Columbia Engineering Professor Eitan Grinspun’s Research Animates Disney’s Moana

In our Extreme Engineering series, former NASA astronaut Professor Michael Massimino joins Eitan Grinspun in the Computer Graphics lab to take a look at extremely creative computing.

Looming above the intersection of 42nd Street and 8th Avenue, across from New York City’s Port Authority Bus Terminal, is an enormous video screen advertising the opening of Disney’s new animated film, Moana, which opens on November 23rd. In these two-story scenes, every time Maui, the Hawaiian demigod and one of the lead characters, tosses his mane of hair, Columbia Engineering Professor Eitan Grinspun’s work, which captures the laws of motion in computer algorithms, is on display. 

Grinspun, who is associate professor of computer science and director of Columbia’s Computer Graphics Group, looks at the rules of motion and at materials and how they behave to develop computer programs to animate Hollywood movies and create new tools for graphic designers.

Named to Popular Science’s “Brilliant Ten” for helping to create a new field of geometry, Grinspun and his team are developing fundamental computational models for physical simulation, computer animation, and geometrical modeling. The technologies developed by his laboratory are used at film studios such as Disney, Pixar and Lucasfilm to animate, for example, the way a character’s hair or clothing moves.

Grinspun’s computer programs are also used for medical research and to study problems involving flexible strands, liquids, and even icicles.

Beyond the movies, his research could have implications for the way transoceanic communications cables are laid down or for the nanoscale wiring for stretchable electronics.

—By Joanne Hvala

500 W. 120th St., Mudd 510, New York, NY 10027    212-854-2993