'Surface plot visualizations using computer graphics: a study of light source directions and surface materials' - COMP 396 Undergraduate Research Project Application Form

Supervisor's Name: Michael Langer

Supervisor's Email: michael.langer [at] mcgill.ca

Supervisor's Phone: (514) 398-3740

Supervisor's Website: http://www.cim.mcgill.ca/~langer

Supervisor's department: Computer Science

Course number: COMP 396 (Computer Science)

Term: Winter 2013-2014

Project start date: Monday, January 6, 2014

Project end date: Friday, April 11, 2014

Project title: Surface plot visualizations using computer graphics: a study of light source directions and surface materials

Project description (50-100 words suggested): A common method for visualizing 2D surface data is to render it using a simple lighting and reflectance model such as the Phong model. For example, commercial software such as Matlab and Mathematica render surface data using default settings, for the lighting, material as well as the view direction parameters. But are these default parameters indeed the best, or does “best” here depend on the task? This project will extend a recent study in which we explored how well surface shape can be perceived from shading and rendered highlights. (See papers Faisman and Langer 2012, 2013 which are available from the supervisor’s website.) The goal of the new study is to examine global shape percepts, rather than local shape percepts, and to ask what are the preferred lighting directions and surface materials. Depending on the student’s background, it might also be possible to investigate 3D stereoscopic renderings, as well as environment mapping.

Prerequisite: COMP 557 (grade of at least B+), some knowledge of vision e.g. PSYCH 212

Grading scheme (The final report must be worth at least 50% of final grade): 50% lab performance and 50% final report (50%). Final report is due on the last day of classes in Winter 2014. The Final Report should be at least 2000 words. It should contain four sections: Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion.

Other project information: The rough timetable is given below. This will vary depending on the student’s background. The workload will be about 40 hours per month, broken down as follows:


  • (20 hours) Read about five papers on the topic. The Reading List will be given by the supervisor on the first day of the semester.
  • (10 hours) Learn the basics of the python programming language (if necessary)
  • (10 hours) Learn the basics of the PsychoPy application http://www.psychopy.org/


  • (10 hours) Read chapters 1-4 of Psychophysics textbook by Kingdom and Prins
  • (30 hours) Using PsychoPy, design an experiment to measure the preferred lighting direction and material for perceiving global shape.

March and early April:

  • (20 hours) Run the experiment using several subjects.
  • (20 hours) Write the Final Report.

Project status: This project is open to applicant.

How students can apply / Next steps: The student should email the professor (langer [at] cim.mcgill.ca)

Ethics, safety, and training: Supervisors are responsible for the ethics and safety compliance of undergraduate students. This project involves human subjects.