Netflix Taps Google, USC Researcher Paul Debevec to Lead VFX, Graphics R&D

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Paul Debevec, a longtime graphics researcher at USC and a recent member of the Google Research team, has joined Netflix as director of research, a newly created role on the streamer’s Data Science and Engineering team.

Debevec will oversee R&D around new technologies in computer vision, computer graphics and machine learning with applications across multiple areas of production, including VFX, virtual production and animation. He also is tasked with building a team that brings together data and expertise from Netflix productions worldwide “to help creative partners develop new storytelling capabilities,” according to the company.

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Debevec will continue serving as an adjunct research professor of computer science at USC’s Viterbi School of Engineering in the Vision and Graphics Laboratory. He’s worked at USC since 2000.

As a researcher at USC, Debevec pioneered techniques for illuminating computer-generated objects with measurements of real-world illumination. Techniques from his research, known as HDRI and Image-Based Lighting, have been used in films including “The Matrix” sequels, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “Terminator: Salvation,” “District 9” and James Cameron’s “Avatar.” Other films that have used his developments in computer imaging to create photoreal digital actors include “The Avengers,” “Oblivion,” “Ender’s Game,” “Gravity,” “Maleficent,” “Spider-Man 3” and “King Kong.”

Debevec worked at Google from 2016 until June 2021, most recently as senior staff scientist for Google Research and previously as a staff engineer for Google VR.

He is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and was a member of the AMPAS Science and Technology Council from 2012-18. He is a fellow of the Visual Effects Society and a member of ACM SIGGRAPH.

Debevec also worked with the Smithsonian Institution to scan a 3D model of President Barack Obama at the White House. He holds degrees in math and computer engineering from the University of Michigan and a PhD in computer science from UC Berkeley.

His 1996 doctoral thesis with Prof. Jitendra Malik presented Façade, an image-based modeling system for creating virtual cinematography of architectural scenes using new techniques for photogrammetry and image-based rendering. Using Façade, Debevec directed a photorealistic fly-around of the Berkeley campus for his 1997 film, “The Campanile Movie,” whose techniques were later used to create the Oscar-winning virtual backgrounds in the “bullet time” shots in the first “The Matrix” movie.

Netflix’s hiring of Debevec was previously reported by THR.

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