Modern Image Synthesis: Much more than just pretty pictures

Derek Nowrouzezahrai - McGill University

March 31, 2017, 2:30 p.m. - March 31, 2017, 3:30 p.m.


After a brief tour of the modern digital content creation pipeline in computer graphics, I will focus on recent advances in image synthesis and how they will soon come to shape our everyday experiences. I will motivate an artist- and data-centric view of rendering, arguing that realistic lighting simulation is one component (albeit an important one) of a larger "virtual world" picture. Indeed, the quality of realistic digital content relies directly on our ability to intuitively and interactively manipulate appearance, and so providing professional artists and recreational users with better content creation tools is among the large open challenges in graphics today.

I will explain how the insights we gained through modeling, simulating, and editing realistic appearance in virtual worlds has helped us to also capture and manipulate light in the real world. This work has contributed to a recent, far-reaching shift in the way artists author digital content in today's feature films and interactive entertainment. I will conclude by challenging the existing notion of a virtual experience: I will argue that marrying real and virtual lighting manipulations will allow us to almost fully blur the line between the virtual and the real, shifting the implications of graphics research to much broader problems. Work in this new area will be fundamentally cross-disciplinary, extending across (and beyond) computer science and electrical engineering, with applications to non-invasive medical diagnosis, as well as to education and communication.

Derek Nowrouzezahrai is an Associate Professor at McGill University and the Director of McGill's Graphics & Imaging Lab. Prior to joining McGill, Derek was an Associate Professor at the University of Montreal and Canada Research Chair in Realistic Image Synthesis. He completed Post-Doc at Disney Research Zurich (also lecturing at ETH Zurich), and worked at Microsoft Research,, Electronic Arts, and Research in Motion. He obtained his Ph.D. (2010) and M.Sc. (2006) in Computer Science from the University of Toronto, and his B.A.Sc. (2005) in Computer Engineering from the University of Waterloo. Derek is broadly interested in realistic and art-directable image synthesis, devising new mathematical models of global illumination on surfaces and in participating media, as well as developing accurate and efficient numerical approaches for solving these complex multi-dimensional integration problems. Derek also works on problems in fluid simulation and control, augmented and virtual reality, digital manufacturing, computationally-augmented optics, and geometry processing. Several of Derek's works have been adopted in feature films, games, amusement parks, and consumer products. For more information on Derek and his work, please refer to his website at