Applying machine learning to light

Peiran Ren, Microsoft Research Asia intern in the Internet Graphics groupPeiran Ren, Microsoft Research Asia internPeiran Ren first came to Microsoft Research Asia in 2008 as a graduate student from Tsinghua University. Ren is part of a joint program between the Institute of Advanced Studies at Tsinghua University (IASTU) and Microsoft Research Asia, and his studies focus on realistic rendering of computer images, a topic he explores as part of the Internet Graphics Group, under the supervision of adviser Baining Guo and mentors Jiaping Wang and Xin Tong Lately, Ren has made a name for himself with light.

“Simulating light transmission in a photo-realistic manner is very complex,” he says. “Traditional techniques for computing full lighting effects—complex light interaction among many objects—can require minutes or even hours to render a single frame of image. In our latest project, we bring in machine-learning techniques as the key solution for realistic rendering. This allows full lighting effects to render in real time. This is really important for film or gaming applications.”

This unique approach demonstrated the effectiveness of combining computer graphics with machine-learning methods to solve a traditionally difficult graphics problem.

“It was an almost entirely new approach,” Ren recalls. “We didn’t have any direct references to available literature, and at the start, we didn’t even know whether the problem could be solved through machine learning.”

The resulting paper, Global Illumination with Radiance Regression Functions, which Ren co-authored with Wang, Minmin Gong, Stephen Lin, Tong, and Guo, caused a sensation when presented during SIGGRAPH 2013.

"At Microsoft Research, everyone is always very positive and approachable," says Ren"At Microsoft Research, everyone is always very positive and approachable," says RenFor Ren, the innovation would not have been possible without support from Microsoft Research and IASTU.

“IASTU has been not only a place to study, but also a place that is pure academic paradise,” he says, “where we can enjoy both study and research. At Microsoft Research, everyone is always very positive and approachable. I have learned so much from discussions and working together with Baining, Xin, and Jiaping. It gave me the confidence to explore a completely new research topic, even though I wasn’t sure if the approach would deliver results.”

Entering his fifth year as an intern with Microsoft Research Asia, Ran is grateful for the valuable learning experience: ”I think I have fully integrated into the research field through the program, and I have every confidence that I can help make new ideas come true.”