Dr Neill Campbell Awarded Prestigious Royal Society Industry Fellowship

CAMERA Dr Neill Campbell Awarded Prestigious Royal Society Industry Fellowship

CAMERA is delighted to announce that Dr Neill Campbell has been awarded an Industry Fellowship from the Royal Society. This Award is given in recognition of Dr Campbell’s significant contribution to computer science and the use of machine learning to support the creative industries.

We caught up with Dr Campbell to find out a bit more about this exciting award.

Can you briefly describe your research?

I work on understanding the science behind machine learning (computers teaching themselves from examples) and visual computing (computers interpreting and generating images and videos), and on how we can use these technologies to provide “intelligent software tools” that are intuitive for people to use.

My fellowship looks at the creative industries, in particular artists working on post production and visual effects for films, and I work with a world leading company (Foundry) to help them produce “smarter” software.

What are the main challenges of this research?

The two critical questions we are hoping to answer are:

1) How can we automate without restricting creativity?

That is, how can we remove the boring and repetitive actions while still leaving people with the artistic freedom to create anything they would like?

2) Can software learn to be easier to use?

Many powerful software packages, for example image and video editing tools, have highly complex interfaces taking months or years of training to create high quality outputs. Even when do we learn how to use the different tools, we often find ourselves repeating the same actions again-and-again. We would like to turn this effort the other way around and have the software learn to be easier to use, with intuitive interfaces that automatically predict repetitive tasks and perform them for us.

Can you tell us a bit more about the Industry Fellowship?

The Industry Fellowship is an exciting scheme since, apart from supporting my theoretical work, it offers the opportunity to use my research for a range of interesting industrial applications. In addition, it also provides the chance for me to gain a better understanding of the challenges faced by the creative industries and how they can inform directions for future investigation. From my point of view, the two-way exchange of ideas and bringing academic research and industrial applications closer together is the key motivation.

How will the award support your work?

The award provides me with time to focus on detailed research questions (along with my research group) and to spend time with the research and development team at the Foundry to translate our findings into real-world products. A really enjoyable part of this is the opportunities to meet with the Foundry’s clients and artists to see how they will use the new tools we develop and how we can help solve new problems. I feel we often think of academic research as being an individual endeavour but increasingly I believe we will see advances coming from multi-disciplinary teams. The fact that the outputs will be seen and enjoyed by millions of people is also very inspiring and its very motivating to see the passion and dedication of the creative and technical groups working together.

What are you hoping will be real world impact of this work?

As an audience, we have an increasing demand for “cinematic” experiences in all media forms including; film, television, computer games, virtual and augmented reality. This means that high quality visual effects are no longer reserved exclusively for big budget Hollywood films. But this quality comes at a price. The software used by the visual effects industry is very powerful but difficult to use. Even for professionals, it takes years of training and many person years to create beautiful effects. This means hundreds of highly trained artists have to put in very long hours; only the biggest films can afford this expense.

This is where our work comes in! Our goal is to make new advanced machine learning technologies combined with specialist visual effects knowledge to accelerate the creative process. Unlike any existing tool, our unique software will learn from the artists as it is used, becoming smarter all the time. This means artists can obtain higher quality outputs in less time. They will be able to spend more time on creative and expressive tasks and not on the repetitive ones.

In the long term, we hope this software will also let home users to generate quality video effects without specialist training. We can all create exciting special effects for our videos or characters for virtual reality games!

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