And the Oscar goes to … Larry Hornbeck

Victor Mateevitsi at the Scientific and Technical Awards given Feb. 8 by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Victor Mateevitsi attends the Scientific and Technical Academy Awards with friend Vasia Rigou.

UIC graduate student Victor Mateevitsi left the Electronic Visualization Lab behind recently to hobnob in Hollywood with celebrities like Larry Hornbeck and David W. Gray.

Never heard of them? Then you’re probably not an engineer.

Hornbeck and Gray — celebrities in the engineering world, Mateevitsi says — were among the winners at the Scientific and Technical Awards given Feb. 8 by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

“It’s the Oscars for the engineers who work in the movie industry,” said Mateevitsi, a doctoral student in computer science. “It was a great event, filled with amazing accomplishments from the best minds in the industry.”

Mateevitsi nabbed his spot on the guest list after interning with Pixar two years ago. His internship was funded by the Academy’s Science and Technology Council. “They want to find the top engineering students and make sure they stay in the movie industry,” he said. “They’re afraid that Google, Facebook and other tech companies are taking all the talent.”

Dressed in his best, Mateevitsi celebrated the winners of 59 awards that recognize the behind-the-scenes storytellers. Actors Miles Teller (“Whiplash”) and Margot Robbie (“The Wolf of Wall Street”) hosted the event.

“They were really funny — they would read the description of the really technical awards and be like, ‘OK, we have no idea what we just described, but it sounds really cool,’” he said.

Top honorees included Gray, a Dolby executive honored for his technological contributions to the field, and Hornbeck, who received an Oscar statuette for his invention of digital micromirror technology used in movie projection.

“It revolutionized the way we look at movies,” Mateevitsi said. “It makes sure that if you’re going to watch a movie, you’re going to watch it in the same colors and setup that the director wanted it to be seen in.”

A highlight came toward the end of the ceremony, Mateevitsi said, when the first female honoree of the night received an award. Colette Mullenhoff, one of four winners recognized for their Industrial Light & Magic Shape Sculpting System, received a standing ovation as she made her way to the podium.

“Unfortunately, only men were getting awards and when she got on stage, everyone started cheering for five or 10 minutes,” he said. “She couldn’t even talk because everybody was so happy. It was sending a message that we should work harder to get more female producers, directors and engineers into the industry.”

When Mateevitsi finishes his doctoral work at UIC in December, he hopes to find a research career, possibly with the movie industry.  “I’d definitely be interested in creating the next generation of tools and methods for the film industry,” he said.

He’s working on a project with UIC’s Electronic Visualization Lab and the department of pathology to create a tiled wall that helps doctors collaborate when looking at specimens through microscopes.

“We’re taking the digital image and making it run on a wall of monitors so that you can see the image in really high resolution,” Mateevitsi said. “There’s more pixels, more details. You can collaborate and interact with the image in more natural ways by just pointing at it.”

His thesis focuses on his SpiderSense project, a wearable technology Mateevitsi designed with collaborators Brad Haggadone and Brian Kunzer. The suit allows users to sense obstacles around them without seeing them.

The suit has been featured in Crain’s Chicago Business, Forbes, Gizmag, Discovery Channel Canada, New York Daily News and National Geographic Kids.

“I’m looking at the effect of wearable technology and systems like SpiderSense that interact with your body,” he said. “What effects does it have on people and how do people react to that type of feedback?”

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