Can you tell us more about the award?
The technology and engineering Emmy award recognises innovative breakthrough achievements. This time our character animator software won the award. It was created around six years ago by our Adobe research group.
How did you get into animation?
Let me go back a bit. During my BUET days, I would sit and draw cartoons with Mehdi Huq, Zahid Hossain, GM Tanim and others. I would imagine by cartoon characters laughing, talking or going around with a sulky face. I would wonder how to make people see my characters full of life. It is very time consuming, tiring and painstaking to animate the drawings.
Over the last decade, computer graphics and animation has made huge strides, but only for skilled professionals. Animation is an excellent means of communication. But we have to think a bit differently to make animation user-friendly for artists, designers, engineers, amateur animators and journalists. That was the inspiration behind my PhD. I wanted to make animation as easy as sketching. I firmly believe animation will be a medium that can be used by all in the near future. We are all more or less in touch with visual diagrams or pictures regularly. Animation will let a new dimension to those still pictures.
How does your software work to bring cartoons to life in front of the camera? What sort of work can be done with this in the future?
The basic idea is animating the hand-drawn pictures. Acting in front of the camera to make animation movies is a very old concept in the industry. Quite a lot of special equipment and software is required. It is very challenging to animate a 2D picture with just a webcam, especially if it’s for a wider audience. For example, a hand-drawn character can have one eye instead of two. Or the nose may be above the head. That’s why it is quite challenging to directly animate from camera input.
Like innumerable other magical technologies of Adobe, there are so much talented and brilliant mathematicians, engineers and researchers behind the Adobe Character Animator. As part of the team, I worked on the animation effect for our app.
Did your interest in animation inspire you to study computer science and engineering? Or did you grow an interest in animation after you began studying this subject?
I would love to draw. When I was admitted to CSE, I saw it had nothing to do with drawing. I went to our department head Abul Kasem sir asking for a transfer to the architecture department. He refused outright, scolded me and sent be back to the department. I remained in CSE and today I am extremely grateful for that scolding. I had wanted a career as a professional cartoonist, but as there was hardly any scope for that in the country, I came abroad and tried to do something different.
When I went to Japan to do my PhD, I immediately got the chance to work for the Japan Science and Tech Agency, Microsoft Research US and Autodesk Research Canada. I would work 12 to 15 hours a day then. It may seem to have been hard work, but I would really enjoy myself. I never felt like it was work. You need to have your family’s full support for this, and I was lucky to have that.
In our country many students can’t quite coordinate between their passion and their profession. They don’t have the courage to pursue a career of their passion or simply don’t know how to proceed. How was it for you?
It is not an easy matter, actually. When I was doing my PhD, I would often question myself. I saw very few people choosing the path I had taken. I was always assailed by doubt. But I took the risk despite the uncertainty. I never let that sense of uncertainly disturb my work though. I focused on my work and let the doubts remain on one side.
Let me give an example. Writing a PhD thesis is no easy matter. It can be quite tedious. One lazy afternoon I jokingly told my supervisor, “How about writing my PhD thesis in the style of comics?” My supervisor agreed then and there. When I set to work, I found creating comics and writing a thesis completely different. But by then my supervisor was very into it. So with great gusto and enthusiasm, I happily filled a part of my thesis with comics, sketching and all sorts of things. And the best part is that I had to write less and do graphics and drawing more. This had a plus point. My committee members couldn’t really make many changes. But there was a huge risk involved in presenting my thesis paper in this manner. The university committee may not have accepted it. But I was fortunate and my innovative research format has inspired many in this field. Many who are not even in CSE, have read my thesis. This is the first computer science research paper in this format.
Where are you now, what are you working on? What are your plans in the days ahead with this animator software?
I am researching on new ways for presentation and storytelling, like reality sketch. These are published in important academic journals. These are projections of future products. At one time software, apps, tools and all sorts of things will be created from this. Just like Adobe Character Animator was made.
I am also working with inter-communication, digital designing, painting tools, through animation. I think this will give a dimension to future online communications.
A word of advice to those in Bangladesh who are interested to work in animation or to the young animators?
Find your own area of passion in your field of work. And continue your work with love. From my personal experience I can say there is no alternative to carry out you studies in the field which you love. I allocate 20 per cent of my time to reading research articles and books. Each one is unique. Making friends with people in different fields is very useful too. It is good to work with big problems. It opens the mind to new thinking. Try to work with people who are the best in their fields.
* This interview appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir