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Computer Science
Bethlehem PA

Make It Look Real, Make It Look Cool

Jeff Maher on Friday, 03 February 2006. Posted in Student Life

Being a tour guide had quite a few perks and among them was being able to learn more about RIT. While this may sound like a moot point, part of this meant hearing about the "all star" alumni. When you hear the stories of these former students going on to change the world and/or do great things - it inspires. You start to think - "Wow, [person X] was exactly where I was 5 to 20 years ago and look at what he/she is doing now! Maybe that could be me too." For me, one of those people is Bill La Barge.

Throughout high school and my earlier years of college, I aspired to land somewhere within the video game or movie industries using my computer knowledge. During my first year of college and when I began tour guiding, I heard tales of a recent graduate who went on to work on Shrek, The Matrix sequels, and Spider-Man. When taking my tour groups through the animation building, I'd boast about the man who came from the school and now was doing work on projects that any animator would kill to be on. Then, one day in class, my professor mentioned the fact that the guy (Bill La Barge) had come back to give a speech - and I missed it!!!!!!! Hunched in defeat, I scuttled off from class to give my tour that day...

As college went on, my computing interests started to change direction and gaming/special effects became less of my focus. Nevertheless, the field still held a special spot in my heart. That's why, when I received an e-mail that Bill La Barge was coming back, I got extremely excited. So, I'm here to report: I've seen the man and his work is cool.

While on co-op, Bill went off to work for a small special effects firm (the name isn't coming to me since they no longer exist) and got to do the smoke effects for the nuke scenes in Thirteen Days (one of my favorite movies...). After graduation he returned to the company and got to work on The Time Machine, Solaris, and X-Men 2 (in which he was the Lead FX Technical Director). However, the company that he worked at closed their doors and he moved on to work at Sony Pictures' Imageworks. Since getting there he's worked on The Matrix Revolutions, Spider-Man 2, The Aviator, Zathura, and Peter Pan. For the next year or so, Bill is working as the Procedural Texture Lead on Spider-Man 3. And yes, he outright refused to tell us who the second villain is going to be. Damn...

With that said, it was really cool to see some of the things he worked on and how everything is brought to life. Probably what that amazed me the most were some of the shots of Tobey Maquire (Peter Parker/Spider-Man) and Alfred Molina (Doctor Octopus). There were scenes in the movie that I had just figured were green-screened, but actually were not. Instead, Macquire and Molina had to sit in a machine that has a rotating light that varies its intensity. An attached camera takes pictures as the light's intensity changes and revolves. From there, a disturbingly accurate texture map of the person can be popped on top of a 3D figure and placed into the movie's scene. At one point, Bill showed the 3D Maquire talking along side the actual Maquire and the differences were extremely subtle. "Wow" was really the only word to describe it.

Random Image from Spider-Man 2.

(I didn't want to be rude and take pictures during the presentation, so here's a random [yet cool] image from Spider-Man 2)