UOW student takes maths skills to Pixar

Jan 12, 2005

When you think Toy Story, Finding Nemo or The Incredibles, you don’t really think mathematics.

But UOW student, Paul-James White, will tell you otherwise.

He has recently returned from the ‘best two months of his life’ where he got the chance to put his advanced mathematics degree to use for Pixar Animation Studios, the industry leader in the creation of original stories in the medium of computer animation.

Pixar has combined creative and technical artistry to create some of the most successful animated films of all time, including the Academy Award-winning Toy Story (1995); A Bug’s Life (1998); Golden-Globe-winner Toy Story 2 (1999); Monsters, Inc. (2001); Finding Nemo (2003) and most recently, The Incredibles.

Mr White, one of only 28 undergraduate students selected worldwide, travelled from Wollongong to the USA to work on a real-life problem solving project for Pixar involving fluid animation at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA).

Mr White’s team, with the assistance of mentors from UCLA and Pixar, had the task of finding which numerical algorithm was most appropriate for the animation of high viscosity fluids when they are poured into a container – something of great interest to Pixar which also produces technical and commercial animation.

The nine-week program also included a scholarship that covered transport, accommodation and living expenses and allowed Mr White to do some sightseeing around Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego.

“One of the highlights was going to Long Beach to support the Australian water polo team when they played against Serbia,” Mr White said.

In contemplating the differences between UOW and UCLA, Mr White said that he was surprised at how seriously Californians took sport, as well as their attitude to summer camps.

“There were an enormous number of leadership camps for high-school students as well as just about every sporting camp possible over summer,” he said.

“The thing I liked most was the mix of cultures. People from the UK, Canada and the US weren’t that different, but once you started to delve into people’s lives from eastern Europe, things started to get interesting.”

Mr White's outstanding academic career began at 14 years of age, when he became the youngest full-time student to ever enrol at UOW. By the age of 19, he will have completed two degrees in advanced mathematics and computer engineering.

Carolyn Silveri from UOW’s Mathematics and Applied Statistics Unit, said Mr White put a great deal of effort into the overseas project.

“It is a highly-prestigious program that Paul was selected for. He had done so well in his Bachelor of Mathematics (Advanced) at UOW and he certainly put his skills to good use at UCLA,” she said.

Since his return, Mr White has delivered several presentations detailing his work on the project. In November last year, he spoke at the Australian and New Zealand Industrial and Applied Mathematics (ANZIAM) mini-meeting where his project was labelled “an outstanding piece of work” by organisers and where he also received the prize for best undergraduate student talk.

So what’s next?

“To be honest I’m not really sure!” Mr White said. “There are so many options to consider. I definitely want to concentrate on my honours year at UOW, and possibly do some more travelling. A career in animation could certainly be on the cards.”




UOW advanced mathematics student, Paul-James White, has been inspired to pursue a career in animation after spending 9 weeks in the US working on a project for Pixar Animation Studios

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