From Disney Research to UdeM: Bernhard Thomaszewski's magical journey

  • Forum
  • 04/23/2018

  • Martin LaSalle
Bernhard Thomaszewski

Bernhard Thomaszewski

Credit: Amélie Philibert

In 5 seconds

An assistant professor at Université de Montréal’s Department of Computer Science and Operations Research, he aims to establish a leading hub specializing in numerical modelling for 3D printing.

Bernhard Thomaszewski has a dream. The assistant professor joined the Université de Montréal’s Department of Computer Science and Operations Research (DIRO) last June with the hopes of creating a basic research group that will become a leading numerical modeling and 3D printing hub within five years.

He has the experience to back it up. Before joining DIRO’s faculty, he led the computational design and digital fabrication research group at the Disney Research lab in Zurich, where he worked from 2011 to 2017.

Thomaszewski grew up near Bremen in northern Germany. His father, a former electrician who became a manager at IBM, had a workshop where he restored furniture. As a child, Thomaszewski used the workshop and its tools “to fix bikes, even though I wasn’t a cyclist myself,” he said. “I was more of a soccer player!”

“Tinkering has always been a passion of mine, along with math. I've always been fascinated by how things work. So I went on to study computer science and physics, and then focused on computer graphics.”

At the age of 19, he left home to go to university in southern Germany. He earned a master’s degree and PhD in computer science from the University of Tübingen, after spending time studying in Grenoble and New York.

He then began his postdoctoral studies with the computer graphics group at ETH Zurich. His work was aimed at giving animated filmmakers the ability to use physics-based simulation techniques with complete artistic freedom.


Invited to work for Disney

Soon after, ETH Zurich professor Markus Gross invited Thomaszewski to work with him at the Disney Research lab, which he also manages.

“Markus had just launched Disney Research's basic and industrial research group in Zurich, and I was being offered an opportunity to work on research projects with virtually no constraints and to collaborate with notable researchers from all over the world," recalled Thomaszewski. "Plus, I was finally able to start my own research group."

Back then his mandate was to use computer graphics models to design new technological tools that could be used in Disney’s films and amusement parks.

One day, he got a message from Derek Nowrouzezahrai, a friend and former Disney Research colleague who had gone on to become an assistant professor at DIRO, suggesting that Thomaszewski come join him in Montreal.

In the lab he runs at Université de Montréal, Thomaszewski supervises two postdoctoral and two doctoral students. They work on the material and algorithmic aspects of various processes related to 3D printing and other digital fabrication technologies used to make all kinds of objects.

For example, in the newly created Fab Lab, they design objects onscreen that are then sent to the 3D printer. Nowadays, these printers can produce objects in a variety of materials (resin, metals, polymers, etc.).

For several months, his team has been testing a printer that uses ceramic paste to create objects one layer at a time. However, because clay’s behaviour is more complex than that of plastics, flaws can crop up during the printing or drying processes.

“We’re trying to understand how the materials react so we can anticipate warping issues at the digital design stage and correct them automatically using complex calculations,” explained Thomaszewski. “Our work will make it easier for consumers to use 3D printers at a time when we're seeing increased public interest in custom design and production.”

A growing number of applications

In fact, although 3D printers are more readily available on the market, “we still lack the tools for designing personalized content for these printers at home.”

Industrial and otther applications of 3D printing are becoming increasingly popular in many sectors, such as aeronautics and architecture.

For example, Thomaszewski works with Caboma, a young company that develops personalization software used to design fully customized 3D-printed objects for the orthotics and prosthetics industry.

With the advent of 'Industry 4.0' and the digitalization of production, the new DIRO professor believes that additive manufacturing is sure to become more widespread.

“In the next few years, there will be a boom in design aimed at producing 3D-printed objects,” said Thomaszewski, “and my hope is that Université de Montréal will become a leading research centre in this area.”

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A time-lapse view of 3D printing

Printing a pyramid in clay, in 3D
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Printing a pyramid in clay, in 3D