Disney Research, The Walt Disney Company’s research and science arm, has been inventing and innovating technologies behind the scenes for nearly a decade. With offices in Zurich, Pittsburgh and Los Angeles, the team has filed hundreds of patents and contributed to powering Disney experiences—whether they be films, attractions, merchandise or anything in between.
For Jon Snoddy, studio executive, Walt Disney Imagineering Advanced Development and Disney Research, and team, it’s all about maintaining a creative and technologically innovative rhythm for the entire Company.
“This is an amazing company to be developing technology in because the markets we are in are so diverse,” Snoddy said. “We do everything in the form of entertainment.”
This summer, Disney Research released its latest set of papers before SIGGRAPH, the world’s largest and most influential annual event in computer graphics and interactive techniques. In the mix were several projects that, according to Snoddy, will push the state of the art forward, including a single camera that can capture high-quality facial performance. This device will be a key component of visual effects for movies and computer games, as it is able to unobtrusively capture facial expressions with the robustness of traditional multi-view methods.
Another technology Snoddy highlights is software that adds a new level of control to industrial knitting machines. This invention will allow for the creation of personalized products like never before, such as custom dolls and other items. Knitting machines are almost always used to manufacture many of the same objects, but now, they can create a variety of custom 3-D shapes.
Disney Research also revealed details pertaining to a design tool that transforms objects into intricate works of arts; an animation technique that produces more realistic characters; a method that helps animators capture subtle details of eyes with a single facial scan; and a technique that consistently replicates a 3-D printed object’s feel, no matter what material or printer is used.
Alongside its world-class scientific researchers, the Disney Research team pushes technological boundaries with its engineers, animators, artists and writers.
“We have a unique situation with our research group because we have the ability to surround our researchers with people who are just as good at the content side of what they do as our researchers are with the science,” Snoddy said. “By combining art and science together, we can make leaps that would be impossible if either group tried to do things by itself.”
What’s on the horizon for Disney Research? Snoddy says a major area of focus for Disney Research is interactive storytelling.
“It’s an emerging art form,” he added. “We continue to author new ways for people to experience our characters. That’s something we’re doing a lot of work in, and its showing great promise.”