970's were
pioneer days of graphics, and the 1980's put graphics on a
footing, and the 1990's saw graphics break into the billion
entertainment and gaming industries, then the 2000's will be
of ubiquitous graphics and imaging. I've lost count of how
computer chips are in my car. Soon I'll lose count of how many
and displays are in my car.
|Do you still
follow computer animation?
||I only follow computer animation in so much
as I have friends in the industry. 2D and 3D animation is really
merging, so I follow it in that it's almost the same world
|Are you a
Who isn't? It helps if the story's good, which
it isn't always. I think the original Toy Story was quite an
accomplishment. I like anything that John Lasseter has worked
|Do you watch
computer graphics movies, or play video games?
No, I don't play video games at all. At
the end of my computer graphics course, I always have a video
game competition. The students will say, "Oh, this is
just like 'blah', and I don't know what 'blah' is."
It was kind of embarrassing, a few quarters ago, some
students did a recreation of the elevator scene from the
Matrix and I didn't recognize it. I hadn't seen it. I was
a computer graphics professor who hadn't seen the Matrix
yet. I've seen the Matrix now.
|You won the
Computer Graphics Achievement award in 1996. Do you think this
sort of recongition is important?
||It was probably useful during my tenure year,
I won't deny that! I think it's useful for SIGGRAPH to have
these awards. It gives people something to strive for. Any
community should have awards, and most communities do and for
good reason. It's an important people thing.
on a very diverse set of topics in computer graphics and vision
over the years. Is there some sort of unifying theme that ties
||I tend to switch research areas every 7 or
8 years. I find it keeps me fresh. Some people accuse me of
just picking low hanging fruit, but I've found it a fruitful
probably doesn't all tie together.
I guess, finely sampled representation is a unifying character
of what I've done. Finely sampled image rendering, finely
sampled volume rendering, finely sampled display technologies.
All the work I've done works on fine sampling. But that's
a very thin thread, a loose connection.
have you noticed in SIGGRPAH over the years?
It's gotten a lot bigger. It's now a billion
industry. In fact, it's several different biillion dollar
industries, and that's changed its character. There seem
to be two phases, one before it's a billion dolloar industry
one afterwards, although there was no sudden change
SIGGRAPH used to be
conference. The computer vision conferences are like
what siggraph used to be. They are not not surrounded by
this buzz, there
aren't reporters running around, there are not these
giant exhibitions. You'd have to go back 20 years, but SIGGRAPH
used to be like those other conferences are now.
|Do you have
any memorable anecdotes about hijinx from the early years of
|| I'm not a good person to ask about that.
I'm a square.