Professor to show real-life applications of video-game technology

Damian Schofield.As part of Quest, SUNY Oswego’s Damian Schofield will show how technology seen on video games or TV dramas can solve real crimes and save lives.

Titled “Graphic Violence,” Schofield’s 10 a.m. session in Room 114 of the Campus Center is among the presentations of more than 275 students and faculty at Quest, SUNY Oswego’s annual daylong celebration of scholarship and creativity on April 21.

“The sexy graphics you see on ‘CSI,’ I do them for real, including crime scenes, bullet trajectories, blood splatter patterns,” explained Schofield, who directs Oswego’s human-computer interaction program. His work spans recreating the face of Queen Nefertiti for the Discovery Channel, helping the FBI create a database of more than 3,000 faces for biometric identification and developing virtual scenarios to assist disaster preparedness.

“The main thing to learn is that the same technology used on feature films like ‘Avatar’ or popular video games like Grand Theft Auto are used in serious applications,” Schofield said. “Game technology has been used for education, whether providing information in a courtroom or teaching people about how to drive a forklift via simulations.”

Schofield described his path to this kind of work as “weird,” dating back to an apprenticeship working in British coal mines. He earned a degree in mining engineering, worked with explosives in African gold mines and later programmed computer models for British Petroleum. He eventually went back to school, earning his Ph.D. in artificial intelligence at the University of Nottingham.

That led him to computer graphics work, reconstructing accidents for mining companies’ safety systems. “We started getting calls from the police, asking us to do work for them,” he recalled. About 10 years ago, he and two colleagues set up their own company, Aims Solutions, to build training simulators for workplace safety systems. Before coming to work at Oswego, Schofield most recently worked as a professor of computer gaming at RMIT University in Australia.

More than games

Using 3-D modeling technology made famous for and by video games, Schofield does some deadly serious work. He often serves as an expert witness to explain the crime-scene simulations he develops. His team has built models of faces from skeletal remains to help crack unsolved mysteries. His Quest presentation will feature stories about the cases he has worked on and show the simulations he created.

“It’s a good subject area to get interest,” he said, given the high viewership of crime dramas and number of people who play three-dimensional action video games.

Some scenarios that visitors to his Quest presentation can see include re-enactment of traffic accidents in a virtual environment, simulated natural disasters like floods that aid disaster preparedness and computer models of crime scenes used to solve and prosecute cases.

His more recent work includes participating in the Juries and Interactive Virtual Evidence project, which simulates a hypothetical terrorist attack on a Sydney train station and tracks how the visual evidence could impact jurors in simulated court settings.

How such intense and lifelike simulations can impact the justice system is one of Schofield’s active research areas. “I’ve had lawyers stop cases because the reconstruction seemed too real,” he said.

But he added that, while an exciting topic, the work is not always glamorous. While he did get to travel to Egypt with a team of experts and collect data on mummified remains, “I sat in my room working for two to three weeks for that five- to ten-second clip of Nefertiti seen on the Discovery Channel,” Schofield noted. That reconstruction itself earned widespread media attention for its groundbreaking nature.

For more information on Quest activities, which are all free and open to the public, visit

PHOTO CAPTION: Facial work—Damian Schofield, director of SUNY Oswego’s human-computer interaction program, shows facial-recognition work he has done on Queen Nefertiti for the Discovery Channel and for an FBI biometric-identification database. At SUNY Oswego’s Quest day of scholarly and creative activity, Schofield will discuss how technology seen in video games and on shows like “CSI” are used in the real world to solve crimes and save lives.

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(Posted: Apr 09, 2010)

Tags: video games, quest, none, innotech, human computer interaction, damian schofield