Armin Bruderlin, PhD 1995
“We design custom software so our artists can produce digital effects for live-action and computer animated movies,” says Armin Bruderlin, explaining his role as principal software engineer at Sony Pictures Imageworks. “The projects can be as big as implementing systems to generate, manipulate and render digital hair or as small as a utility tool to transfer data.”
A richly varied Culver City career he’s enjoyed for almost 20 years, Bruderlin credits his computing science master’s and PhD studies as setting him on the right track. “My visual effects interests began at SFU after I attended a computer graphics conference. I was fascinated by the research being done into digitally representing reality with increasing realism.”
Back at school, he began honing this newfound passion. “I focused on autonomously animating human walking, and I extended this to running during my PhD. I also developed techniques for general editing of human-like movements using signal processing techniques.”
Joining Imageworks soon after SFU, he was immediately thrown in at the deep end with one particular CGI critter. “We had to create a digital humanized mouse for the Stuart Little movie and fur was one of the big challenges.” As the new guy, Bruderlin was given first crack at a solution.
“I had no idea about digital hair but we put together a prototype pipeline based on sparse published research plus some knowledge of how other places had tackled the problem,” he recalls, adding that generating wet fur became an additional demand.
Despite the challenges and a tight timeline, the solutions were a success. “Today, our hair software is used on most movies for digital humans, animals and other environments. The objective as always is realism – while also providing hooks to allow for artistic direction that might diverge from reality.”
But Bruderlin says his team rarely works directly on individual movie shots. Instead they develop the tools artists use to create the effects they need. Those might be deployed to animate feathers in Angry Birds or facial movement in the latest Smurfs movie.
“My day-to-day job is a mix of longer-term projects, dealing with unexpected issues and communicating with my team and the artists,” he explains. “We’re constantly improving tools and creating new software. At the same time, we’re always researching new software and technology. The creative visions of movie directors and visual effects supervisors are the driving force for innovation.”
After creating a successful career in a demanding area, does Bruderlin have any advice for those keen to follow in his well-animated footsteps? “Acquire basic math, software engineering, algorithm and problem solving skills. Technology is constantly changing but a solid base of knowledge helps prepare you. Also sharpen your C++ and Python skills. And apply for co-ops in special effects, computer games or animation studios: it’s a great way to clarify whether or not you’d like to work in this field.”