Ben Houston: Resume

email:  ben @ exocortex.org
phone:  1 (613) 762-4113

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Experience

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President
& Founder (February 2005 - Present)
Exocortex Technologies, Inc.
  • Founded professional services firm in order to gain entrepreneurial business experience.
  • Developing graphics, information visualization and simulation solutions for various clients, including:

    Clara.io: Online 3D Editor(November 2011 - Present)

    Clara.io is a WebGL and JavaScript-based 3D editor that runs within your browser. It features modeling, animation and rendering capabilities. It also enables you to simultaneous edit files with others and embed the results in web pages. It supports more than 3 dozen import and export formats. Six months into the beta over 22,000 users have registered for Clara.io.

    Epidemic Simulation and Response Evaluation (February 2005 - Present)
    Health Canada

    Multiple engagements with Health Canada in the service of modeling outbreaks using an agent based models of SARS and pandemic influenza. Also consulted others in the group as they have developed TB and smallpox models. Developed a diffusion model of pathogen spread based on fluid dynamic concepts.

    Document Clustering, Search and Visualization (February 2006 - Present)
    Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission
    / International Atomic Energy Agency

    Designing and building a real time document classification, control and retrieval system to aid in nuclear counter-proliferation intelligence gathering. Initial versions of the system are in use by IAEA intelligence analysts.

    3D Game Engine (November 2005 - January 2006)
    Stacks Poker LLC

    Designed and developed a full-featured real-time Direct3D.NET 3D engine for an online poker company under significant schedule pressure. Extensive off-line build system included scene, texture, character and shader optimization.  Run-time system included two innovative features:

    • A render batcher: a flexible alterative to direct scene graph rendering or maintaining a separate "shader graph."  The render batcher decoupled the ordering of render execution from the specification of what to be rendered for a particular frame.  This maximized resulting framerate by optimal minimization of GPU state changes.
    • An animation and event scheduler: Because of complex interactions between game characters and between characters and dynamic scene elements (such as picking up dealt cards or sliding poker chips to another player), a high level animation and event scheduling system, capable of handling thousands of tracks, and with awareness of inter-track dependences, was required for optimal scheduling of animation sequences.
 

Lead Software Architect & Commercialization Strategist
(March 2004 - January 2005)
Fluids Researcher & Lead Software Developer
(August 2002 - February 2004)
Frantic Films Corporation / Frantic Films Software
  • Applied computational fluid dynamics R&D:
    • Led the research and development of Flood, a large state-of-the-art fluid simulation system based on the Navier-Stokes equations and using level sets for interface representations.
    • Led the creation of the unique animated Tar Monster CG character featured in the 2004 Warner Brothers release Scooby Doo 2 via the use of the Flood fluid simulator.
    • Frantic Films, because of its robust and successful fluid R&D efforts, was recognized in March 2004 as one of Canada's Innovation Leaders by the National Research Council of Canada.
    • Led the creation of the wispy smoke effect seen in 2005 Dimension Films release Cursed.
    • Research results were presented in 5 peer-reviewed SIGGRAPH sketches and one paper published in ACM Transaction on Graphics.
    • Research has subsequently been reproduced and explicitly cited by industry leaders including:
      • Industrial Light and Magic,
      • Pixar, and
      • Stanford University.
         
  • Enterprise distributed computing software:
    • Led the creation of the Deadline Render Farm Management system, which is capable of managing the scheduling and distribution of computational tasks across hundreds of computational nodes with robust recovery in the presence of hardware, software and network failures.  Initially deployed internally at Frantic Films and used on the all productions since including Italian Job, Paycheck, Scooby Doo 2, Resident Evil 2 and Catwoman.
       
  • Krakatoa - A High Quality Point Renderer
    • Concieved of and lead the development of a high quality point renderer for VFX. The point renderer was designed first for rendering the complex fractals for Stay (2006) and was later used for the smoke on Cursed (2006.) Has since been used on dozens and dozens of top Hollywood films.
       
  • Software commercialization:
    • Managed the commercialization of the Deadline Render Farm Management System including market research (customer segmentation, competitor analysis, potential sales strategies), product introduction (promotional material, product website, public relations events, and a targeted advertising campaign), and sales (customer relationship management, technical support, and "closing".)  Personally handled the first dozen sales of Deadline including a sale to Blizzard Entertainment as well as numerous other top-tier international VFX production houses.
       
  • Co-managed the 8-person software, R&D and internal tools division of Frantic Films -- tasks included hiring, coaching, project management, and architecting cross-product efficiencies.

Junior Consultant (Summer 2000, Summer 2001; Internships)
Visual Insights (now known as Oculus Info)

  • Worked as the main developer for a multimillion dollar Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) Command Post of the Future contract for two summers under the supervision of Bill Wright.
  • After completing a general rewrite and refactoring of the application the first summer, my tasks the second summer involved implementing new features in response to the feedback of retired 1-star and 2-star US Generals and civilian human factors specialists and the project supervisor, Bill Wright.

Cognitive Science Specialist (Summer 1999; Internship)
Consulting and Audits Canada

  • Developed, under the direction of Zack Jacobson (PhD, Psychology) and Els Goyette (PhD, Psychology), a series of experimental 3D text retrieval interfaces using C++.
  • The results, the NetViz and the AutoViz prototypes, have been presented & published at two international North American Treaty Organization (NATO) "Network of Experts" workshops.

Computer Science Officer (Summer 1998; Internship)
National Research Council of Canada

  • Interned in the Visual Information Technology Lab under the supervision of Michael Greenspan (PhD Electrical Engineering).
  • The first project, the Range Image Data-Processing Library (RiDL), entailed the creation of a +10,000 line C++ library for use in the manipulation of 3D surface point datasets acquired from 3D laser scanners.
  • The second project, Sushi, involved the design and development of an interactive 3D object scanning system that made use of a 1-meter 6-DOF robotic arm and multiple computers synchronized over TCP/IP.

Junior Developer (Summer 1997; Internship)
MCI Systemhouse Ltd. (now called MCI Worldcom)

  • Developed area-code conversion utilities for Bell Canada’s Toll-Free telephone system.
  • Utilities were written in C and SQL for Tandem Minicomputers and Sun Microsystems workstations.

3D Game Engine Developer (Fall 1996 – Spring 1997; Part-time)
Sir-Tech Canada Ltd.

  • Hired to introduce company to 3D development.  Invented and implemented a series of 3D graphics algorithms for use in a computer game.  Lead a team of 5 in the creation of a number of prototype game engines.
Patents

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Houston, B. & M. Wiebe.  (2005)  Method for converting explicitly represented geometric surfaces into accurate level sets.  United States Patent #20050128195.

Houston, B. & M. Wiebe.  (2005)  Method for modeling complex occlusions in fluid simulations. 
United States Patent #20050240384.

Publications

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Houston, B, Nielsen, M, Batty C, Nilsson, O & K Museth. (2006) "Hierarchical RLE Level Set: A Compact and Versatile Deformable Surface Representation."  ACM Transactions on Graphics 25(1), January 2006.  [Peer Reviewed Paper]

Batty, C., & B. Houston. (2005) Visual Simulation of Wispy Smoke. SIGGRAPH 2005.  [Peer Reviewed Technical Sketch]

Houston, B., Nielsen, M., Batty C., Nilsson, O. & K. Museth. (2005) Gigantic Deformable Surfaces. SIGGRAPH 2005.  [Peer Reviewed Technical Sketch]

Houston, B. & H. Masum. (2004) Explorations in 4-peg Tower of Hanoi. School of Computer Science Technical Report TR-04-10. Carleton University, Ottawa.  [Technical Report]

Houston, B., Wiebe, M. & C. Batty. (2004) RLE Sparse Level Sets. SIGGRAPH 2004.  [Peer Reviewed Technical Sketch]

Wiebe, M. & B. Houston. (2004) The Tar Monster: Creating a Character with Fluid Simulation. SIGGRAPH 2004.  [Peer Reviewed Technical Sketch]

Houston, B., Bond, C., & M. Wiebe. (2003) A Unified Approach to Modeling Complex Occlusions in Fluid Simulations. SIGGRAPH 2003.  [Peer Reviewed Technical Sketch]

Batty, C., M. Wiebe and B. Houston. (2003) High Performance Production-Quality Fluid Simulation via NVIDIA’s QuadroFX. NVIDIA-Frantic Films Whitepaper.  [Whitepaper]

Houston, B. & Z. Jacobson. (2002) A Simple 3D Visual Text Retrieval Interface. Meeting Proceedings TRO-MP-050: "Multimedia Visualization of Massive Military Datasets," NATO.  [Workshop Proceedings]

Presentations

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Houston, B. (2006) "Level set methods, surface representation and Scooby-Doo." Applied Mathematics and Computational Mathematics Seminar.  University of Waterloo.  November 30, 2006. [Invited Presentation]

Houston, B. (2005) Introduction to 3D Computer Graphics with Direct3D and .NET. Winnipeg .NET Users' Group.  February 17 Meeting. [General Interest Presentation]

Houston, B. (2004) Physical Simulation for Visual Effects and Virtual Surgery. TRLabs Winnipeg, Information & Communications Technology Symposium: Health Sector Challenges and Solutions.  [Invited Presentation]

Houston, B. & Z. Jacobson. (2000) Text Mining for Knowledge Discovery. NATO Visualization of Massive Military Multimedia Datasets, Quebec City, QC, Canada. [Invited Presentation]

Education

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Self-Directed Entrepreneurship Education (February 2005 - Present)

Cognitive Science, BA Honors (November 2003)
Carleton University, Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies

  • Specialized in "Biological Foundations of Cognition", also known as neuroscience.
  • Thesis: design and implementation of a very large software system for 3D microscopy image deconvolution and immunochemistry-based protein collocation.
  • Various scholastic scholarships, Dean’s List, graduated with high honors
Extracurricular Activities

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  • Debating Team
    Carleton University
    • 2001/2002 Member
       
  • Cognitive Science Students' Society
    Carleton University
    • 2001/2002 Vice-President Internal
    • 1999/2000 Co-President
    • 1998/1999 Vice President Internal
       
  • Celtic House Business Idea Competition
    Carleton University
    • Entry in 2000 competition: an web-based centralized book/resource search solution for libraries that offered Amazon.com-like features in addition to allowing for online book sales if books weren't available to borrow.
       
  • Ottawa ACM Special Interest Group for Artificial Intelligence
    • 1999-2000 Organizing Executive
       
  • ACM Inter-University Programming Contest
    Waterloo University
    • Placed, in 1999, 14th out of +100 teams in the combined Ontario, Quebec, and Northeastern United States competition.
    • Placed, in 1998, 17th out of 92 teams in the combined Ontario, Quebec, and Northeastern United States competition.
       
  • Computer Science Students’ Association
    Ottawa University
    • 1997/1998 Vice President Internal
Press Coverage / PR

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"BarCamp, bar none"  Ottawa Citizen newspaper, Tech Weekly section, April 27, 2006.

"Level Set Morphing Goes to Hollywood!"  Department of Computer Science, Drexel University.  Fall 2004.

"Level Set Morphing Goes to Hollywood"  Scientific Computing and Imaging Institute.  University of Utah.  Fall 2004.

"Frantic Films R&D at SIGGRAPH 2004."  CgChannel.com.  August 18, 2004.

"Frantic Films and NVIDIA: Creating Groundbreaking Visual Effects."  NVIDIA Website.  Summer 2004.

"A Frenzy of Success for Frantic Films."  Playback Magazine.  May 24, 2004.

"First peer-to-peer virus hits."  IDG News Service.  February 27, 2001.

"Gnutella worm finds new way to squirm into PCs"  C|Net News.Com.  February 26, 2001. 

"Brand Gnu Day."  Red Herring Magazine. December 2000

Open-Source Projects

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ExoEngine: A 3D OpenGL & Cg Game Engine (Winter 2001)

  • Released a 3D game engine written entirely in C# for Microsoft’s .NET platform.
  • Allows for level data to be imported from Counter Strike level editors.
  • Features a 2D fluid simulation and a particle physics system (a semi-hidden feature).
  • Proved to be extremely popular with over 100,000 downloads since its release in January 2002.

Exocortex.DSP: A Complex Number & Digital Signal Processing Library (Spring 2002)

  • Created a native C#/.NET digital signal processing library that includes both statistical, complex number and fast Fourier transform routines.
  • Library is completely documented and thoroughly tested.
  • Frequently recommended to developers and third parties looking to create DSP solutions by Microsoft employees.
  • The library has been downloaded more than 10,000 times since it release in March 2002.

A complete list of previous software projects can be found here:
    http://www.exocortex.org/ben

Visual Effects Filmography

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Superman Returns (2006) - Kryptonite Crystal Placement and Rendering Researcher: Frantic Films
Poseidon (2006) -
Fluid Pre-Visualization Researcher: Frantic Films
Stay (2005) -
Visual Effects Researcher: Frantic Films
Cursed (2005) -
Fluids Researcher: Frantic Films

Catwoman (2004)
- Network Rendering Software: Frantic Films
Resident Evil (2004) - Network Rendering Software: Frantic Films
Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed (2004) -
Fluids Researcher: Frantic Films
Paycheck (2003) - Network Rendering Software: Frantic Films

Miscellaneous

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Paper reviewer for ACM Transactions on Graphics journal.
Paper review for Eurographics conference.
Recognized Contributor to Mono v1.0 (the open source project run by Miguel de Icaza)
Canadian Secret Security Clearance [renewal required, expired in Summer 2002]

References available on request