U Grad Wins Academy Award

February 9, 2015

University of Utah computer science graduate Colette Mullenhoff received two honors during a Hollywood awards banquet Feb. 7: She won an Academy Award, and she got the biggest applause of the night.

That’s because Mullenhoff, who along with three others who won a technical Oscar for their work on a digital face-sculpting system, was the only woman to win an Academy Award that evening, according to Hollywood trade paper, Variety.

“We’re breaking down barriers here,” the awards co-host, actor Miles Teller (“Whiplash”), joked about Mullenhoff’s win.

Mullenhoff, who earned a master’s in computer science from the U in 1998, is a member of the famed Northern California special effects team, Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), the group started by filmmaker George Lucas that has created the visual effects for films from the “Star Wars” trilogy to the recent “Star Trek” movies.

ILM’s Shape Sculpting System — which was developed by Mullenhoff, Cary Phillips, Nicolas Popravka and Philip Peterson — is digital animation software that allows artists to change the shape or face of a CGI character on the fly so they can see the results instantly. Mulllenhoff’s master’s thesis was titled Physically-Based B-Spline Surface Sculpting, and demonstrates “a set of physically-based design tools for interactive surface sculpting.”

The Academy’s Scientific & Technical Awards, which honor technical achievements in filmmaking, were held at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Hollywood in advance of the 87th Annual Academy Awards on Feb. 22.

Read more about the awards . . .


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