MM: How did you come to be interested in pixel art? What is it about pixel art problems that attracts you?
TCI: Two years ago, I did a fun little project on how to convert a completed Sudoku puzzle to an image, by mapping numbers to colours. It turns out that not only is the problem too highly constrained, but finding nice images to use on a 9×9 grid was also difficult. I did some research on how to create pixel art from generic images such as photographs and realized that it’s an unexplored area of research, which was very exciting!
MM: Your SIGGRAPH poster is awesome! How long have you been drawing comics, and what got you started? Also, what are your thoughts about expositing math, in whatever form?
TCI: I started drawing comics when my lab mate, Matthew, started a comic drawing workshop last fall (he is doing research in comic panel layout). I have always enjoyed drawing people, but the workshop thought me other things such as how to do panel transitions, draw backgrounds, use perspective grids, etc. It’s always helpful to explain abstract concepts with pictures and graphics since many people consider themselves as visual learners. Hopefully I will have enough research done to make another poster next year. They are very time-consuming though…the last poster took me three months to draw.
MM: What was something that surprised you as you investigated the math of Gothic architecture circle patterns?
TCI: The fact that there are no oscillating packing sequences was disappointing. They would have made interesting designs. (If you’ve haven’t read my paper, you wouldn’t know what I’m talking about.)
MM: So much of your mathematical work results in such gorgeous images. In your mind, how are math and art related?
TCI: Thank you! Actually I don’t think I am very good at combining math and art. The math is good for creating intricate patterns to serve as the underlying structure of a design, but I think what makes the final image look nice has to do a lot with trying different colour combinations and adding fine details. If you ever need help finding good colour schemes, try Adobe Kuler; it’s a website containing many colour schemes that the community votes on.
MM: What’s an example of a mathematical technique or concept–perhaps an elementary one–that you find that you use over and over again in your work and research?
TCI: Simulated annealing. It’s an optimization technique similar to climbing a hill blind-folded and trying to reach the top. I used it for creating Sudoku images and Op Art, and I am currently trying it on pixel art.
MM: When did you know that you wanted to be a mathematician?
TCI: Probably since middle school, since I was doing tons of math contests back then. Actually I am in computer graphics now, so I am not a real mathematician, but the research involves a lot of equations and pictures just the same.
MM: Are there any parting thoughts that you’d like to share with our younger readers?
TCI: Really take the time to explore and develop what you are passionate about, and find a mentor who will guide you through the process (If you are Justin’s student, then you are very lucky!).
If you have a question for Tiffany, leave it in the comments here, and she’ll reply if she can!