The world of animation has come a long way since the days of hand-drawn cells, and computer scientists like Theodore Kim are playing an increasingly important role in shaping its future. Kim, an associate professor at Yale University, recently won his second Oscar for the Fizt2 elastic simulation system, which allows animators to realistically model the physical behavior of soft materials like fabric in motion.
Kim’s first Academy Award came in 2012 for Wavelet Turbulence, a program that helps create lifelike fire and explosion effects in animation. But his journey to Hollywood began in college, where he took computer graphics classes as early as his sophomore year. This early interest led to a summer internship at special effects studio Rhythm & Hues, where Kim’s work ended up in the first Harry Potter movie.
After earning his Ph.D. at the University of North Carolina, Kim went on to work as a senior research scientist at Pixar before joining the faculty at Yale in 2019. His research focuses on developing new computational tools for animation and graphics, with an emphasis on physically based simulations and fluid dynamics.
“I usually start by asking: What is the artistic result I want?” Kim said. “From there, I can start asking: What is the math that will get me there? Sometimes you find that someone else has already done some of the work, for a different purpose, and you can deploy a piece of it for an artistic purpose. But at some point, you have to drill down into the math yourself. There’s no getting around that. There’s always more interesting math you can uncover because you want your art to look better, and better, and better.”
Kim’s success is a testament to the growing importance of computer science in the world of animation and filmmaking. As technology continues to evolve, so too will the tools that animators use to bring their visions to life. With experts like Theodore Kim at the forefront of this field, we can look forward to even more breathtaking and realistic animated films in the years to come.