Paul Debevec, 30
University of Southern California
Paul Debevec’s rise to computer graphics stardom sounds like a fairy tale. In 1996 Debevec presented a paper on Façade, a system he developed as a student that digitally generates 3-D scenes from 2-D photographs. Soon after, he was flown to Hollywood to present his technology to John Dykstra, the visual-effects supervisor on Batman and Robin. Effects companies have since used Debevec’s techniques in several films, including The Matrix. Debevec now directs the graphics laboratory at the University of Southern California, where he is perfecting the Light Stage. Inside this three-meter-wide spherical structure, actors and objects are illuminated by 156 light-emitting diodes that duplicate light from any environment. For example, an actress can be illuminated with light recorded inside the Sistine Chapel, and her image can be simultaneously superimposed on a scene set there. The technique yields far more realistic results in less time than the standard method of adjusting concocted lighting frame by frame. “The idea is to use the light from the actual scene, rather than manually try to approximate it,” says Debevec, who admits to being under Hollywood’s spell.