‘Anti-Racism’ Infographic Research Seminar Highlights Industry’s Overreliance on White Skin


A computer graphics expert has pointed out the differences between white and black skin tones for computer algorithms, saying not only “manuals shouldn’t be written only by white people”, but the CGI industry is too dependent on the identification and representation of white skin tones. and does not properly render darker tones.

The Barnard Computational Science Center live event featured former Pixar research scientist Theodore Kim. He has since left the company and became an associate professor of computer science at Yale, where “he studies biomechanical solids, fluid dynamics, and some geometry topics.”

His site lists career achievements that include “Cars 3”, “Coco”, “Incredibles 2”, and “Toy Story 4”.

Kim’s slideshow presentation first introduced the “usual” type of themes as seen in any standard DEI presentation. He described systemic racism as the underlying “insidious biases” and is very open to better hiring practices.

However, he then got technical on the argument and backed up his arguments with data.

In the first part of his presentation, Theodore Kim explored how a 2001 technical paper titled “A Practical Model for Underground Light Transport” influenced the special effects industry in the decades that followed.

His central thesis in this section is that the rendering technique for underground scattering only speaks to skin radiance for white people. However, when dealing with black skin, “specular reflection” must be used, a distinct mode of light transport.

Kim cited the example of 2002’s Lord of the Rings The Two Towers and the special effects used on Gollum that made him extremely white in appearance like what was hot at the time. From there, he gave a basic timeline of how, with few exceptions, depictions of skin as it pertained to progress in the field showed white skin as a defect.

He even specifically pointed to Pixar’s own Renderman as demonstrating this practice.

The question posed by moderator Dr Saima Akhtar is an “interdisciplinary question” with what she has seen in the history of art and architecture: “I am curious to know what you think of the program of computer graphics or computer science curriculum as it relates to the study of computer science.Do you think as it stands it can adhere to the kind of interests you have put forth in this presentation, or do you suggest do you want it to be redesigned?

Theodore Kim: “I think teaching needs to be rethought. Not bad. Like, I was even looking at textbooks that existed. And you look at all the computer graphics textbooks, and they’re all written by So go get a textbook infographic that has a person of color on the list of authors. We found one. Imagine how that is reflected in the content itself.

In an earlier part of the Q&A section, Kim said that Pixar’s “Soul” needed to hire outside help to animate the film’s black protagonists, due to the particular direction taken by the standard lighting models. industry in previous years.

The stated goal of the Global Anti-Racism Infographic Research Seminar is “to lower the barrier of entry while increasing the level of awareness and excitement,” according to Rebecca Wright’s opening remarks.

This is a series of lectures aimed at understanding the ethical and social implications of computers and their applications. This is part of the larger framework of promoting more diversity and inclusion.


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