Robert Geist, Ph.D., and his Digital Production Arts (DPA) graduates show us what we can only imagine. Whether in award-winning films, computer games, NASCAR racing or environmental research, Geist’s work earns honors from the Academy, industry and the arts.

Leading companies snap up graduates. “There is rarely a major film produced in the U.S. today without credits for DPA faculty or alumni,” Geist says. “Disney’s Oscar-winning ‘Frozen’ is just the latest addition to our graduates’ credits.”

For the first Hobbit film, Geist worked with Weta Digital and their visual effects staff in New Zealand during his sabbatical to solve problems with map filtering. In such films, all the characters have digital doubles that are used in dangerous, violent scenes. As the camera zooms in and out on the character, there’s too much information for the computer to sample, which causes “flickering.” Without an effective filter, the computer can’t keep up. Geist helped improve their map filtering to eliminate the flickering. The film was nominated for Best Achievement in Visual Effects.

Geist says his work at Weta Digital “caused me to completely change the contents of the graphics course I teach.” One of his newest projects focuses on rendering objects that break. “In any movie,” everything is pre-broken, and they guess how it broke. Our approach is very new, and it determines how something will fracture from the physics of each situation.” The Clemson team, which includes fellow DPA Professor Jerry Tessendorf, uses a relatively new approach to modeling called peridynamics based on integral equations. Peridynamic modeling is useful for creating cracks, breaks, deformations and other irregular forms.

In the natural world, Geist draws data from environmental sensors to create digital images that show the impact of drought or proposed development for policy makers. He works with Clemson professor Jason Hallstrom, principal investigator for the Intelligent River project. Their Institute of Computational Ecology dropped sensors all over the Savannah River Basin and throughout South Carolina, supported by a $3 million National Science Foundation grant. They create digital images to show policymakers the future impact of drought or proposed development.

“We make very realistic looking scenes that drive home the points faster than any other method,” says Geist.

Geist also consults with Toyota and other firms to work on a list of problems they would like solved. Such open-ended assignments reward his sense of adventurous inquiry.

Determined to expand human experience — Head On