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Oscars For Indian-American Techies Parag Havaldar & Kiran Bhat

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This year, two Indians are featured on the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ list of scientific and technical awards. IIT Kharagpur alumnus Parag Havaldar (Spiderman, Alice in Wonderland) has been chosen for his work with facial performance-capture technology at Sony Pictures Imageworks, while Kiran Bhat (The Avengers, Star Wars: Rogue One), who hails from Coimbatore, has been chosen for facial performance-capture solving system, a technology that was used to depict realistic humans on screen. Bhat will share the Oscar with Michael Koperwas, Brian Cantwell, and Paige Warner. The awards will be handed out on February 11, ahead of the main Oscar ceremony on February 26.

This Oscar recognises original developments that resulted in significant improvements in motion picture production and exhibition. Bhat’s work was responsible for the digital humans featured in Rogue One, such as Grand Moff Tarkin and Princess Leia.

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Meanwhile, Parag’s work helped create stylised and realistic character animations in movies like Alice in Wonderland, Monster House, Hancock, and Spiderman.

Kiran Bhat’s excitement was palpable at a press conference where he explained how the technology works. He said: “I’m really happy and excited about the award. I worked on a technology called the facial-performance-capture-solving system, which involves capturing the expression of someone’s face and using it as a character. We used the technology in The Avengers for Hulk’s character to capture the expressions of Mark Ruffalo. In Star Wars: Rogue One, the late Peter Cushing’s portions were recreated by Guy Henry. We captured his expressions and converted them into digital form. The technology involves huge investment and is owned by some of the biggest studios in Hollywood. But, with time, the technology will become more accessible to all,” he said.

The technology has been widely used in Hollywood movies like The Avengers, Star Wars: A Force Awakens, Warcraft, Pirates Of The Caribbean, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Kiran completed his engineering from BITS, Pilani and subsequently completed his doctorate in robotics from Carnegie Mellon University. He also specialised in Artificial Intelligence. He joined the American motion picture visual effects company, Industrial Light & Magic (ILM). Later, he co-founded Loom.ai, which includes a new technology platform that will bring viral communication to life. 

He is presently settled in the United States with his wife and two daughters. His parents will be flying to the US to watch their son receive the Oscar. His father Srinivas Bhatt told CT, “It was a happy coincidence. We had planned to visit Kiran later this month. Now, we are planning to stay back in the United States till the Oscars.”

Parag Havaldar is an Indian-American who works as a software supervisor at Sony Pictures Imageworks. He heads the team in the area of performance capture. The technology developed by his team was used to create stylized character animations. Parag is also a part-time teacher of multimedia at the UCLA, from where he received a PhD in computer vision and graphics in 1996.

Feature Image Courtesy: Kiran Bhat’s Facebook

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