Not Your Average Internship: When Taking a Selfie Takes Center Stage

Not Your Average Internship: When Taking a Selfie Takes Center Stage

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Photo credit: Daniel Garcia, Content Magazine

For many students, an internship is a way to get some behind the scenes workplace experience  — perhaps work on a small project, learn about the company, make some connections and improve your CV.  But as an intern at Adobe, I quickly found my work taking center stage, quite literally, at the Apple iPad Pro launch in front of tens of thousands of people from all over the world.

While I was a student in the computer graphics laboratory of Ewha Womans University in Seoul, South Korea, I was also part of the team that brought to life Adobe Photoshop Fix — a mobile app for photo retouching that allows users to heal, lighten, color and adjust photos.  It also helps everyday people use the powerful liquify tool in Photoshop and apply it to a human face by using a simple slide bar.

Our vision was to help people take the “perfect” selfie by allowing them to make slight, realistic alterations to their facial features as they see fit.  With Photoshop Fix, it’s possible for the average person to change the curve of their smile, the size of their eyes or even the contours of their nose or chin, similar to the way a magazine’s photo editor might airbrush a cover shot.

The technology behind Photoshop Fix works through facial landmark detection — it identifies key points in the geometry of the face from a given photograph, and then generates a mesh on top of that.  As the liquify effect is applied to one part of the face, the mesh helps the rest of the facial image respond realistically, so the end effect looks natural.

It might surprise you to learn that an intern was trusted to work as a main developer on a new product, but Adobe collaborates with universities, professors and students all over the world to advance both research and product development.  As an intern on the Fix product team, my role was to work with my mentor Byungmoon Kim, an Adobe research scientist on technology transfer, and to leverage the framework of Fix, known as Project Rigel, to fine tune the mesh and get the app to be robust, reliable, intuitive and efficient enough to work on a mobile device.

As I watched my work get demonstrated on stage at Apple’s special event, I was proud of the technological achievement, but I was also quite nervous.  What if the technology didn’t work correctly on stage?  Or worse, what if people didn’t think the technology was good enough to use?

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In the end, I shouldn’t have been worried. The demonstration worked perfectly.  And it also sparked conversation about what it means to modify a person’s image.  Whenever you talk about changing the way a person looks, you start to touch on cultural norms and why different cultures consider something beautiful — it can become a loaded topic very quickly.

But as an engineer, it was exciting to see the range of responses people had to the technology I helped create.  We can create new tools and technology, but to make that technology useful we have to engage with and listen to our community of users and move forward in a direction they’ll appreciate.  There’s something powerful in that exchange.  It was an experience that changed me a lot.  And it made me more certain than ever in my career choice.   In that moment, I knew I wanted to bring new creative technology to artists, designers and everyday people all over the world.

Today I’m working on new projects with Adobe, this time with the Digital Imaging team, to transfer a new painting engine that will bring more realistic fluid dynamics and brush strokes.  I can’t wait to see what the world will do with these new creative possibilities.

Some of our most amazing tech advancements likely started with an intern or university collaboration project. Check out some of the other stories in this series, which share how interns are the secret to a thriving research lab.

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