An interview with Irene Viola

Author/Interviewee: Irene Viola, Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica
Author/Interviewer: Steven Hicks, SimulaMet

Editors: Steven Hicks, Michael Riegler

Irene at the beginning of her research career.

Describe your journey into research from your youth up to the present. What foundational lessons did you learn from this journey? Why were you initially attracted to multimedia?

My passion for multimedia stems from graphic design, actually. As a teenager, I taught myself Photoshop and I was playing around with coding websites. I chose Cinema and Media Engineering as my bachelor to combine the programming aspects with a media-based sensibility, and there I discovered that all the filters I had used in Photoshop had clear mathematical bases. I was hooked! I think the fact that I was coming from a more graphics background led me to always keep in mind the users who would see the end product. Applying filters and changing the appearance of an image or video needs to consider how the final user will engage with the content, how they will experience it. I think it has been very helpful in my research in the quality of experience for multimedia content.

Tell us more about your vision and objectives behind your current roles? What do you hope to accomplish and how will you bring this about?

I am currently working on immersive multimedia systems, and in particular on real-time communication systems. The vision is to make remote communication more lifelike, and interaction more natural. I think we’re all aware of how different a video call feels from a face-to-face meeting. Immersive multimedia can help users feel more present and connected, even when displaced in different corners of the globe. What I aim to accomplish is to bring this technology to everyday users, overcoming the current limitations.

Can you profile your current research, its challenges, opportunities, and implications?

My research is currently focused on the quality of experience for immersive media systems. There are several aspects to it: one aspect is to improve media delivery systems, be it by creating new compression solutions, or by improving the transmission efficiency through user-adaptive solutions, for example. The core idea is that we need to optimize transmission by keeping in mind how the users will interact with the content. Then there’s the aspect of quantifying the reaction of the users to the contents they’re visualizing, identifying the influencing factors and building models that can predict them. It’s quite challenging because we don’t fully understand yet how, and why, humans react the way they do to certain stimuli. But that’s also what makes it fascinating.

How would you describe your top innovative achievements in terms of the problems you were trying to solve, your solutions, and the impact it has today and into the future?

In terms of impact, I would say my top achievements would be the contributions to standardization bodies. My subjective methodologies were adopted to conduct the evaluation of the JPEG Pleno Call for Proposals for Light Field Compression, and along with my colleagues in VQEG, I have contributed to ITU recommendations. It’s quite gratifying to know that your research can serve the scientific community this way.

Over your distinguished career, what are the top lessons you want to share with the audience?

I think my message would be: don’t be afraid to switch up. Throughout my studies, I changed focus many times: in my bachelor, the focus was on sociological aspects of media, as well as technological ones; in my master, I dived deeper into the engineering side of it; in my PhD, I tried to understand the user reaction to media. Switching up allows you to see the same problem from different sides, which can be extremely useful in order to do successful research.

What is the best joke you know?

Since an image is worth a thousand words, I will leave you with my favourite comic strip, by artist Lee Gatlin:

A comic strip by Lee Gatlin (Original post)

If you were conducting this interview, what questions would you ask, and then what would be your answers?

My question would be: how do you best balance work and life? Which is a question I don’t have an answer for, and I’d like to read what other people do about it. I think research is pretty tough in this sense because you always have the feeling that there’s more that you could do, and if you just spend half an hour more, you can reach greater results. So, it’s hard to step back, and your work becomes your life. I try to be mindful of it and remind myself to disconnect, which also helps to get a fresh perspective.

A recent photo of Irene.

Bio: Irene Viola is a tenure-track researcher at the Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica. Her research interests include multimedia compression, transmission, and quality evaluation (

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