The life of honored applied mathematician/UCLA professor/entrepreneur Dr. Stan Osher is entwined with the letter O. Why? Here are a few reasons: 1) Obviously, O is the first letter of his last name. 2) When people learn of Osher’s algorithms that underlie crime scene investigation (for example, the LA Four attack on Reginald Denny), medical technology (ultrasounds), visual effects (the abundant water in Poseidon), and animation (the snow in Frozen), they exclaim, “Oh! He did that?!” 3) Osher’s proteges win Oscars. As you might have noticed, Oscar begins with the letter O, too.
As far as this readership is concerned, the big O is for Oscar. Osher interfaces with Oscars (as in, the Academy Awards) through the work of his former students and current devotees. In short, the third party implementation of Osher’s findings lead to multiple Oscar wins and nominations.
Historically speaking, Osher is the co-inventor (along with James Sethian) of the level set method, which is too complicated for the LA Animation Examiner to describe. She turns to Osher for help.
“The level set method is a mathematical foundation useful in locating and following the movement of shapes, including complicated ones, such as [those of] a [movie] scene with many air bubbles in water, allowing the bubbles to split and merge, without emotional involvement of the animator. It is very useful in computer graphics, computer vision, and image and video processing, including 3D animation, digital criminal investigations, and MRI’s,” says Osher.
Osher is the winner of the 2014 Gauss Prize, the highest honor in applied math. In press related to the Prize, Osher calls himself the Barry Manilow of math, because he writes the algorithms that make computers sing.
Is he also the orchestrator of Oscar? Observe the names and achievements of his followers:
1) Ron Fedkiw – Osher was Fedkiw’s Ph.D. advisor at UCLA. The duo collaborated on research that led to published and highly cited scholarly papers. In addition to his professorial post at Stanford, Fedkiw is a two-time Oscar winning visual effects consultant for Industrial Light and Magic (ILM). On February 7 in Beverly Hills, Fedkiw accepted a 2015 Technical Achievement Academy Award for the ILM PhysBAM Destruction System. In 2008, he snagged a Scientific and Engineering Oscar for the ILM Fluid Simulation System.
2) Ken Museth – While not a student of Osher, Museth is among Osher’s dedicated fan base. Museth is a leading expert in efficient computer algorithms and data structures that allow the application of Osher’s celebrated level set method to problems requiring extreme resolution.
Museth sings Osher’s praises thus: “Contemporary visual effects would not exist, as audiences know it, without the mathematical contributions of Stan Osher.”
Museth, a former professor in computer graphics and current employee at DreamWorks Animation, retrieved a 2015 Technical Achievement Oscar award for the creation of OpenVDB.
Museth describes his own breakthrough as follows: “Open VDB is software that sets a new standard for the manifestation of high resolution visual effects, including water, smoke, fire, explosions, and yes, you guessed it: level sets! In fact, OpenVDB, and its predecessor VDB, has (to date) been used in over 70 theatrical feature films, including all of the 2015 Oscar nominated titles for best visual effects.”
3) Rob Bridson – Bridson is the grand-student of Osher; his Stanford Ph.D. mentor was Ron Fedkiw. Bridson, who often collaborates with WETA Digital (director Peter Jackson’s company), bagged a 2015 Technical Achievement Award from the Academy ‘for early conceptualization of sparse-tiled voxel data structures and their application to modeling and simulation’ (according to Bridson’s IMDb.com profile). The LA Animation Examiner is unable to explain the aforementioned in layman’s terms; therefore, she will not attempt it.
4) Doug Roble – Doug Roble is a veteran Osher disciple and visual effects dynamo, whose Oscar gold landed in two previous years. In 2008, Roble received a Scientific and Engineering Academy Award for the development of Digital Domain’s fluid simulation system. In 1999, Roble was the winner of an Academy Technical Achievement Award ‘for his contribution to tracking technology, plus the design and implementation of the TRACK system for camera position calculation and scene reconstruction’ (as per Roble’s IMDb biography). For clarification of this accomplishment, please use Google. The LA Animation Examiner falls short on high tech tutelage.
5) Ido Ostrowsky – Ostrowsky is a 2015 Oscar nominee and the one to watch in the upcoming, televised Oscar ceremony on Sunday, February 22! He is not a visual effects and animation expert, but he has multiple O factors in his favor: A) He is Osher’s second cousin (by marriage) and producer of critical darling The Imitation Game; B) The Imitation Game is the true tale of a storied Osher forerunner, applied mathematician Alan Turing; C) Like Osher, Ostrowsky’s last name begins with the letter O; D) He matriculated at UCLA, Osher’s employer of over 30 years; E) The alliteration of Osher, Ostrowsky, and Oscar simply sounds right. In the LA Animation Examiner’s opinion, it foreshadows an Oscar win. In O factor terms, it very likely equals . . . another ovation.
At the moment, Stan Osher is busy as a 3D printing pioneer. To learn more about his research and discoveries see http://www.levelset.com and the corresponding YouTube videos (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qHa2c0L9zz4).