Paul Debevec

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Adjunct Research Professor of Computer Science


  • 1996, Doctoral Degree, Computer Science, University of California - Berkeley
  • 1992, Bachelor's Degree, Mathematics, University of Michigan
  • 1992, Bachelor's Degree, Computer Engineering, University of Michigan


Paul Debevec is Chief Visual Officer and leads the Graphics Laboratory at the University of Southern California's Institute for Creative Technologies, and is a Research Professor in the USC Computer Science Department. He earned degrees in Math and Computer Engineering at the University of Michigan in 1992 and a Ph.D. in Computer Science from UC Berkeley in 1996. In 1991, he combined techniques from computer vision and computer graphics to create an image-based model of a Chevette automobile from photographs. At Interval Research Corporation he contributed to Michael Naimark's Immersion '94 virtual exploration of Banff National forest and collaborated with Golan Levin on the interactive art installation Rouen Revisited.

Debevec's Ph.D. thesis with Prof. Jitendra Malik presented Façade, an image-based modeling system for creating virtual cinematography of architectural scenes using new techniques for photogrammetry and image-based rendering. Using Façade he directed a photorealistic fly-around of the Berkeley campus for his 1997 film The Campanile Movie whose techniques were later used to create the Academy Award-winning virtual backgrounds in the "bullet time" shots in the 1999 film The Matrix.

Following his Ph.D, Debevec pioneered techniques for illuminating computer-generated objects with measurements of real-world illumination. His 1999 film Fiat Lux rendered towering monoliths and gleaming spheres into a photorealistic reconstruction of St. Peter's Basilica, realistically illuminated by the light that was actually there. Techniques from this research known as HDRI and Image-Based Lighting have been used to dramatic effect in films such as the The Matrix sequels, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Terminator: Salvation, District 9, and Avatar. Debevec leads the design of HDR Shop, an early high dynamic range image editing program for visual effects production, and co-authored the 2005 book High Dynamic Range Imaging, now in its second edition. Debevec's 2004 film The Parthenon used 3D scanning, inverse global illumination, HDRI, and image-based lighting to virtually reunite the Parthenon and its sculptures, contributing to depictions of the Parthenon's history for the 2004 Olympics, NHK televison, PBS's NOVA, National Geographic, the IMAX film Greece: Secrets of the Past, and The Louvre.

At USC ICT Debevec has led the development of several Light Stage systems that capture and simulate how people and objects appear under real-world illumination. Early Light Stage processes have been used by Sony Pictures Imageworks, WETA Digital, and Digital Domain to create photoreal digital actors in award-winning visual effects in Spider-Man 2 and King Kong, Superman Returns, Spider-Man 3,Hancock, and the The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. The most recent light stage process based onpolarized gradient illumination has been used in numerous films including James Cameron's Avatar, The Avengers, Oblivion, Ender's Game, Gravity, and Maleficent. This high resolution facial scanning process was used in 2008's Digital Emily project, a collaboration with Image Metrics which produced one of the first digital facial performances to cross the "Uncanny Valley", and Digital Ira, a collaboration withActivision which has produced one of the earliest photoreal real-time digital characters.

Collaborating with virtual reality pioneer Mark Bolas, Debevec has developed glasses-free 3D displays involving spinning display surfaces and video projector arrays for applications such as 3D Teleconferencing and, in collaboration with USC's Shoah Foundation, preserving the testimony of survivors of the Holocaust.

In 2001 Debevec received ACM SIGGRAPH's first Significant New Researcher Award for "Creative and Innovative Work in the Field of Image-Based Modeling and Rendering", in 2002 was named one of the world's top 100 young innovators by MIT's Technology Review magazine, and in 2005 received aGilbreth Lectureship from the National Academy of Engineering. In 2005 Debevec received the Special Award for a Distinguished Professional Career in Animation/VFX from the Mundos Digitales Festival in A Coruna, Spain and in 2009 received the "Visionary Award for VFX" at the 3rd Annual Awards for the Electronic and Animated Arts.

In February 2010, Debevec received a Scientific and Engineering Academy Award® for "the design and engineering of the Light Stage capture devices and the image-based facial rendering system developed for character relighting in motion pictures" with Tim Hawkins, John Monos, and Mark Sagar. In 2014, he was profiled in The New Yorker magazine's "Pixel Perfect: The Scientist Behind the Digital Cloning of Actors"article by Margaret Talbot. He also recently worked with the Smithsonian Institution to scan a 3D model of President Barack Obama.

Debevec is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, a co-chair of the AMPAS Science and Technology Council, the Visual Effects Society, and ACM SIGGRAPH. He chaired the SIGGRAPH 2007 Computer Animation Festival and co-chaired Pacific Graphics 2006 and the 2002 Eurographics Workshop on Rendering. From 2008 to 2014, he served on the Executive Committee and as Vice-President of ACM SIGGRAPH.

Research Summary

Computer Graphics, Computer Vision, 3D Displays, Reflectometry, Computer Animation, Computational Photography, Image Processing, Photogrammetry


  • 2011 8th IEEE International Workshop on Projector-Camera Systems Best Paper Award
  • 2011 RTT Emerging Technology Contest 2011 Human Environments People's Choice Award
  • 2010 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Academy Award (Scientific and Engineering)
  • 2009 American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Academy Award for Best Visual Effects for "Avatar"
  • 2009 Montreal's National Animation and Design Centre
  • 2009 3D World Magazine Seven CGI Pioneers
  • 2009 National Animation and Design Centre, Montreal Dedicated Classroom
  • 2009 3rd Annual Awards for the Electronic and Animated Arts Visionary VFX "Elan" award
  • 2008 American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Academy Award for Best Visual Effects for "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
  • 2007 ACM SIGGRAPH Best Emerging Technology
  • 2007 SIGGRAPH Emerging Technologies Venue Best of Show Award
  • 2007 ComputerWorld Magazine ComputerWorld 40 under 40
  • 2006 American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Academy Award Nomination for Best Visual Effects for "Superman Returns"
  • 2005 American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Academy Award for Best Visual Effects for "King Kong"
  • 2005 Visual Effects Society Nomination for Best Visual Effects in a Special Venue Film for "Greece: Secrets of the Past"
  • 2005 National Academy of Engineering Lilian Gilbreth Lectureship
  • 2004 American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Academy Award for Best Visual Effects for "Spider-Man 2"
  • 2004 Mundos Digitales Conference Computer Graphics Lifetime Achievement Award
  • 2002 MIT Technology Review TR100 Award
  • 2001 ACM SIGGRAPH Significant New Researcher Award
  • 2000 3D Design Big Kahuna Award, Photorealism category
  • 2000 Ars Electronica, Honorable Mention
  • 2000 Imagina Prix Pixel-INA, 2nd place, Science Category
  • 1999 MMCA Multimedia Grand Prix, 1st place, Technical Art category
  • 1997 MMCA Multimedia Grand Prix, 1st place, Industry category
  • Thomas Lord Department of Computer Science

  • ICT 4000
  • Institute For Creative Technologies
  • 12015 Waterfront Drive Los Angeles, CA 90094-2536
  • USC Mail Code: NA

Contact Information
  • (310) 574-7809


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