Disney Launches Global Research & Development Labs With Carnegie Mellon And Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH Zurich)

BY Byron Spice - Mon, 2008-08-11 16:00  Printer-friendly version

LOS ANGELES, CA—Disney announced a major research and developmentinitiative to engage top technology universities to conduct researchand development for its Parks & Resorts Division, Disney MediaNetworks, ESPN, Walt Disney Feature Animation, Walt Disney StudiosMotion Pictures, Disney Interactive Media Group and Pixar AnimationStudios.

Carnegie Mellon University and the Swiss FederalInstitute of Technology Zurich (ETH Zurich), known for theirleading-edge work in computer science and technology, are to establishcollaborative labs with Disney in Pittsburgh and Zurich.

"Creatingthe next generation of sophisticated technologies requires long-termvision and collaboration with world-class innovators," said Ed Catmull,president, Disney and Pixar Animation Studios, making the announcementat SIGGRAPH, the world's largest computer graphics conference. "We arestrengthening our commitment to R&D throughout Disney byestablishing labs with Carnegie Mellon University and ETH Zurich," hesaid.

The labs will connect Disney with renowned academicpartners with world class science and technology talent. The labs willengage in R&D on computer animation, computational cinematography,autonomous interactive characters, robotics, data mining and userinterfaces, among other initiatives. They will be located at CarnegieMellon in Pittsburgh and ETH Zurich. Each lab represents a five-yearcommitment from Disney to fund a director and seven to eight principalinvestigators. Additional staff will include professors, academicinterns, scientific consultants and collaborators.

"Extendingour R&D efforts to these top-notch university partners will takeour internal initiatives to a new level," said Joe Marks, vicepresident of R&D for Walt Disney Imagineering Research &Development. Marks is leading the Disney launch of the project and willoversee the labs for Disney.

Carnegie Mellon is home to some of the world's leadingresearchers in computer science and engineering, entertainmenttechnology and robotics, areas of particular interest to Disney. Jessica Hodgins, professor of computer science and robotics anddirector of Disney Research, Pittsburgh, said one of the lab's firstprojects will be developing methods for people to interact withautonomous characters, either virtual or robotic. "We'll be looking forways to sense what a person is doing or thinking so that the charactercan respond appropriately," she said. "Whether the character is a robotor a virtual creation, the interaction issues are the same. We need tofigure out what sensors to build and how to interpret and respond tohuman behavior."

The Disney Research lab's offices are situated little morethan a block away from Carnegie Mellon's School of Computer Sciencecomplex. Hodgins said she expects that most projects will includefaculty and student collaborators from Carnegie Mellon. Staff membersalso will be encouraged to teach classes at the university.

"Theaccess Disney provides to real-world problems and data will enable usto do research with greater impact than is typically possible within apurely academic environment," Hodgins said. "At the same time, DisneyResearch in Pittsburgh can tap expertise at Carnegie Mellon that can beapplied to problems that cut across all of Disney's business units." Inaddition to work on autonomous characters, she anticipates projectsinvolving databases, machine learning and visualization.

ETHZurich has a strong tradition of research in computational methods andcomputer systems. It is one of the most renowned locations for researchin computer science, and as such, a strong partner for Disney.Professor Markus Gross, head of ETH Zurich's Computer GraphicsLaboratory in the Department of Computer Science, calls thecollaboration with Disney "on the cusp of the cutting-edge."

"Wehave been looking for a partner like Disney to create synergies thatwill open up a wide spectrum of different fields in entertainmenttechnology," Gross says. He adds that, "Our research will explore novelalgorithms to bring both traditional animation and 3D computeranimation to the next level of perfection. We will investigate howartistic knowledge and rules can be incorporated into computer-assistedproduction and content creation. Additionally, we will design the nextgeneration of cinematographic technology."

Theapplied research and joint intellectual properties that will resultfrom the technology transfer will offer new and creative opportunitiesto strengthen ETH Zurich's talent, potential and ability to make animpact on industry.
The Disney Research lab in Zurich will workwith faculty members from the Department of Computer Science,specifically with Visual Computing and the Computer GraphicsLaboratory, to conduct the highest level applied research in areasincluding computer animation, image synthesis, computationalphotography and artificial intelligence.

JointPh.D. projects and research contracts, as well as teaching servicesfrom senior Disney researchers, are part of the advantages andsynergies to be drawn from the collaboration. Professor Markus Grosswill head Disney Research in Zurich. 

Theindividual R&D programs at Disney Parks & Resorts, Pixar andDisney Animation Studios, Interactive Games, Disney's television andmotion picture studios, and ImageMovers Digital and their existinguniversity alliances with schools throughout the globe will continue.The Pittsburgh and Zurich labs will focus on areas of research thatspan multiple business units across the company.


About Carnegie Mellon:Carnegie Mellon is a private research university with a distinctive mixof programs in engineering, computer science, robotics, business,public policy, fine arts and the humanities. More than 10,000undergraduate and graduate students receive an education characterizedby its focus on creating and implementing solutions for real problems,interdisciplinary collaboration, and innovation. A smallstudent-to-faculty ratio provides an opportunity for close interactionbetween students and professors. While technology is pervasive on its144-acre Pittsburgh campus, Carnegie Mellon is also distinctive amongleading research universities for the world-renowned programs in itsCollege of Fine Arts. A global university, Carnegie Mellon has campusesin Silicon Valley, Calif., and Qatar, and programs in Asia, Australiaand Europe. For more, see www.cmu.edu.

About ETH Zurich:The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich focuses primarily onengineering sciences, architecture, system-oriented sciences,mathematics and natural sciences. It conducts research that is highlyvalued worldwide. On a yearly basis, ETH Zurich applies for 80 to100patents and directly supports the founding of up to 20 spin-offcompanies. More than 360 professors, largely of international origin,teach a student body of 14,000 from more than 90 nations.  Theuniversity is distinguished by the successes of 21 Nobel laureates, andcommitted to providing its students with unparalleled education andoutstanding leadership skills.

For More Information: 

Byron Spice | 412-268-9068 | bspice@cs.cmu.edu