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  • Andrew Fitzgibbon

    Andrew Fitzgibbon

    PhD at Edinburgh University, 1992:
    Stable Segmentation of 2D Curves

    Andrew Fitzgibbon is a senior researcher at Microsoft Research, Cambridge, UK. His research interests are in the intersection of computer vision and computer graphics, with excursions into neuroscience. Recent papers have been on the recovery of 3D geometry from 2D images, general-purpose camera calibration, human 3D perception, and the application of natural image statistics to problems of figure/ground separation and new-view synthesis.

    He has twice received the IEEE's Marr Prize, the highest in computer vision; and software he wrote won an Engineering Emmy Award in 2002 for significant contributions to the creation of complex visual effects. In 2006 he was awarded the Roger Needham Award for his contributions to computer vision and machine learning.

    He studied Mathematics and Computer Science at University College Cork and at Heriot-Watt University, and received his PhD from Edinburgh University in 1997, then spending 8 years at Oxford University's Department of Engineering Science before joining Microsoft in 2005.

    A personal story:

    When I started university in Cork in 1986 I wanted to be a physicist, because that was supposed to be the best course to get into (according to my buddies from the year above, who were physicists...) Having got in, however, I found after the first year that I couldn't double it up with computer science, so I switched to Maths and CS. Sitting in a topology lecture one day, I thought topology might be useful for handwriting recognition, so I began to think about doing postgraduate work in computer vision. People said that Heriot-Watt university was the place to do it, and the British Council funded me so off I went to Edinburgh to do a one-year Master's in "Knowledge-based systems".

    I didn't really understand much about the whole PhD process when I finished my undergrad, or even my master's. In fact, I was pretty intimidated: I thought that to get a PhD you had to sit in a dark room and wait for a brilliant idea, and that if you hadn't had a brilliant idea after four years, they would kick you out onto the streets. And of course, I didn't ask anyone whether or not this was true, so instead I got a job as a research assistant in the AI department at Edinburgh University. To me this was the best possible job: I got to write programs that solved mathematical problems, and I was paid about four times what I would have earned as a PhD student. One day, at a group meeting, I wondered aloud "why don't people use the X data when they're computing Y?", and suddenly I found myself writing my first paper. A few months later, in September 1992, this led to my first academic conference presentation in a lecture hall in Leeds, where I was surprised at how smooth the whole process had been. Of course it hasn't always been so easy---much of what one tries doesn't work out---but I've been lucky for the most part to work with great people and to have had a few good ideas.

    I've also been lucky in that I remained a researcher throughout my career, first working as a post-doc at Edinburgh and Oxford, with two excellent mentors---Bob Fisher and Andrew Zisserman---and then funded by the Royal Society's superb University Research Fellowship scheme. In that scheme, you are funded for up to ten years to investigate pretty much anything you want, providing that you can back it up through peer review, or even by commercialization. As an example of commercialization, some of the work I did with Zisserman is now used in pretty much every special effects movie today, even movies where the effects are invisible, such as "Bridget Jones's Diary". At Microsoft Research, which I joined in 2005, we have a similar freedom to research any idea we like, as long as it has the potential to have an impact on the way we use computers. Projects I'm involved in are to do with 3D video editing and video conferencing, as well as basic research into computer vision, machine learning, and the psychology of vision.

    © UK Computing Research Committee 2009