Sunday, March 3, 2013

UIAA: The Tao of Fu

The following is a profile of Fu Ping by the University of Illinois Alumni Association by Deb Aronson. Judging from its mention of  Fu Ping's age, it was probably written around 2007.

The Tao of Fu
By Deb Aronson
In the ancient Chinese philosophy of Taoism, followers strive to bring harmony to the universe through the balance of opposites. 
So too has Ping Fu, MS ’90 ENG, carefully negotiated a balancing act in the course of her life. Moving from the violence of China’s Cultural Revolution to the positivity of America’s entrepreneurial climate, Fu has counteracted despair with hope, chaos with order, and survival mode with serenity. 
A comparative literature major who created and heads Geomagic Inc., a $30 million software company, Fu continues to strive for that harmony today, even in the sometimes cutthroat world of high tech business. According to the 49-year-old entrepreneur, the “essence of what you do … is to make life better.” 
Hope for a better life may have seemed elusive in Fu’s childhood during China’s Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and ’70s. Ripped from her home in Nanjing, China, at the age of 7, Fu and her sister, Hong, 3, were sent to live in a dormitory for children of “capitalist-road” parents. Fu spent her entire childhood there – 11 years – until she was released at age 18. Eventually, she made her way to the United States as a young adult and now lives in Chapel Hill, N.C. 
Today, through a combination of perseverance, resilience and a bit of luck, Fu has led Geomagic to become a leader in the field of digital shape sampling and processing (DSSP). The technology, which uses optical beams to digitally capture a physical object and automatically create a three-dimensional model, can be applied to manufacturing, testing and inspection processes. The technique is so precise and efficient that NASA used it to replicate damaged space shuttle tiles on Earth while the shuttle was still in orbit. Among other honors, the company earned Fu recognition as Inc. magazine’s 2005 “Entrepreneur of the Year.” 
According to Fu, Geomagic, which is located in North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park, is the only company of its kind in the United States. 
“We could see right off Geomagic’s applicability,” said Paul Magelli, whom Fu approached for guidance early in her efforts to form the business. 
The senior director of both the Academy for Entrepreneurial Leadership and Illinois Business Consulting at the University of Illinois College of Business, Magelli said, “There was never any question that Geomagic was a strong technology; it was just waiting for its time.” 
Before Geomagic, the skills required to create a smooth image from the shape sampling took a fleet of engineers and designers working laboriously for weeks to digitally process an object. The method was too time-consuming and expensive to work. With Geomagic’s magic, that step now takes place with the click of a button. 
The technology has already transformed business. American firms use DSSP to perform full digital inspection for new parts. A preservation team has utilized the software to record the Statue of Liberty, so that it could be reconstructed, if necessary. Toyota uses the software to design cars and inspect parts. 
The software can benefit an individual from head to toe – from better-fitting dental bridgework to hearing aids to high-tech prosthetics. Fu imagines consumers will soon be able to send a DSSP model of their feet to a manufacturer to order new shoes.
But Geomagic is about more than technology for Fu, who speaks of her company’s goals not in terms that are measurable but in ideas that are far less tangible. 
“Our goal was not to go public or make a billion dollars – what does that mean?” she asked. “To set a goal for your company like ‘We have to make $10 million this year, $15 million next year’ is the same as telling your children, ‘You have to get an A on everything.’ It doesn't mean anything.” 
The “essence” of what we do, she said, should “create a true value.” 
Fu’s vision for her company – its essence – is to change the very nature of production. She believes that businesses are cutting manufacturing costs to the bone instead of taking a knife to far meatier portions, such as inventory and enormous advertising campaigns. 
“Why do you need to spend $30 million on advertisement for a shoe?” Fu posed. “What did [the marketing] do, make [the footwear] more comfortable? 
“So,” she went on, “spend the $10 to manufacture the shoe in the U.S., instead of the $2 it takes in China, and spend less money on advertisement, inventory and building those bigger and bigger stores where I go in, and I can’t find a pair of shoes that fits me.” 
Fu wants Geomagic to bring manufacturing back to the United States and stop the model of cutting costs in all the wrong places. 
“If manufacturing is the steak and advertising is the sizzle – you lose the steak, you don’t have the sizzle,” said Fu. “Our technology will help build better products closer to where the customers are, so businesses don’t have to spend a lot on advertisement or shipping or the wrong model.” 
It’s a long way from China to the United States, and Fu’s path was particularly tortured, both figuratively and literally. As a child, she was forced to watch the Red Guard kill or torture people, including her little sister, who was scalded for making too much noise while playing. In another instance, when the Red Guard threw Hong into a river just to watch her drown, Fu jumped in to save her. For that action, Fu was raped, and both girls were beaten. 
In 1976, Chairman Mao Zedong died, the Cultural Revolution ended, and Fu was released. While enrolled at university, a professor suggested Fu study the rumors of female infanticide in the Chinese countryside. In 1980, the professor received Fu’s findings, which were then published in Shanghai’s largest newspaper. 
At first, the report was widely praised (though Fu was not given credit). In a turnabout, she suddenly became well-known when she was blamed after the story received negative international attention. As Fu was taken into custody, she felt certain she would be executed.
Instead, Fu’s luck began to change. Inexplicably, she was bundled on a plane and sent to the University of New Mexico, where she studied comparative literature. Fu then changed majors and moved to the University of California, San Diego, to complete her undergraduate degree in computer science. 
“No matter what negativity or tragedy happens around me, I have to grab for the beacon of light,” Fu said. “Otherwise, I would never have survived.” 
A chance meeting on the beach led to a part-time job for her at a startup software design company. Despite being offered a stake in the firm, which would have made her a millionaire, she instead headed to Bell Labs in the Naperville-Lisle area in Illinois. 
“Even in China, we knew that Bell Labs was the place to work, that it was synonymous with innovation,” Fu said of her decision. While there, she had the opportunity through a special program to earn a master’s degree in computer science from the University of Illinois. 
That’s how Fu met Herbert Edelsbrunner, a UI computer science professor. Her relationship with Edelsbrunner drew Fu downstate, where she began working at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications on the Urbana campus. They married in 1991. 
“I like Herbert’s mind,” said Fu. “He is an incredibly intelligent person and so intuitive and down-to-earth.” 
Fu loved her job at NCSA, too, which, at the time, was the center for computer graphics and visualization. Among other things, her eight-person group did ground-breaking work on the movie “Terminator 2” and early work with the simulation of tornadoes. Fu started the team that developed Mosaic, the first graphical browser that led to Netscape and made Marc Andreessen ’94 ENG a household name. 
“NCSA was such an incredible group of people who were excited about doing new things. It was a dream job,” she said. 
In 1996, while still at NCSA, Fu founded Geomagic. The going was rough at first, with Fu trying to attract needed talent to central Illinois. Eventually, Fu and her husband left Illinois in 1999 for North Carolina’s Research Triangle. 
Even worse than personnel matters, though, was the slow signup of potential customers skeptical of the new technology. Fu ran through her first $8.5 million without making a sale, but she didn't lose faith. She hunkered down, laid off her sales staff and mortgaged her house to pay their severance. Fu asked her remaining employees to give her three months to turn the company around, which she did. Within a year, the company was showing a profit and now employs several hundred people in three countries. 
“Being so close to failure somehow gave me confidence,” Fu told Inc. magazine in 2005. “Everybody worked together; we reinforced each other. The crisis committed me to running the company.” 
Along the way, Fu developed her own style of command, which sounds quite similar to the way Benjamin Hoff describes Taoism in his best-selling book, “The Tao of Pooh.” “Taoism is happy, gentle, childlike and serene,” he wrote. “Its key principles are Natural Simplicity, Effortless Action, Spontaneity and Compassion.” 
That simplicity and compassion are evident in Fu’s vision of her company’s future. “I don’t have an ultimate goal,” she said. “I want every day to be a good day. And I want tomorrow to be better than today. I want my employees to wake up in the morning and feel energized and want to come to work. And, if I have customers who love to do business with us, I have a business. This is how I see the company.” 
One of those employees, Rob Black, has been an applications engineer at Geomagic since 1999. 
“Ping doesn't overwhelm you with her personality,” he said. 
“It [wasn't] apparent at first how different she was. Soon, though, I began to realize how approachable she is. She would just come around and chat with us. 
“She’s a very strong person and perfectly capable of making important decisions, but she also does a great job of listening to us. Our input is very much valued.” 
Fu often tells people that being a leader is not that different from being a mother. “The key is when you wake up in the morning and your best interest is someone else rather than yourself – your perspective changes,” she said. 
Fu’s own perspective has been formed by XiXi (pronounced “shi-shi”), her 13-year-old daughter with Edelsbrunner. 
“I’m much more interested in her curiosity and learning ability,” Fu said of her daughter. “I want her to want to learn. That’s what I’m proud of. We are not focusing on her grades. 
“To me, so long as the person has motivation and knows what they want to do, they can do wonderful things,” Fu said. “But their motivation cannot be to please their parents or to please their teacher or their boss. Their motivation has to be what they want. And that makes a world of difference. I see so many children who go to an elite school because they are pleasing their parents. Their parents will be so proud if they go to MIT or Harvard. If they do, they get a car.” 
Fu laughed at the very thought. “I would never do that for my daughter,” she said. 
While Fu’s outlook on child-rearing differs from some, her gruesome childhood experiences and incredible resiliency have also given her a different perspective from most entrepreneurs.
“I had to have this mind set,” she said of her resistance to fear. “I had to believe, ‘I can be somebody someday.’ 
“No matter what negativity or tragedy happens around me, I have to grab for the beacon of light,” Fu said. “Otherwise, I would never have survived.”


  1. From: University of Illinois FOIA
    To: Albert Wang
    Subject: FOIA Response (13-372)

    August 15, 2013

    Re: FOIA 13-372

    Dear Mr. Wang:

    I am responding to your letter received in our office on August 8 under the Freedom of Information Act in which you request:

    "copy of the following records (documentation in published, unpublished, machine-readable, and audiovisual forms, including correspondence such as printed letters as well as emails):

    1. Records, if any, that Ping Fu developed animation software used in the movie Terminator II.
    2. Records, if any, that Ping Fu work in computer animation at the National Centre of Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) producing the liquid metal T-1000 in the 1991 film Terminator 2.
    3. Records, if any, that among the many products Ping Fu helped design at NCSA was the animation software used in the film Terminator 2.
    4. Records, if any, that NCSA had Dr. Ping Fu, a PhD computer graphics wizard who had worked on morphing effects for Terminator 2.

    The records, if any, responsive to this FOIA request should be located in Ping Fu’s research and project files at NCSA, from April 25, 1991 (Ping Fu’s hire date) to July 1, 1991 (Terminator 2’s release date). These include research and project proposals, funding applications, financial and budget records, research data, reports, and correspondence."

    A search was conducted and no records pertaining to your request could be located.

    You have a right, under the law, to seek a review of this response by the Public Access Counselor (PAC) in the Office of the Attorney General. The PAC may be reached by phone at 217-782-1396, by email to, or by postal mail at the Public Access Bureau, 500 S. 2nd Street, Springfield, Illinois 62706. You also have the right to seek judicial review under section 11 of this Act.

    If you have questions for our office, please contact 217-333-6400.


    Thomas P. Hardy
    Executive Director
    and Chief Records Officer

  2. Request for Corrections to UIUC website and publications to undo Ping Fu’s fabrications

    Dear Dr. Guenther:

    Please find attached the University of Illinois’ FOIA response confirming that UIUC does not have any record in support of Ping Fu’s claim that she developed the animation software used in Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

    Terminator 2: Judgment Day is a 1991 science fiction action film, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. According to Wikipedia, Terminator 2 premiered on July 1, 1991. Logically, Ping Fu could not have contributed to the development of Terminator 2 animation software while she was working at the University of Illinois’ NCSA. Ping Fu was hired as a Visiting Resident Programmer by the University of Illinois’ NCSA on April 25, 1991.

    If you look at Ping Fu's resumes, she worked at AT&T Bell Laboratories until April 1991.

    Her work at AT&T Bell Laboratories was unrelated to animation software for Terminator 2.

    However, the University of Illinois continues to promote Ping Fu’s fabrication by endorsing her false claims on UIUC’s official website:

    “In addition to working on Mosaic, the first practical internet browser, [Ping Fu’s] team also developed new geometry algorithms that enabled the morphing special effects for the robot villain in the movie Terminator 2.”

    Computer Science Alumna to Present College’s Commencement Address, May 2, 2013

    “[Ping Fu’s] team also developed new geometry algorithms that enabled the morphing special effects for the robot villain in the movie Terminator 2.

    Ping Fu’s executive profile for CS @ Illinois Distinguished Achievement Award

    Illinois Alumni Magazine may have removed Deb Aronson’s article on Ping Fu, “The Tao of Fu” (, from its website. However, no correction has been issued.

    The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is a reputable institution of higher education. UIUC has a social responsibility not to aid and abet Ping Fu in propagating her fabrications.

    Again, I respectfully request that the University of Illinois issue a correction on UIUC official website and/or university newspaper, to truthfully characterize Ping Fu’s educational background (e.g., that Ping Fu does not have a Ph.D. degree from the University of Illinois) and work experience (e.g., that she was not Director of Visualization at NCSA, did not initiate or manage NCSA’s Mosaic project, and did not develop any animation software used in Terminator 2: Judgment Day).


    Albert Wang

  3. Typo:

    The following is a profile of “Hu Ping” by the University of Illinois Alumni Association by Deb Aronson

    Do you mean "Fu Ping"?

  4. This article was just removed from their website.

    Would you please make a note of it?

    Thank you!