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 TECHNOLOGY


* * Climbing ‘the golden stair’
* * 'Centrals' decommissioned

Climbing
'the golden stair'

Kelly Ward
Photo by Eric Charbonneau/Disney








For Kelly Ward, the soon-to-be-released animated film “Tangled” could be considered her Mount Everest.

Everest stands 29,002 feet tall. Rapunzel’s hair, for which the movie was titled, stretches a fraction of that – 70 feet – when fully unfurled.

But the technical feat of virtually rendering this flowing mound of hair for the big screen – in a form that appears both realistic, and at times, magical – was a challenge software engineers had never before attempted.

Without knowing it, Ward stumbled into base camp for that quest 10 years ago when she arrived at Carolina as a graduate student in computer science.

A native of Garden City, N.Y., Ward had just graduated from Trinity College in Connecticut with a double major in physics and computer science. She chose Carolina because of its strong computer graphics program.

It was here Ward met Dinesh Manocha and Ming Lin, two computer science faculty members (who happened to be married to each other) who would guide her into finding and following her own path.

It was in Manocha’s course “Geometric and Solid Modeling” that Ward decided she would try to make a single strand of hair move as her class project.

After she accomplished it, she realized there was much more to learn, such as figuring out the complex computations required to create all 100,000 stands of hair on the human head and get them to move as they would in real life from the stroke of a hand, a toss of the head or a gust of wind.

The following summer, Ward resumed her work on hair modeling with guidance and support from Lin, who served as her graduate adviser.

Four years later, Lin gave a lecture at Walt Disney Animation Studios and talked about the remarkable progress Ward had made in animated hair modeling. That lecture led to Ward landing a job interview with Disney, and after she completed her Ph.D., Ward began work at Disney in September 2005.

It was during her job interview, Ward said, that Disney first discussed the possibility of working on a movie project based on “Rapunzel,” the 17th-century German fairy tale about a young woman locked in a tower in the middle of the woods. The story is best known for the line, “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair so that I may climb the golden stair.”

In the past five years, Ward has worked on a number of movies, including “Bolt,” the 2008 release about a small white dog who thinks he has super powers to rescue his owner, Penny, after she is kidnapped.

That movie, and those preceding it, created the learning curve that helped make a movie like “Tangled” – in which hair is so central to the plot – possible, Ward said.

“We not only wanted the hair to be possible, we wanted it to be beautiful,” she said. “We often looked at Rapunzel’s hair as a character on its own. But Rapunzel is such a beautiful character herself – so young and expressive and full of life – we also wanted her hair to embody those same qualities.”

Ward also had to make the hair defy the laws of physics by reducing the effects of gravity and friction while looking natural.

“Rapunzel is a petite girl,” she said. “In real life, 70 feet of hair would weigh about 60 pounds, more weight than a real person would be able to move around as effortlessly as we allow Rapunzel to do in the movie.

“Throughout the movie, Rapunzel does a lot of running and jumping. She does cartwheels. The hair is everywhere and characters are always in her hair. Rolling in it. Combing it. Climbing it.” If only climbing Everest seemed that effortless.

“Tangled” will be released Nov. 24. To see the trailer, refer to http://bit.ly/azaHo2.

* *


‘Centrals’ decommissioned

At the beginning of the month, Faculty/Staff Central and Student Central were decommissioned and the servers on which the “centrals” resided were turned off.

Most of the functions from the centrals have been moved to ConnectCarolina, the massive University endeavor to replace Carolina’s aging administrative systems.

To access ConnectCarolina and to find information formerly located on the centrals, people should log in at the MyUNC portal (my.unc.edu).

A few functions are not currently available in ConnectCarolina, but should be available in December. These include academic eligibility and the unofficial transcripts previously available through the centrals. Official and unofficial transcripts will remain available from the Office of the University Registrar.

The historical grades/courses data will continue to be available. The access point to this data has been moved to another server, ensuring that the information will be accessible for spring 2011 registration.

The web interface is nearly identical to that in the centrals, but faculty/staff advisers will see a small change in menus to access the information. Instructions for accessing this information are available at connectcarolina.unc.edu.

Chris Derickson, assistant provost and University registrar, said the registrar’s office would continue to assist students, faculty and staff through this last step in the transition to ConnectCarolina.

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INSIDE THE PRINT EDITION:
November 17, 2010

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