USC computer science professor to receive Academy Award

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced that it will honor Professor Parag Havaldar with an Academy Award in the category of Scientific and Technical Achievement for his work at Sony Pictures Imageworks. Havaldar graduated with a Ph.D. in computer visions and graphics from USC Viterbi School of Engineering — where he currently teaches — in 1996. 

Photo courtesy of Parag Havaldar
And the Oscar goes to · Professor Parag Havaldar received his Ph.D. from the USC Viterbi School of Engineering in 1996. He went on to improve methods of creating facial expressions for animated characters.

Currently a Research and Development lead at Blizzard Entertainment, Havaldar attributes the foundation of his knowledge to his time at USC.

He said interest in computer technology, computer vision and psychology is rooted in his love of storytelling.

“I have always believed in the power of stories and movies,” Havaldar said. “I was fortunate to follow my passion in computer graphics and develop technologies in animation that give life to these stories, and ultimately end up touching the hearts and minds of audiences around the world.”

The Academy acknowledged Havaldar’s work, recognizing its importance in the field of animation.

“This pioneering system enabled large-scale use of animation rig-based facial performance-capture for motion pictures, combining solutions for tracking, stabilization, solving and animator-controllable curve editing,” Ray Feeney, chair of the Scientific and Technical Awards Committee, said in a statement to the Academy.

Havaldar designed a technique to create realistic facial expressions for animated characters in films. His design allows performers in production to act out their parts while their facial expressions are analyzed, digitally copied and constructed in animated characters.

Havaldar has worked with renowned actors such as Angelina Jolie, and is an integral part of the process that these actors undergo during their digital mimicking.

Describing his development as one that saves time, cost and energy for the company, Havaldar said he and his counterparts play a key role in creating an efficient, successful film production.

“It doesn’t happen by one person ever,” Havaldar said. “It is everyone working together for the same purpose. In my case a lot of people helped. I had good technologists, actors and mentors supporting me along the way.”

Havaldar is a part-time lecturer in the department of computer science at Viterbi. His class, Multimedia Systems and Design, is offered to graduate students.

Havaldar expressed appreciation for his students, as he believes they have never failed to spark his curiosity over the past decade.

“When I look back at my days at USC, I did have a lot of fun,” Havaldar said. “But if you can, find a goal that you want to achieve from a young age and follow that direction, and make time for it. If you can figure out your passion and what you want to achieve and make sure you utilize that passion, and make progress every day, every week, every month, little by little you’ll find that you will achieve a lot.”