Are you going to see The Desolation of Smaug? (Or have you seen it already?) Well, that eerie, blueish glow on Gollum's skin is courtesy of algorithms developed by Jacobs School Prof. Henrik Wann Jensen. (Jensen did the work while a research associate at Stanford). Jensen's research earned him an Academy Award back in 2004.
Joe Letteri, the co-creator of the character and an Oscar winner, explains in a Nature article:
Digital characters also have to appear realistic in their surroundings, whether that is a photographed environment or a complete digital creation such as the jungles of Pandora. So we looked to understand how light and materials interact in nature. One of the best examples of this interaction is subsurface scattering. We first developed a technique to replicate this mechanism of light transport to create the translucency of Gollum's skin, leveraging pioneering research by computer-graphics specialist Henrik Wann Jensen and his colleagues at Stanford University in California (see go.nature.com/lyzuh2). The thick skin of a dinosaur can be simulated by bouncing light off the exterior. But human skin is softer and more translucent, so light enters and bounces around dozens of times before exiting. These properties, which are easily observed by putting your hand in front of a bright light, are crucial to a realistic portrayal.Alumni from Jensen's lab here at the Jacobs School have gone on to work for Google, Disney and other animation companies.
A list of some ground-breaking projects below:
Computer Simulations Shed Light on the Physics of Rainbows
Nice Threads! Computer scientists develop new model to simulate cloth on a computer with unprecedented accuracy
It's all about the hair
Render smoke without being a computation hog
Computer graphics spills from milk to medicine