3-Minute Interview: Rod Fedkiw

The associate professor of computer science at Stanford was responsible for designing liquid effects used in movies like “Evan Almighty,” “Terminator 3,” and “Pirates of the Caribbean.” Fedkiw is receiving an Academy Award for improving Hollywood’s special effects.

How has your invention influenced Hollywood’s capabilities? The particle level set method really improves the manner in which liquids can be treated both on and off the big screen. We used it early on for liquid terminators in Terminator 3, a skeleton drinking wine out of a bottle in the first “Pirates” movie. But its real power is in how the method automatically generates spray particles and bubbles, allowing for really cool and automatic use for larger bodies of water.

Are there other applications of your invention besides film? Yes, the original work was funded in part by the Office of Naval Research. We’ve used it a lot to study the physical behavior of liquids.

How does it feel having your invention seen by so many people? It’s pretty cool. In fact, technology in film may be one of the biggest contributors to scientific development in our country. Consider how many Star Wars fans were motivated by films as kids, became really interested in technology, and grew up to be scientists and engineers.

Is it strange getting an Academy Award as a scientist? Given that I grew up more of an athlete than an academic, it’s still strange even being a scientist.

Are you becoming a popular professor at Stanford now that you are involved in movies? A couple of years ago George Lucas referred to me as “the water guy.” My friends turned this into “the waterboy,” as in the Adam Sandler movie, and had a blast making fun of me.

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