Jaakko Lehtinen - I love computer graphics.
This is the first line in Jaakko’s Linkedin profile, and it was and is driving force that made him go from an avid teen computer gamer to a significant contributor to the graphics technology behind Max Payne 1, 2 – universally acclaimed by critics and public alike third-person shooter video game.
Jaakko, speaker at SyysGraph on November 21, is a research scientist at NVIDIA Research and Assistant Professor at the Aalto University School of Science. Prior to that, he was a postdoc with Frédo Durand at MIT CSAIL. Jaakko works mostly on realistic image synthesis, but his interests span most areas in graphics, including hardware architectures, modeling, image processing, and mathematics.
He found himself in Computer Graphics field as a teenager. He was an avid gamer, in particular, it was the 3D graphics found in demos that was somehow more exciting than anything else. Thus coding started as a hobby to him. Through a lucky coincidence, a friend showed his stuff to Samuli Syvähuoko (Remedy founder) who then offered him a job that Jaakko took right after graduating from high school. He then spent several fantastic years working on the Max Payne graphics technology before starting his doctoral studies and work in research.
“Tinkering and doing your own thing, even if not commercial, is cool again, and that’s something that makes me really happy.”
What was the first interesting project you worked on?
I did lots of simple stuff with graphics and audio as a high school kid, but really the big one was Max Payne at Remedy. Surprisingly, there were almost no intermediate steps in between. Oh yeah, I was also the lead programmer of Final Reality (a graphics benchmark produced by Remedy in 1997), which led to the founding of Futuremark Corporation.
What is s the significance of your professorship?
Graphics has been part of university curricula here for some time. However, up until now, technical graphics education, rendering in particular, has been taught by professors who do something else as their main interest. It’s not been possible to take graphics with a prof who’s been in the trenches in both big applications and academic research.
What important skill do you most often find lacking in otherwise competent designers?
I have the privilege of working with extremely skilled and creative people, so I can’t really name one. But if I have to: Finns often have a habit of selling themselves short when talking about their work or presenting it to audiences.
How do you see current graphics scene in Finland? What do you think triggered and supported its development?
From my point of view, it’s a long story that I trace back to the demoscene. Going from that, a pure hobby, into business in games was a natural second step, but very hard as the gaming business scene didn’t exist, and everyone involved was young, mostly naive, and inexperienced. All everyone had to go on were the technical and artistic skills developed in the hobby, and an unrealistic dream of making it big globally. Somehow that dream has driven people and made it come true. I still often wonder how this ever came to pass. So, I would say, again, that it’s passion, skill, and luck, in the right proportions.
How do you define *trend* in this field, and how to know which one is worth digging more into?
Depends on your point of view. In research, it’s something that excites people, tickles their intellect, and thus spurs new research, even if the applications are not immediately obvious. In that sense, this “knowledge for the sake of knowledge” philosophy has a clear connection to the demoscene mentality: you do demos because. Just because. Actually, I would say this applies more generally as well, also in business. Look around, be open to stuff. If it excites you, look into it further. I believe that’s the only way to success and personal gratification (not always the same thing!) — not because you let someone else tell you what’s exciting. Act on that excitement and tell the world, and that’ll get others excited as well!
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