Santa Clara University


Computer Engineering Junior Changes the Landscape of 3D Graphics

Judnich_conference_smallJohn Judnich, a junior computer science and engineering major, has had a goal in mind for some time: “I want to create an entire 3D world for video games with billions of stars, planets and nebulae, where the user can explore all that not just from afar, but fly into a planet and see mountain ranges, fog, and sunsets…entire cities of homes and buildings and forests that can be experienced from the ground level.”

Working toward his goal, Judnich found computers were too slow to create the millions of trees he envisioned, so he took it upon himself to solve the problem and reinvented an algorithm for an existing technique used for drawing games and simulations, making it faster, more flexible, and more efficient—improving overall performance by 50 percent. “When I first considered the idea, I thought, ‘this is a fun technique and it works well, too; it’s probably been done already.’ But I looked through the journals and couldn’t find anything on it, so it was pretty exciting.”

Supported by a grant from the Carmen A. and Jack D. Kuehler Undergraduate Engineering Research Fund, Judnich began research with Nam Ling, professor and chair of the Department of Computer Engineering, which resulted in his paper, "Fast Multiresolution Terrain Rendering with Symmetric Cluster Sets," being accepted into ACM SIGGRAPH Asia 2011. Judnich was a 19-year-old sophomore when the paper was submitted in competition with Ph.D.s and graphics experts worldwide to this Number 1 top conference in computer graphics. “I had no idea I’d get into the conference, and I didn’t expect it because they have a very low acceptance rate,” he said; but recently he found himself in Hong Kong presenting his work before the elite audience.

All this is quite an accomplishment for someone who purchased his first used computer when he was in middle school. “Before I had a computer, I would buy IBM programming manuals at the thrift store and study them. That way, I was ready when I could finally get started,” he said.

Judnich’s innovation and skill have made him an attractive recruit with industry leaders. Last summer he interned at NVIDIA and Microsoft has already snagged him for an internship next summer.

“A student like John Judnich comes around about once every 10 years; he really is a genius at what he does,” said Ling, “Silvia Figueira, associate professor of computer engineering, discovered his unique talent in her class and introduced him to work with me,” he added. But Judnich, who is humble about his work, said, “I never knew that what I did was special and maybe I’m still in denial, but I really believe anyone can do well if they study. If you find something fascinating, research it to death and keep working at it.”

Photo caption: John Judnich presents his research at top conference in computer graphics. Credit: Nam Ling