News

Visual Expert to Lead USC Institute’s Graphics Lab

August 26, 2016

Computer scientist Hao Li aims to modernize the way researchers capture, process and analyze data

By Amy Blumenthal 

Hao Li, an assistant professor of computer science at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering and holder of an Early Career Chair, will take the helm at the USC Institute for Creative Technologies Graphics Laboratory.

The lab developed the light stage that records 3-D appearances of human faces, bodies and objects using computer-controlled illuminations. It has collaborated with entertainment companies such as Sony Pictures, Digital Domain and Weta Digital on films such as AvatarThe Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The HobbitThe Avengers and Gravity, as well as new glasses-free 3-D display technologies in collaboration with USC’s Shoah Foundation—The Institute for Visual History and Education to preserve the testimony of Holocaust survivors.

Before joining USC in 2013, Li was a research lead at Industrial Light & Magic/Lucasfilm, where he developed the next generation of real-time facial performance capture technologies for virtual production and visual effects. He also led the development of the high-end facial animation pipeline at Weta Digital, which was used to “reenact” the late actor Paul Walker in Furious 7.

Named one of the 35 innovators under 35 by MIT Technology Review in 2013, Li plans to blend the expertise of ICT’s Graphics Lab with his existing research in the Department of Computer Science at USC Viterbi, which focuses on more deployable tech-capture solutions such as building a 3-D avatar from a single image.

Digital Doings

Li’s goals include the expansion of ICT’s leading role in human digitization and exploring new augmented reality/virtual reality platforms.

While continuing his teaching duties at USC Viterbi, Li hopes to build databases of 3-D human shapes with the highest possible fidelity.

“We want to focus on real-time and data-driven algorithms that can perceive the 3-D world like humans do and even make sense of it, given limited visual input,” said Li, an expert in the field of 3-D digitization and performance capture.“The most important thing,” Li said, “is to modernize the way we capture, process and analyze data. We want to be able to generate high-fidelity virtual humans instantly without any manual labor, develop deployable and low-cost capture systems that can be accessible by anyone, and enable real-time capabilities wherever possible. Immersive communication, AI [artificial intelligence] and virtual reality … these are the major applications that are pushing our technology.”

USC Viterbi Dean Yannis C. Yortsos said: “Hao Li is a true creative force in vision and graphics worldwide. His new leadership role at ICT will help further cement its pioneering role in shaping the frontiers of virtual reality and will continue grow the impact of USC computer science in the vibrant Silicon Beach ecosystem.”