Michael J. Black received his B.Sc. from the University of British Columbia (1985), his M.S. from Stanford (1989), and his Ph.D. in computer science from Yale University (1992). After research at NASA Ames and post-doctoral research at the University of Toronto, he joined the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center in 1993 where he later managed the Image Understanding Area and founded the Digital Video Analysis group. From 2000 to 2010 he was on the faculty of Brown University in the Department of Computer Science (Assoc. Prof. 2000-2004, Prof. 2004-2010). He is a founding director at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Tübingen, Germany, where he leads the Perceiving Systems department. He is also a Distinguished Amazon Scholar (VP), an Honorarprofessor at the University of Tuebingen, and Adjunct Professor at Brown University.
Black is a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. He is the only researcher to have won all three major test-of-time awards in the field: the 2010 Koenderink Prize (ECCV), the 2013 Helmholtz Prize (ICCV), and the 2020 Longuet-Higgins Prize (CVPR). His work has won several paper awards including the IEEE Computer Society Outstanding Paper Award (CVPR'91). His work received Honorable Mention for the Marr Prize in 1999 and 2005. His early work on optical flow has been widely used in Hollywood films including for the Academy-Award-winning effects in “What Dreams May Come” and “The Matrix Reloaded.” He has contributed to several influential datasets including the Middlebury Flow dataset, HumanEva, and the Sintel dataset. Black has coauthored over 200 peer-reviewed scientific publications.
He is also active in commercializing scientific results, is an inventor on 10 issued patents, and has advised multiple startups. He uniquely combines computer vision, graphics, and machine learning to solve problems in the clothing industry. In 2013, he co-founded Body Labs Inc., which used computer vision, machine learning, and graphics technology licensed from his lab to commercialize "the body as a digital platform." Body Labs was acquired by Amazon in 2017.
Black's research interests in computer vision include optical flow estimation, 3D shape models, human shape and motion analysis, robust statistical methods, and probabilistic models of the visual world. In computational neuroscience his work focuses on probabilistic models of the neural code and applications of neural decoding in neural prosthetics.
Michael Black received his B.Sc. from the University of British Columbia (1985), his M.S. from Stanford (1989), and his Ph.D. from Yale University (1992). After post-doctoral research at the University of Toronto, he worked at Xerox PARC as a member of research staff and area manager. From 2000 to 2010 he was on the faculty of Brown University in the Department of Computer Science (Assoc. Prof. 2000-2004, Prof. 2004-2010). He is one of the founding directors at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Tübingen, Germany, where he leads the Perceiving Systems department. He is also a Distinguished Amazon Scholar (VP), an Honorarprofessor at the University of Tuebingen, and Adjunct Professor at Brown University. His work has won several awards including the IEEE Computer Society Outstanding Paper Award (1991), Honorable Mention for the Marr Prize (1999 and 2005), and all three major test-of-time awards including the 2010 Koenderink Prize, the 2013 Helmholtz Prize, and the 2020 Longuet-Higgins Prize. He is a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. In 2013 he co-founded Body Labs Inc., which was acquired by Amazon in 2017.
Even shorter version
Michael Black received his B.Sc. from the University of British Columbia (1985), his M.S. from Stanford (1989), and his Ph.D. from Yale University (1992). He has held positions at the University of Toronto, Xerox PARC, and Brown University. He is one of the founding directors at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Tübingen, Germany, where he leads the Perceiving Systems department. He is a Distinguished Amazon Scholar, an Honorarprofessor at the University of Tuebingen, and Adjunct Professor at Brown University. His work has won several awards including the IEEE Computer Society Outstanding Paper Award (1991), Honorable Mention for the Marr Prize (1999 and 2005), the 2010 Koenderink Prize, the 2013 Helmholtz Prize, and the 2020 Longuet-Higgins Prize. He is a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. In 2013 he co-founded Body Labs Inc., which was acquired by Amazon in 2017.
Alumni Research Award
University of British Columbia, Department of Computer Science, 2018.
Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences
Foreign member, Class for Engineering Sciences, since June 2015.
for the paper: Black, M. J., and Anandan, P., "A framework for the robust estimation of optical flow,'' IEEE International Conference on Computer Vision, ICCV, pages 231-236, Berlin, Germany. May 1993.
2010Koenderink Prize for Fundamental Contributions in Computer Vision,
with Sidenbladh, H. and Fleet, D. J. for the paper "Stochastic tracking of 3D human figures using 2D image motion,'' European Conference on Computer Vision, 2000.
Best Paper Award, Eurographics 2017, for the paper "Sparse Inertial Poser: Automatic 3D Human Pose Estimation from Sparse IMUs", by von Marcard, T., Rosenhahn, B., Black, M. J., Pons-Moll, G.
"Dataset Award" at the Eurographics Symposium on Geometry Processing 2016, with F. Bogo, J. Romero, and M. Loper, for the paper "FAUST: Dataset and evaluation for 3D mesh registration," CVPR 2014.
Best Paper Award, International Conference on 3D Vision (3DV), 2015, with A. O. Ulusoy and A. Geiger, for the paper "Towards Probabilistic Volumetric Reconstruction using Ray Potentials."
Best Paper Award, INI-Graphics Net, 2008, First Prize Winner of Category Research,
with S. Roth for the paper "Steerable random fields."
Best Paper Award, Fourth International Conference on Articulated Motion and Deformable Objects (AMDO-e 2006), with L. Sigal for the paper "Predicting 3D people from 2D pictures.''
Marr Prize, Honorable Mention, Int. Conf. on Computer Vision, ICCV-2005, Beijing, China, Oct. 2005 with S. Roth for the paper "On the spatial statistics of optical flow.''
Marr Prize, Honorable Mention, Int. Conf. on Computer Vision, ICCV-99, Corfu, Greece, Sept. 1999 with D. J. Fleet for the paper "Probabilistic detection and tracking of motion discontinuities.''
IEEE Computer Society, Outstanding Paper Award, Conference on Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition, Maui, Hawaii, June 1991 with P. Anandan for the paper "Robust dynamic motion estimation over time.''
Commendation and Chief's Award, Henrico County Division of Police,
County of Henrico, Virginia, April 19, 2007.
University of Maryland, Invention of the Year, 1995, "Tracking and Recognizing Facial Expressions,'' with Y. Yacoob.
University of Toronto, Computer Science Students' Union Teaching Award for 1992-1993.
My research addressed the problem of estimating and explaining motion in image sequences. I developed methods detecting and tracking 2D and 3D human motion including the introduction of particle filtering for 3D human tracking and belief propagation for 3D human pose estimation. I worked on probabilistic models of images include the high-order Field of Experts model. I worked on 3D human shape estimation from images and video and developed applications of this technology. I also developed mathematical models for decoding neural signals. This included the first uses of particle filtering and Kalman filtering for decoding motor cortical neural activity and the first point-and-click cortical neural brain-machine-interface for people with paralysis.
Research included modeling image changes (motion, illumination, specularity, occlusion, etc.) in video as a mixture of causes. I developed methods of motion explanation; that is, the extraction of mid-level or high-level concepts from motion.This included the modeling and recognition of motion "features" (occlusion boundaries, moving bars, etc.), human facial expressions and gestures, and motion "texture" (plants, fire, water, etc.). I applied these methods to problems in video indexing, motion for video annotation, teleconferencing, and gestural user interfaces. Other research included robust learning of image-based models, regularization with transparency, anisotropic diffusion, and the recovery of multiple shapes from transparent textures.
Research included the application of mixture models to optical flow, detection and tracking of surface discontinuities using motion information, and robust surface recovery in dynamic environments.
Yale University, (9/89-8/92) New Haven, CT
Research Assistant, Department of Computer Science.
Research in the recovery of optical flow, incremental estimation, temporal continuity, applications of robust statistics to optical flow, the relationship between robust statistics and line processes, the early detection of motion discontinuities, and the role of representation in computer vision.
Developed motion estimation algorithms in the context of an autonomous Mars landing and nap-of-the-earth helicopter flight and studied the psychophysical implications of a temporal continuity assumption.
Research on spatial reasoning for robotic vehicle route planning and terrain analysis. Vision research including perceptual grouping, object-based translational motion processing, the integration of vision and control for an autonomous vehicle, object modeling using generalized cylinders, and the development of an object-oriented vision environment.
GTE Government Systems, (6/85-12/86) Mountain View, CA
Engineer, Artificial Intelligence Group.
Developed expert systems for multi-source data fusion and fault location.
Summer undergraduate researcher at UBC; park ranger's assistant; volunteer firefighter, busboy; and probably my worst job: cleaning dog kennels.
I am interested in motion. What does motion tell us about the structure of the world and how can we compute this from video? How do humans and animals move? How does the brain control complex movement? My work combines computer vision, graphics and neuroscience to develop new models and algorithms to capture and analyze the motion of the world.
My Computer Vision research addresses:
the estimation of scene structure and physical properties from video;
modeling the neural control of reaching and grasping;
novel neural decoding algorithms;
neural prostheses and cortical brain-machine interfaces;
markless animal motion capture.
I also work on industrial applications in Fashion Science:
Body scanning and measurement;
cloth capture and modeling;
What is maybe unique about my work is the combination of the these themes. For example I study human motion from the inside (decoding neural activity in paralyzed humans) and the outside (with novel motion capture techniques).
Current PhD students:
Shashank Tripathi, Max Planck Graduate Center for Computer and Information Science
Hongwei Yi, MPI-ETH Center for Learning Systems
Nikos Athanasiou, Max Planck Graduate Center for Computer and Information Science
Yao Feng, MPI-ETH Center for Learning Systems, Co-supervised with Marc Pollefeys
Marilyn Keller, MPI for Intelligent Systems, Co-supervised with Sergi Pujades
Lea Müller, Int. Max Planck Research School, Intelligent Systems, Tübingen
Frank Wood, Associate Professor of Computer Science, Univ. of British Columbia (UBC)
Thesis: Nonparametric Bayesian modeling of neural data. Department of Computer Science, Brown University
Hulya Yalcin, Assistant Professor, Department of Electronics and Communications Engineering, Istanbul Technical University, Turkey
Thesis: Implicit models of moving and static surfaces, Division of Engineering, Brown University, May 2004
Wei Wu, Professor, Dept. of Statistics, Florida State
Thesis: Statistical models of neural coding in motor cortex, Division of Applied Math, Brown University. Co-supervised with David Mumford. May 2004.
Fernando De la Torre, Research Associate Professor, CMU and Facebook,
Thesis: Robust subspace learning for computer vision, La Salle School of Engineering. Universitat Ramon Llull, Barcelona, Spain. Jan. 2002
My old Brown site has several image sequences used in my older publications. These include some classic sequences such as Yosemite, the Pepsi can, the SRI tree sequence, and the Flower Garden sequence.
A Quantitative Analysis of Current Practices in Optical Flow Estimation and the Principles behind Them
Sun, D., Roth, S., and Black, M.J. International Journal of Computer Vision (IJCV), 106(2):115-137, 2014. (pdf)
Secrets of optical flow estimation and their principles
Sun, D., Roth, S., and Black, M. J., IEEE Conf. on Computer Vision and Pattern Recog., CVPR, June 2010. (pdf)
This method implements many of the currently best known techniques for accurate optical flow and was once ranked #1 on the Middlebury evaluation (June 2010).
The software is made available for research pupropses. Please read the copyright statement and contact me for commerical licensing.
2. Matlab implmentation of the Black and Anandan dense optical flow method
The Matlab flow code is easier to use and more accurate than the original C code. The objective function being optimized is the same but the Matlab version uses more modern optimization methods:
The method in 1 above is more accurate and also implements Black and Anandan plus much more.
3. Original Black and Anandan method implemented in C
The optical flow software here has been used by a number of graphics companies to make special effects for movies. This software is provided for research purposes only; any sale or use for commercial purposes is strictly prohibited.
Contact me for the password to download the software, stating that it is for research purposes.
Please contact me if you wish to use this code for commercial purpose.
If you are a commercial enterprise and would like assistance in using optical flow in your application, please contact me at my consulting address firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is EXPERIMENTAL software. It is provided to illustrate some ideas in the robust estimation of optical flow. Use at your own risk. No warranty is implied by this distribution.
The robust estimation of multiple motions: Parametric and piecewise-smooth flow fields,
Black, M. J. and Anandan, P., Computer Vision and Image Understanding, CVIU, 63(1), pp. 75-104, Jan. 1996. (pdf),(pdf from publisher)
Robust Principal Component Analysis (PCA)
Software is from the ICCV'2001 paper with Fernando De la Torre.
The code below provides a simple Matlab implementation of the Bayesian 3D person tracking system described in ECCV'00 and ICCV'01. It is too slow to be used to track the entire body but can be used to track various limbs and provides a basis for people who want to understand the methods better and extend them.
Stochastic tracking of 3D human figures using 2D image motion,
Sidenbladh, H., Black, M. J., and Fleet, D.J., European Conference on Computer Vision, D. Vernon (Ed.), Springer Verlag, LNCS 1843, Dublin, Ireland, pp. 702-718 June 2000. (postscript)(pdf), (abstract)
Software. (Note: if you uncompress and untar this on a PC using Winzip, the path names may be lost which will cause Matlab to fail when you load the .mat files. Instead uncompress/untar using gunzip and tar.)
Balan, A., Sigal, L., Black, M. J., Davis, J., Haussecker, H.
In IEEE Conf. on Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition, CVPR, pages: 1-8, Minneapolis, June 2007 (inproceedings)
Much of the research on video-based human motion capture assumes the body shape is known a priori and is represented coarsely (e.g. using cylinders or superquadrics to model limbs). These body models stand in sharp contrast to the richly detailed 3D body models used by the graphics community. Here we propose a method for recovering such models directly from images. Specifically, we represent the body using a recently proposed triangulated mesh model called SCAPE which employs a low-dimensional, but detailed, parametric model of shape and pose-dependent deformations that is learned from a database of range scans of human bodies. Previous work showed that the parameters of the SCAPE model could be estimated from marker-based motion capture data. Here we go further to estimate the parameters directly from image data. We define a cost function between image observations and a hypothesized mesh and formulate the problem as optimization over the body shape and pose parameters using stochastic search. Our results show that such rich generative models enable the automatic recovery of detailed human shape and pose from images.
Kim, S., Simeral, J., Hochberg, L., Donoghue, J. P., Friehs, G., Black, M. J.
In The 3rd International IEEE EMBS Conference on Neural Engineering, pages: 486-489, May 2007 (inproceedings)
Basic neural-prosthetic control of a computer cursor has been recently demonstrated by Hochberg et al. 
using the BrainGate system (Cyberkinetics Neurotechnology Systems, Inc.). While these results demonstrate the feasibility of intracortically-driven prostheses for humans with paralysis, a practical cursor-based computer interface requires more precise cursor control and the ability to “click” on areas of interest. Here we present a practical point and click device that decodes both continuous states (e.g. cursor kinematics) and discrete states (e.g. click state) from single neural population in human motor cortex. We describe a probabilistic multi-state decoder and the necessary training paradigms that enable point and click cursor control by a human with tetraplegia using an
implanted microelectrode array. We present results from multiple recording sessions and quantify the point and click
Donoghue, J., Hochberg, L., Nurmikko, A., Black, M., Simeral, J., Friehs, G.
Medicine & Health Rhode Island, 90(1):12-15, January 2007 (article)
Article describes a neuromotor prosthesis (NMP), in development at Brown University, that records human brain signals, decodes them, and transforms them into movement commands. An NMP is described as a system consisting of a neural interface, a decoding system, and a user interface, also called an effector; a closed-loop system would be completed by a feedback signal from the effector to the brain. The interface is based on neural spiking, a source of information-rich, rapid, complex control signals from the nervous system. The NMP described, named BrainGate, consists of a match-head sized platform with 100 thread-thin electrodes implanted just into the surface of the motor cortex where commands to move the hand emanate. Neural signals are decoded by a rack of computers that displays the resultant output as the motion of a cursor on a computer monitor. While computer cursor motion represents a form of virtual device control, this same command signal could be routed to a device to command motion of paralyzed muscles or the actions of prosthetic limbs. The researchers’ overall goal is the development of a fully implantable, wireless multi-neuron sensor for broad research, neural prosthetic, and human neurodiagnostic applications.
International Journal of Computer Vision, 74(1):33-50, 2007 (article)
We present an analysis of the spatial and temporal statistics of "natural" optical flow fields and a novel flow algorithm that exploits their spatial statistics. Training flow fields are constructed using range images of natural scenes and 3D camera motions recovered from hand-held and car-mounted video sequences. A detailed analysis of optical flow statistics in natural scenes is presented and machine learning methods are developed to learn a Markov random field model of optical flow. The prior probability of a flow field is formulated as a Field-of-Experts model that captures the spatial statistics in overlapping patches and is trained using contrastive divergence. This new optical flow prior is compared with previous robust priors and is incorporated into a recent, accurate algorithm for dense optical flow computation. Experiments with natural and synthetic sequences illustrate how the learned optical flow prior quantitatively improves flow accuracy and how it captures the rich spatial structure found in natural scene motion.
Journal of Physiology, Special Issue on Brain Computer Interfaces, 579, pages: 603-611, 2007 (article)
This review describes the rationale, early stage development, and initial human application of
neural interface systems (NISs) for humans with paralysis. NISs are emerging medical devices
designed to allowpersonswith paralysis to operate assistive technologies or to reanimatemuscles
based upon a command signal that is obtained directly fromthe brain. Such systems require the
development of sensors to detect brain signals, decoders to transformneural activity signals into
a useful command, and an interface for the user.We review initial pilot trial results of an NIS that
is based on an intracortical microelectrode sensor that derives control signals from the motor
cortex.We review recent findings showing, first, that neurons engaged by movement intentions
persist in motor cortex years after injury or disease to the motor system, and second, that signals
derived from motor cortex can be used by persons with paralysis to operate a range of devices.
We suggest that, with further development, this form of NIS holds promise as a useful new
neurotechnology for those with limited motor function or communication.We also discuss the
additional potential for neural sensors to be used in the diagnosis and management of various
neurological conditions and as a new way to learn about human brain function.
In Proc. IV Conf. on Articulated Motion and DeformableObjects (AMDO), LNCS 4069, pages: 185-195, July 2006 (inproceedings)
We propose a hierarchical process for inferring the 3D pose of a person from monocular images. First we infer a learned view-based 2D body model from a single image using non-parametric belief propagation. This approach integrates information from bottom-up body-part proposal processes and deals with self-occlusion to compute distributions over limb poses. Then, we exploit a learned Mixture of Experts model to infer a distribution of 3D poses conditioned on 2D poses. This approach is more general than recent work on inferring 3D pose directly from silhouettes since the 2D body model provides a richer representation that includes the 2D joint angles and the poses of limbs that may be unobserved in the silhouette. We demonstrate the method in a laboratory setting where we evaluate the accuracy of the 3D poses against ground truth data. We also estimate 3D body pose in a monocular image sequence. The resulting 3D estimates are sufficiently accurate to serve as proposals for the Bayesian inference of 3D human motion over time
In Proc. IEEE Conf. on Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition, CVPR, 2, pages: 1869-1876, New York, NY, June 2006 (inproceedings)
In scenes containing specular objects, the image motion observed by a moving camera may be an intermixed combination of optical flow resulting from diffuse reflectance (diffuse flow) and specular reflection (specular flow). Here, with few assumptions, we formalize the notion of specular flow, show how it relates to the 3D structure of the world, and develop an algorithm for estimating scene structure from 2D image motion. Unlike previous work on isolated specular highlights we use two image frames and estimate the semi-dense flow arising from the specular reflections of textured scenes. We parametrically model the image motion of a quadratic surface patch viewed from a moving camera. The flow is modeled as a probabilistic mixture of diffuse and specular components and the 3D shape is recovered using an Expectation-Maximization algorithm. Rather than treating specular reflections as noise to be removed or ignored, we show that the specular flow provides additional constraints on scene geometry that improve estimation of 3D structure when compared with reconstruction from diffuse flow alone. We demonstrate this for a set of synthetic and real sequences of mixed specular-diffuse objects.
In Proc. IEEE Conf. on Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition, CVPR, 1, pages: 758-765, New York, NY, June 2006 (inproceedings)
The detection and tracking of three-dimensional human body models has progressed rapidly but successful approaches typically rely on accurate foreground silhouettes obtained using background segmentation. There are many practical applications where such information is imprecise. Here we develop a new image likelihood function based on the visual appearance of the subject being tracked. We propose a robust, adaptive, appearance model based on the Wandering-Stable-Lost framework extended to the case of articulated body parts. The method models appearance using a mixture model that includes an adaptive template, frame-to-frame matching and an outlier process. We employ an annealed particle filtering algorithm for inference and take advantage of the 3D body model to predict self occlusion and improve pose estimation accuracy. Quantitative tracking results are presented for a walking sequence with a 180 degree turn, captured with four synchronized and calibrated cameras and containing significant appearance changes and self-occlusion in each view.
Wu, W., Gao, Y., Bienenstock, E., Donoghue, J. P., Black, M. J.
Neural Computation, 18(1):80-118, 2006 (article)
Effective neural motor prostheses require a method for decoding neural activity representing desired movement. In particular, the accurate reconstruction of a continuous motion signal is necessary for the control of devices such as computer cursors, robots, or a patient's own paralyzed limbs. For such applications, we developed a real-time system that uses Bayesian inference techniques to estimate hand motion from the firing rates of multiple neurons. In this study, we used recordings that were previously made in the arm area of primary motor cortex in awake behaving monkeys using a chronically implanted multielectrode microarray. Bayesian inference involves computing the posterior probability of the hand motion conditioned on a sequence of observed firing rates; this is formulated in terms of the product of a likelihood and a prior. The likelihood term models the probability of firing rates given a particular hand motion. We found that a linear gaussian model could be used to approximate this likelihood and could be readily learned from a small amount of training data. The prior term defines a probabilistic model of hand kinematics and was also taken to be a linear gaussian model. Decoding was performed using a Kalman filter, which gives an efficient recursive method for Bayesian inference when the likelihood and prior are linear and gaussian. In off-line experiments, the Kalman filter reconstructions of hand trajectory were more accurate than previously reported results. The resulting decoding algorithm provides a principled probabilistic model of motor-cortical coding, decodes hand motion in real time, provides an estimate of uncertainty, and is straightforward to implement. Additionally the formulation unifies and extends previous models of neural coding while providing insights into the motor-cortical code.
Image and Vision Computing, 23(14):1264-1276, December 2005 (article)
We present a robust automatic method for modeling cyclic 3D human motion such as walking using motion-capture data. The pose of the body is represented by a time-series of joint angles which are automatically segmented into a sequence of motion cycles. The mean and the principal components of these cycles are computed using a new algorithm that enforces smooth transitions between the cycles by operating in the Fourier domain. Key to this method is its ability to automatically deal with noise and missing data. A learned walking model is then exploited for Bayesian tracking of 3D human motion.
Wu, W., Black, M. J., Mumford, D., Gao, Y., Bienenstock, E., Donoghue, J. P.
IEEE Trans. Biomedical Engineering, 51(6):933-942, June 2004 (article)
We present a switching Kalman filter model for the real-time inference of hand kinematics from a population of motor cortical neurons. Firing rates are modeled as a Gaussian mixture where the mean of each Gaussian component is a linear function of hand kinematics. A “hidden state” models the probability of each mixture component and evolves over time in a Markov chain. The model generalizes previous encoding and decoding methods, addresses
the non-Gaussian nature of firing rates, and can cope with crudely sorted neural data common in on-line prosthetic applications.
Our goal is to understand the principles of Perception, Action and Learning in autonomous systems that successfully interact with complex environments and to use this understanding to design future systems