Media Arts and Technologies Professor Theodore Kim Receives Academy Award


Olivia Priedite

At a research university like the University of California, Santa Barbara, we aren’t too shocked that among our faculty are five Nobel laureates. Once an Academy Award winner is thrown into the mix, people get interested.

Professor Theodore Kim will receive an Academy Award for Technical Achievement for his research that produced Wavelet Turbulence, a technique that manipulates thousands of small graphic details to produce extremely real smoke-simulations. His research has resulted in the simulation of smoke for various blasts, eruptions and other pyrotechnics.

According to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, “This technique allowed for fast, art–directable creation of highly detailed gas simulation, making it easier for the artist to control the appearance these effects in the final image.” Professor Kim’s research and methods of can be seen in over 26 films, including “Super 8,” “Alice In Wonderland,” “Sherlock Holmes,” and “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.”

On Saturday, Feb. 9, Professor Kim and his colleagues Nils Thuerey, Dr. Markus Gross, and Doug James will be presented an Academy Award for the invention, publication and dissemination of Wavelet Turbulence software. In an interview with George Foulsham of UCSB Public Affairs, Kim explains, “Usually academics do not receive this award, but we looked at the past academics who have received the award and it turns out if you have about a dozen to twenty movies in which your work was used then that seems about the threshold that people start to consider you for this award.”

Professor Kim is an associate professor in the Media Arts and Technology Program, beginning in 2011. He received his Ph.D. in computer science from the University of North Carolina and joined UCSB after serving as an assistant professor in computer science at the University of Saskatchewan. Theodore Kim has found a perfect fit in the Media Arts and Technology department.

“Growing up there was a little bit of a tension between do I want to program a computer? Or do I want to do something a little bit more artistic? This industry I suppose is a nice meeting of these two features,” Kim stated to UCSB Public Affairs. His talents for computer science and affinity for pleasing the eye aesthetically have led to his contributions to many major motion pictures.

In his interview with UCSB Public Affairs, Kim said his wavelet turbulence “enables artists to get the look that they wanted for fireballs or for volcanic explosions in enough time that it fit into their work flow.” Unlike other Academy Awards presented for a film or technology created in 2012, Kim’s work will be recognized for its lengthy achievement and influence on the world of film. On Feb. 9, two weeks earlier than the Oscars, Professor Kim and 25 other recipients will be recognized for their contribution to motion pictures at the Scientific and Technical Awards Presentation at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Keep an eye out for Professor Kim’s work in the future. This year, Wavelet Turbulence will be used in “Man of Steel” and “Iron Man 3.” Next time you head to the movie theater, keep in mind that this talented Gaucho may have played a role in your explosive cinematic experience.