My dissertation

To all the people who've loved me, supported me and inspired me.

Cecilia Zhang ☕

Yesterday I had my virtual dissertation. I felt grateful for all the people who attended and am glad that they enjoyed it! I figured that since everything was recorded and that Berkeley's dissertation talk is quite casual, I can just share it to folks who were not there. I also uploaded my slides, and have my acknowledgment scripts attached at the end of this blog because that 10 mins verbal is not enough for me to express all my gratitude to these people who've loved, supported and inspired me throughout this journey. I want to keep what I said as written words.

I hope that from this talk you can be slightly more convinced that when machine intelligence in rendering, machine learning and scene understanding connect with imaging, it makes optically impossible tasks possible, and also makes visual storytelling more accessible. I hope one day photographers, videographers and storytellers will be only limited by their imagination, but not their devices or capturing constraints.

Slides and Zoom recording.


For the recording, here’s a timeline

  • 00:00 — 07:29: If you are interested in how Ren introduced me, with me sliding down the OUE Skyspace LA during last year’s SIGGRAPH.
  • 07:30 — 56:42: My dissertation talk on the works I’ve done, in bringing context in to casual imagine to make optically impossible tasks possible.
  • 56:43 — 1:03:52: My dissertation talk on future directions with my thoughts on AI-driven photo editing and a review on recent advances in computational imaging.
  • 1:03:53 — 1:12:54: My acknowledgment and many cute faces of my advisors, friends, and families.
  • 1:12:55 — 1:30:25: My Q & A session.

Moments ❤

  • My acknowledgment pyramid.
  • Ren's unexpected and cool intro.
  • Reya comes to say hi!
  • Alyosha missing Paris, as usual.
  • Marty talking about chromablur.
  • Audrey's daughter comes to say hi!
  • My first BBQ at Ren's house in 2015.
  • The food we made together.
  • Let's bring context into imaging.
Acknowledgment (script from the talk)

I’m grateful to have these awesome people on my committee, thanks Ren, Alyosha, JRK and Marty.
Marty, I only started writing blogs after I did a mini-lecture on stereoscopic perception in your vision science class — it was fun and inspiring.

Thanks JRK, although not here, for the insightful advise after my thesis proposal, and giving me the inspiration for drinking tea in a wine glass.

Alyosha, some of your work brought me into computational photography almost a decade ago, thanks for your passion and energy for pixels, and for hiking — I’m waiting for your updated version of the “Berkeley’s longest paths”.

And Ren, I have more words for you in the ends, but just want to say that having you be an advisor is some of the best part of this journey.

I thank these people from my undergrad, Rice University, where Don taught me the first lessons of sampling theorem and how he managed to use signal processing to authenticate Van Gogh’s painting.
Thanks Ashok for bringing me into research and approving my special request to take comp vision without pre-requisite so that I met pixels and images at an early time.

Thanks Jason, Vivek and Adithya who bared my endless and stupid questions and used their time for research to teach me about image sensors, optics and camera systems.

Also my friends and mentors from the industrial labs, David, Jon, Yun-ta, Kevin, Vladlen, Qifeng, Joon-Young, Kalyan, Zhaowen, for all the great summers and many long-last friendships — some of the most fun part for me to attend conferences is to see your faces.

Of course credits go to my boba buddies — Pratul, Ben, Grace, Matt, Utkarsh, Tim, Vivien, Dillon for sharing the exciting and dreadful moments of research, for sharing the baked goods, the grumpy cats and milk tea, with boba, and for sharing the heat dissipated from our GPUs.

I also thank these staff and department advisors - Shirley, Audrey, Jean, Susanne, Angela, Angie for being so supportive and making me rest assured, even during some of my hardest time.

I also want to use this time to thank my friends — another recipe for me to survive grad school.
I know these people in high school, Mandy, Shutong, Qiqi, … to me, you are like families.

Holly, for always being on my side, from 10 years ago, our very first day leaving home for this gigantic whole new world thousands miles away, to this moment.

Julie, Yoko, and Yi — from dressing up for the senior Esperanza, to witnessing you in wedding dress stepping into an exciting journey.

Lantao, for first bringing me into discussions about cameras, photography, and taking me to all the cool places for photo-shooting.

Jenny, I’m glad to have you with me here, updating me the new boba places around Berkeley, and exchanging those secrets deep in the heart, that we can only share with each other.

Tinghui, Lingqi for encouraging and inspiring me as people who’ve been there.

And thanks Daniel, Hezheng, Junyan, Biye for the fun time cooking, chatting and bringing new perspectives seeing this society and living our lives.

Also for the heart-to-heart conversations with these people from different aspects of my life — Spencer, Xuan, Xiuming, Charles, Zhixin, Ekta, ...

Next, in particular, I want to spend some time specially for these people — Ren and Ren’s kids (other than Reya and Lana), who’ve always been smart and fun, caring and supportive.

Ben, letting me see the possibility of being both a musician and researcher.

Grace, showing me how someone can articulate my own thought better than I could.

Pratul, being curious on everything that makes you know everything.

Matt, having great and unique ideas, and applied it to cooking as well.

Utkarsh, having broad view and perspectives and always giving us the bright smiles.

Vivien, your leadership, responsibility and capability are your gear to do great in your career, and thanks for always trusting me, and artistically inspiring me.

We’ve probably had too many bobas that in 10 year maybe my most vivid memory from grad school is your folks’ favorite boba flavor! Or the dumplings, BBQ, and that Matt-made-boba-cookie.

And to all the people in VCSY, our a bit short-lived visual computing and systems group.

Almost to the end, I want to thank this man behind the lens, and behind all these great people and stories — Ren, thanks for everything. I’m grateful to have known you, your sweet family, Yi, Lana and Reya, to have worked with you, and to have you teach me about research, about the mindset to do research, and more importantly, the way to present research.
 We came to Berkeley almost at the same time, and I’ve been learning to be a graduate student and a researcher, and I believe you were also learning to be a professor and advisor. It looks like we both did a good job? I feel fulfilled when you told me ‘good job cecilia’ and grateful when you said ‘cecilia this is not working’, for all the considerations, caring, candid advise and the effort trying to convey concepts in an intuitive and insightful way. And one more, for telling me the magic move in Keynote.

This is also for mom and dad. I'm lucky to have really supportive parents, we share everything and do not hide secrets from each other; when I was 15 they showed me what education is like in the U.S. I remember it was a brochure of Cornell with its gorgeous campus. They supported my decision to study abroad, though my mom did regret after she sent me off. Since I was 17, there is this 4th person who gets involved in our family decisions -- Yoo, a freelancer filmmaker, you might have seen his name in my last year's SIGGRAPH paper, he has helped me a lot viewing my research problems from the perspective of the film professional, and have endured my grumbling and comforted me in all the gloomy days. I'm really thankful, and I know a career in filmmaking is not a easy, definitely harder than mine, but please do not ever think again about taking intro to Python or CS 101! This world already has too many programmers, but too few good filmmakers you're born to be a great storyteller, so please keep it on.