Penn Student Has Sights on Hollywood

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Media Contact:Jeanne Leong | | 215-573-8151October 1, 2013

When Disney Animation Studios releases its next feature film in November, the life-like quality of the images in the movie will have been produced, in part, through the work of a student at the University of Pennsylvania.

In animated movies, actions such as wind blowing through hair, billowing smoke or ripples in ocean water are based on real physics.

As an intern at Disney in Burbank, Calif., this summer, Ritvik Menon, a senior in a dual degree program offered through Penn’s Wharton School and the School of Engineering and Applied Science, worked on creating software tools for animation artists.

During Menon’s 12-week internship, he developed plug-in tools for 3D modeling software to help artists create more realistic cloth and hair simulations for Disney’s animated characters.

“A lot of the problems that artists face are solved by technical people who work closely with them,” says Menon. “I would develop my product, see what the feedback is from the artist, and we would keep iterating to make it better suit their needs.”

For Menon, the development of the tool was educational technologically and process-wise.

“Sometimes for me, as a technology guy, I might not know exactly what an artist’s process is and what their workflow might be,” Menon explains. “So I have to work closely with them to make sure my software fits exactly into that creative process.”

Within a few weeks, Menon created a tool that helped fix problems that occurred with cloth and hair simulations.

“Halfway through my internship, I gave a demo of my tool to the artists” Menon says. “They started using it immediately.”

Now, the artists can quickly correct the problem by simply clicking on “Tools” and then clicking on the program Menon created.

Menon’s interest in computer animation began in high school in Manama, Bahrain, where he spent many hours on graphic design, while also studying his favorite subjects: science, math and physics. His work in computer animation allows him to meld all his interests.

“Writing code to make visually stunning images, that’s my passion,” says Menon. “I feel like when you use code to do it you’re not limited by anything at all. It’s your imagination that can take you anywhere you want to go.”

After the internship working at Disney, Menon is certain that he’d like to pursue a career in computer graphics.

“The culture is very creative. There’s a good blend of technology and creativity. There are loads of artists, but lots of tech people as well. They have to work together to solve problems to make the images look compelling.”

In May, Menon is scheduled to receive a dual bachelor’s degree from Wharton and SEAS in management and technology, as well as a master’s degree in computer graphics and game technology from SEAS.