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ACM SIGGRAPH’s Debevec to Receive Academy Award for Innovative Visual Effects

Light Stage Technologies Helped Create Believable Digital Actors in “Avatar” and “Benjamin Button”

The Association for Computing Machinery
Advancing Computing as a Science & Profession

Contact: Virginia Gold

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FEBRUARY 19, 2010, LOS ANGELES –  For innovations in visual effects technology used on the films “Avatar” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is honoring Paul Debevec of the Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT) and his colleagues tonight with a Scientific and Engineering Academy Award®. Debevec, associate director of graphics research at the University of Southern California’s ICT, headed a team that included Tim Hawkins of LightStage LLC, John Monos of Sony Pictures Imageworks, and Mark Sagar of WETA Digital.  The award recognizes more than ten years of research, development and application of technologies designed to help achieve the goal of photoreal digital actors.  Debevec, a leader of ACM SIGGRAPH, and his team will receive the award at the Scientific and Technical Awards Ceremony in Beverly Hills. 

              ACM SIGGRAPH President G. Scott Owen said the system captures and simulates how people and objects appear under real-world illumination.  “If you were amazed by the lifelike animations in “Avatar,” you have a sense of the contributions of Debevec.”   Owen added, “This achievement reflects the role of computer graphics in rendering lifelike images for the motion picture and interactive entertainment industries.  The promise of this research is a measure of the powerful potential for computer graphics in changing the way we live and work.”  

            Debevec and his team were cited for the design and engineering of the Light Stage capture devices and the image-based facial rendering system that create believable digital actors in motion pictures.  Debevec’s pioneering techniques, published at an ACM SIGGRAPH conference, were first used to create the Academy Award-winning virtual backgrounds in the “bullet time” shots in the 1999 film “The Matrix,” and were also used to dramatic effect in films such as the “Matrix” sequels, “Terminator: Salvation 2012,” and “District 9.”  Known as HDRI (high-dynamic range imaging) and image-based lighting, these techniques have become a standard part of visual effects production. 

            In 2001, Debevec received ACM SIGGRAPH's first Significant New Researcher Award for "Creative and Innovative Work in the Field of Image-Based Modeling and Rendering."  In 2002, he was named one of the world's top 100 young innovators by MIT's Technology Review magazine, and in 2005 received a Gilbreth Lectureship from the National Academy of Engineering.  He chaired the SIGGRAPH 2007 Computer Animation Festival, and in 2009, he was elected to the ACM SIGGRAPH Executive Committee. 

            Debevec is a Research Associate Professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Southern California.  He received degrees in mathematics and computer engineering at the University of Michigan, and a Ph.D. in computer science from the University of California Berkeley.  

Read the announcement on the ACM SIGGRAPH Web site.

Read the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Announcement.

About ACM

ACM, the Association for Computing Machinery, is the world’s largest educational and scientific computing society, uniting computing educators, researchers and professionals to inspire dialogue, share resources and address the field’s challenges. ACM strengthens the computing profession’s collective voice through strong leadership, promotion of the highest standards, and recognition of technical excellence. ACM supports the professional growth of its members by providing opportunities for life-long learning, career development, and professional networking.   


The ACM Special Interest Group on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques ( is an interdisciplinary community interested in research, technology, and applications in computer graphics and interactive techniques. Members include researchers, developers and users from the technical, academic, business, and art communities. SIGGRAPH provides information to the computer graphics community through its annual conference, publications and the SIGGRAPH Video Review. 

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