Spotlight: Alumni

Joe Mancewicz

Joe Mancewicz has had a very interesting career – even for a CLaSP graduate! The department alumnus (MS ’95) and ClaSP National Advisory Board member recently won a second Technical Achievement Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The award is in recognition for work on a proprietary software system used in film animation.

Joe is a Michigan native who grew up on Troy and earned his BS in Physics from Central Michigan University. “I’ve been interested in science since the 3rd grade when my dad taught me how to make an electro-magnet. I opted for the Physics courses over Chemistry in high school. I decided to major in Physics after taking Physics101 as an undergrad, but there wasn’t an aha moment, I just loved it.”

He initially came to Climate & Space (then AOSS) through a summer REU program along with future CLaSP professors Michael Liemohn and Aaron Ridley. He received his MS from in 1995 and was working toward a PhD under Professor (Emerita) Janet Kozyra and Professor (Emeritus) Andrew Nagy when he began to have second thoughts.

“While working with plasma wave ray-tracing code, I'd written some 3D visualization tools to investigate the data a little more intuitively. Janet asked if there was anything else along those lines that I'd be interested in doing, and I blurted out that I'd always wanted to work for ILM (Industrial Light and Magic).”

As it happened, Professor Nagy had a connection the visual effects field though the son of a former student, who helped Joe prepare himself to enter the film industry. “I worked the next year in the U-M Naval Architecture VR Lab, learning about graphics.” After he left CLaSP, Joe moved to Los Angeles and began doing character and visual effects animation for film and commercials, eventually moving into the design and development of new visualization software applications for the special effects industry.

He was an integral part of the special effects team that contributed to two movies winning Academy Awards in this category: The Golden Compass (2007); and The Life of Pi (2012).

Joe worked in the film industry for 18 years, leaving in 2015 to join the Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence group at Nvidia.

“I had given a talk at NVIDIA's GPU Technology Conference (GTC) and ran into a former colleague who asked if I’d be interested in joining his machine learning and artificial intelligence team at NVIDIA.”

Nvidia is technology company that builds graphics processing units (GPUs) which are traditionally used in gaming and professional visualization markets (like visual effects and design). Recently its hardware has been targeting the cryptocurrency, machine learning(ML) and artificial intelligence(AI), mobile computing and automotive markets. As a part of the move to ML/AI, NIVIDA has been growing new software development teams in those fields.

“It just seemed like a good time to try something new. There’s actually a lot of very interesting research in machine learning applied to visual effects, which I find fascinating.”

Eventually, Professor Liemohn reached out to ask if Mr. Mancewicz might be interested in serving on the Climate & Space National Advisory Board. “I thought it would be interesting to bring a perspective of someone who was educated in CLaSP but went on to quite different industries,” said Joe.

He returned in 2014 as the department Alumnus of the Year and shared his experiences with students and faculty.

“My time at CLaSP provided me with the education, support, and confidence to head off into and succeed in a seemingly unrelated field.”