Virtual Textiles Research Group

Simulated virtual prototypes have revolutionized the design process in most engineering fields, eliminating much trial-and-error and enabling designs to be refined before real prototypes are built. As computational power becomes commonplace, a major emerging application of simulation is to design fields where the aesthetics of appearance, shape, and motion are primary concerns on a par with strength, weight, or efficiency. However, certain classes of materials consistently elude the available tools, and textiles form one of the most important examples.

Merely realistic simulated cloth, as long as it’s artist-controllable, suffices for entertainment, but design and retail are about reality rather than virtual worlds: predictive fidelity to real materials is critical. In design, predictive simulations can greatly improve efficiency: textile designers can design fabrics without producing test runs, and designers of clothing or furniture can evaluate their designs before the fabrics to be used have even been produced. In retail, predictive simulations can let customers select fabrics for interiors, evaluate fit and appearance of clothing, and order products, even ones that are unique and will only be produced upon demand. These practices are already common in settings where materials are simple and exact appearance is not crucial, but currently cannot extend to the appearance-critical area of textile products because of limited visual fidelity. Textiles and garments constitute a trillion-dollar global industry that is rapidly becoming more high-tech and is ready to adopt virtual prototyping as soon as the right technology is available.

Current techniques for simulating these materials have two fundamental limitations. First, the problem has been approached as two separate problems: either appearance is paramount, in which case measured geometry or texture is used to render cloth without regard for deformation; or motion is the focus, and detailed sheet or yarn motion is simulated, but rendering is a post-process disconnected from the real material. But appearance and deformation can’t be separated in predictive applications. Second, even the best results in both areas are only qualitative matches to real materials.

We aim to develop integrated methods for realistic cloth simulation that will allow higher fidelity, improved predictive power, and new fast algorithms that will open up a range of new applications.

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RISD and the textiles department

In Textiles students experiment with new materials, technologies and techniques to design and create innovative fabric and fine art. Professors work closely with both graduate and undergraduate students to encourage the development of a personal vision and an understanding of larger artistic, social and cultural contexts.

Students work with high-end equipment used in the field such as computer-interfaced looms and electronic knitting machines to master advanced techniques and pursue in-depth investigations of structure, pattern and form. 

After RISD, Textiles alumni are prepared to energize the field by expressing their personal vision. Graduates go on to work as surface, pattern and fabric designers for large corporation or small studios, while others create knitwear collections, establish small production companies, produce performance pieces, create fine art, conduct scientific research, teach, curate, run galleries and more.

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research at RISD, Funded by the NSF

Liisa Silander

Watching the Pixar movie Up! a few years ago, Associate Professor of Textiles Brooks Hagan MFA 02 TX first began noodling over a seemingly simple question. How do animators make make-believe fabric look so convincing? By the time Brave came out in 2012, he couldn’t stop thinking about it.

If the virtual textiles – “the tapestries, tartans, furs… even the hair, leather and metal” – in these films can look and behave so realistically on screen, why can’t Hagan and his students create equally accurate digital renderings of textiles? It’s a question he set out to answer four years ago – initially by searching for information about the technicalities involved and then by reaching out to scientists working at the forefront of verisimilitude in computational space.

Now that Hagan has become a principle investigator (PI) on a research project that just won a $1.2-million grant from the National Science Foundation, he’ll continue to probe for answers over the next four years, too. During the grant period – which officially began on September 1 and runs through 2020 – he will use the funding allocated to RISD by the NSF’s Cyber-Human Systems program to lead the Virtual Textiles Research Group, which will include selected graduate students who will support his work with the PI team – two computer scientists at Cornell and a scientist at Stanford with expertise in mechanics.

The Team

Principle Investigators


Brooks Hagan
Rhode Island School of Design, Textile Department

Brooks Hagan is a textile designer and researcher. He works with numerous industry and technology leaders. His research areas include industrial processes and 3D weaving. View profile.


Doug L. James
Stanford University, Department of Computer Science

Doug's research interests include computer graphics, computer sound, physically based modeling and animation, and reduced-order physics models.  View Profile.


Steve Marschner
Cornell University, Department of Computer Science

Steve's research and teaching are in computer graphics and vision, centered around how optics and mechanics determine the appearance of materials. View Profile.


Kavita Bala
Cornell University, Department of Computer Science

Kavita's research interests span computer graphics, computer vision, deep learning and human perception including. View profile.

Affiliated Researchers


Shuang Zhao
Assistant Professor, UC Irvine

Shuang's research aims to computationally reproduce the appearance of the real world using physically based models, allowing the prediction of object appearance under a wide range of conditions.  View profile.


Joy Ko
Critic, Architecture Department, RISD

Joy is an architecture and computation critic whose work reflects her background and lifelong focus on design, mathematics and programming. View profile.


Daniel Hewitt
Executive Director of Research, RISD

Daniel is an architect, researcher and critic. His research explores new models for culturally generative infrastructure in changing cities. View profile.



Claire Harvey
RISD Textiles, BFA


Emily Holtzman
RISD, Textiles BFA


Rundong Wu
Cornell Computer Science, PhD Candidate


Eston Schweickart
Cornell Computer Science, PhD Candidate



Jonathan Leaf
Stanford University, PhD Candidate


Anjuli Bernstein (former)
RISD Textile, MFA Graduate


Carolina Jimenez (former)
RISD Textiles, MFA Graduate



Anastasia Onegina (former)
RISD Textiles, MFA Graduate

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Gabrielle Ferreira (former)
RISD Textiles, MFA Candidate


Emily Robertson (former)
RISD Textiles, MFA Candidate