Department of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering in the College of Engineering at the University of Michigan


CLaSP alumnus wins 2nd Academy Award for technical achievements in filmmaking

Posted: January 28, 2018

CLaSP alumnus wins 2nd Academy Award for technical achievements in filmmaking

Climate & Space is very pleased to report that department alumnus and National Advisory Board member, Joe Mancewicz, has been selected to receive a second Technical Achievement Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

The award is in recognition for the work of Mr. Mancewicz, along with associates Matt Derksen and Hans Rijpkema, on a proprietary software system for use in film animation.

From the Academy release:


“…To Joe Mancewicz, Matt Derksen and Hans Rijpkema for the design, architecture and implementation of the Rhythm & Hues Construction Kit rigging system.

This toolset provides a novel approach to character rigging that features topological independence, continuously editable rigs and deformation workflows with shape-preserving surface relaxation, enabling fifteen years of improvements to production efficiency and animation quality.”

“Character Rigging,” says Mr. Mancewicz, “is the process of making a static polygonal model animatable, providing a virtual skeleton, deformations to simulate muscles and skin moved by that skeleton, and controls that an animator can use to animate the character.”

He previously won a Technical Achievement Award in 2014 in recognition of the architecture and core engineering on the Rhythm & Hues Voodoo proprietary animation software.

Mr. Mancewicz initially came to Climate & Space (then AOSS) through a summer REU program along with future CLaSP professors Michael Liemohn and Aaron Ridley. He received his MS from in 1995, and was working toward a Ph.D under Professor (Emerita) Janet Kozyra and Professor (Emeritus) Andrew Nagy when he began to have second thoughts.

“While working with plasma wave ray-tracing code, I'd written some 3D visualization tools to investigate the data a little more intuitively. Janet asked if there was anything else along those lines that I'd be interested in doing, and I blurted out that I'd always wanted to work for ILM (Industrial Light and Magic).”

As it happened, Professor Nagy had a connection the visual effects field though the son of a former student, who helped Joe prepare himself to enter the film industry.
“I worked the next year in the U-M Naval Architecture VR Lab, learning about graphics.”

After he left CLaSP, Joe moved to Los Angeles and began doing character and visual effects animation for film and commercials, eventually moving into the design and development of new visualization software applications for the special effects industry.

He was an integral part of the special effects team that contributed to two movies winning Academy Awards in this category: The Golden Compass (2007); and The Life of Pi (2012).

Joe worked in the film industry for 18 years, leaving in 2015 to join the Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence group at Nvidia

Eventually, Professor Liemohn reached out to ask if Mr. Mancewicz might be interested in serving on the Climate & Space National Advisory Board. “I thought it would be interesting to bring a perspective of someone who was educated in CLaSP but went on to quite different industries,” said Joe.

He returned in 2014 as the department Alumnus of the Year and shared his experiences with students and faculty.

“My time at CLaSP provided me with the education, support, and confidence to head off into and succeed in a seemingly unrelated field.”

Congratulations, Joe!