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Victor Zordan

Associate Professor of Computer Science and Engineering
Victor Zordan
Out-of-the-Box Animation
Ranked in the Top 50 of 500 North American universities, UCR’s video game design program uses advanced tools for human motion capture, game software and 3D virtual worlds. Program leader Zordan, a very popular professor and research mentor, explores animation for new applications beyond entertainment, such as medical, vocational and educational uses to boost California’s high-tech economy.

Areas of Expertise

Areas of Expertise:
  • Computer graphics
  • Video game technology and interfaces
  • Motion-capture technology
  • 3-D animation and special effects
College: Affiliations: Press Release/Article: Profile:

Select Honors and Distinctions

  • UC Regents Faculty Fellow (2008-09)
  • UCR Teaching Innovation Award (2008)
  • UC Discovery Grant (2007)
  • UCR Omnibus Senate Grants (2007-08; 2003-04)

Research Summary

Developing cutting-edge techniques in graphics and animation with a focus on physical-based modeling and human motion


Q: Describe your research and its applications.
I do research in character motion and motion interfaces. In particular I use physics to model a character and then write controllers that allow the models to do interesting things. One example is to create characters that can respond in unpredicted conditions. If such a character can manage situations that arise on their own, games and virtual worlds can be populated with more lifelike individuals, and gameplay and realism can increase. I also work on motion interfaces where a player can engage a game or virtual world with more bandwidth by using their own body. This kind of technology is just hitting the market but in my lab we address issues that make better use of the inputs and produce higher-quality results so the technology is more general and more fun!

Q: Why is your work important?
While most of what I have been working on is in the domain of computer games, it has been shown that games are great tools for teaching and for exploration. I have recently begun using game technology to make math and science concepts more accessible to students by employing custom games that can make difficult concepts more understandable. This is really only the beginning of how we can and will use game technology to learn and better understand our world and ourselves.

Q: What are the big challenges researchers in your field are trying to answer?
In some aspects, my work in character animation is like virtual biomechanics. People in my field (including me) are asking and answering many of the same questions that biomechanics experts are asking. By making characters that move more realistically, we get to understand ourselves better. The direct product of this process is better games which is also going to improve the applications for which we can use games, e.g. training and so on.

Q: What is the biggest myth about your research on video motion capture?
The biggest myth is that video games are "kid's stuff." First, there is a tremendous amount of math and science that goes into even basic games and this means that students that want to learn about writing games must excel in math, calculus, and physics. Second, the applications of games started in entertainment — but they won't stop there. Interactive 3D (game) technology is already being used to train and help experts from emergency relief to doctors learning new surgical procedures. Third, games have driven important innovations in computer architecture because games have high demands and are willing to pay for expensive hardware. The result? Games have revolutionized PC processing by putting mini-super computers right on the desktop. So-called GPUs are available because of gamers but are used by many scientists today to tackle hard problems that require fast processing. Nope, not "kid's stuff" at all.

Q: Why do you think your research and classes are so popular?
Games and game technology is the most exciting application on our computers and mobile devices for many students. If a student is to follow their passion, then learning about computer graphics, animation and games is the clear way to go. Getting an education in these topics helps our students move to the front of the line when there are many, many applicants for a single job in the industry. Without a formal education in the topic, students can work on games as a hobby, but may not come to understand the subtleties that are required to work at the bleeding edge. Plus, even when the subject is its dullest, it is still fun because it all applies to a great end product!

Q: What movies, documentaries or TV programs have you recently found interesting and/or inspiring?
I really liked Avatar because we were transported to an entirely new world. I am so proud of the fact that our own UCR botanist, Jodie Holt, helped consult to make Pandora a beautiful but believable alien world. I also really liked Tron — the special effects and styling of these computer graphics worlds are helping to shape our modern day. With one’s imagination as the limit, we are entering some very inspiring times!

Q: How do your students inspire you?
Many of our students do not have the same role models and histories as those that attend more prestigious institutions. But that doesn't mean they are less intelligent or less insightful. It usually means they see the world through their own lens. My students inspire me by sharing with me the way in which they see the world — at times, it takes me so off guard. It keeps me on my toes and teaches me not to be fixed on my own perceptions because they are exactly that, my own perceptions.

Q: If you had unlimited resources and no constraints, what would you do to further your research?
I think we are ready to put computers in control of more aspects of our environment to help simplify our lives. I see this in two ways. First, smart spaces can employ natural-speech systems to “listen” passively and aid us by applying automated, directed control over aspects of our environment. Second, through direct brain interfaces computer systems can be instructed through pure thought. The basic technologies are already available to us today, but we need to put forth the effort to make them practical. If I could duplicate myself (as I see my time as one of my most limited resources), I would start a center for exploring techniques where computers better understand us and our desires.

Q: What is it about UCR that makes this a great place to do your research?
UCR is in a period of tremendous growth and we are a rising star that others are coming to know and appreciate. The best part about this is that we can take risks and really wow people with our innovation. The result? If we push hard, we turn heads. We've got a chance to change things and that is very exciting!
Victor Zordan “Interactive 3D (game) technology is already being used to train and help experts from emergency relief to doctors learning new surgical procedures. Nope, not ‘kid's stuff’ at all.”

—Victor Zordan
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