At a Columbia Lab, Perfecting Computer Animation
Eitan Grinspun, the director of Columbia University’s Computer Graphics Group, doesn’t quite qualify as hairdresser to the stars. But if you want computer-generated hair (or fur) to look convincingly real when it is twisted, clumped, matted, coiled, soaked, dusty, wind swept, singed — or just about anything else a film director could possibly think to do to it — then Mr. Grinspun is the man to consult.
From a spacious office and workroom on the 10th floor of Columbia’s Schapiro Center in Morningside Heights, Mr. Grinspun and his team of graduate students have helped scientists from Walt Disney Studios, Pixar, Weta Digital and Adobe Systems solve their toughest C.G.I. problems, whether recreating the dab of a bristled paintbrush or getting Rapunzel’s hair in the Disney film “Tangled” to float in an underwater cave.
“There’s not a huge number of people who can do this,” said Alasdair Coull, head of Weta Digital’s software development team. “We’re essentially looking for the best in the world.” Weta has joined with a handful of universities, including a half-dozen or so in California, on C.G.I. — computer-generated imagery — and related projects.