Microsoft Researchers Demo Graphics Advances

Microsoft this week showed off several research technologies for photo manipulation at a major conference for computer graphics researchers, and also announced its first venture into licensing some of its technologies in the games and entertainment industries.

The technology demonstrations and papers were presented by members of the Microsoft Research (MSR) division at SIGGRAPH 2007, the Association for Computing Machinery’s 34th annual international conference on computer graphics and interactive techniques, in San Diego.

Among the papers presented, researchers from MSR and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology showed off a technique they developed where, by combining a blurry digital photo with a noisy (grainy looking) digital image of the same subject, the resulting photo image is much clearer and sharper than either original picture.

“This research will help everyday digital photographers avoid one of the more common frustrations of capturing satisfactory photos under low-light conditions using a handheld camera, which is that images are often blurred, or cluttered with noise,” Microsoft  officials said in a statement.

Other papers dealt with providing improved capabilities for easily and seamlessly inserting one picture or object into another, including one technology researchers called Photo Clip Art.

That demonstration used a large library of pre-computed realistic 3D objects that can be placed into a scene to create a very natural seeming composite photo. This might have applications in products like Office, for instance, where much more realistic photo clip art could be produced for insertion into documents or presentations, according to Microsoft’s statement.

A third paper dealt with new photo matting techniques – dubbed Soft Scissors — to enable inserting an object from one photo into another without the jarring edge effects often associated with photo mattes.

All told, MSR researchers authored or co-authored 14 of the 108 papers accepted for presentation at the conference –13 percent of the total and more than any other presenting organization.

When or if these technologies will actually reach the marketplace remains uncertain, however, since the work is, after all, computer science research – not commercially-oriented research and development work such as product creation.

In the meantime, however, Microsoft has ramped up its intellectual property (IP) licensing activities around work done by MSR researchers.

At SIGGRAPH this week, Microsoft said it has licensed some of its graphics technology IP to noted New Zealand special effects firm – Weta Digital Ltd. Weta has won multiple Academy Awards for films such as the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and “King Kong.” The firm was co-founded in 1993 by several now very well known New Zealand filmmakers, including Peter Jackson and Jamie Selkirk of “Lord of the Rings” fame.

This is Microsoft’s initial foray into IP licensing with the gaming and entertainment industry, according to a company spokesperson.

The agreement involves several technologies developed by MSR. Due to confidentiality issues, however, Microsoft cannot disclose what technologies Weta has licensed.

“That they have selected some of our technologies is very rewarding,” Louis Carbonneau, Microsoft general manager of IP licensing told The license provides access to the IP as well as the source code so that licensees do not have to “start from scratch,” he said.

Suffice to say that there will be more licensing efforts to come.

“We are embarking on a much more ambitious program of licensing our graphics technologies, whether it’s to special effects studios or game developers,” he added.

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