Alla Sheffer horizontal
Alla Sheffer is a computer science professor at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, and an Amazon Scholar. Her work contributed to the recent launch of the Made for You service, which allows customers to create a custom T-shirt to their exact measurements and style preferences.
Courtesy Alla Sheffer

Amazon Scholar Alla Sheffer uses computer graphics to drive improvements in garment sizing and fitting

Complex algorithms promise to fundamentally change a craft that still relies almost entirely on handwork.

Alla Sheffer is a computer science professor at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver, Canada, where she has built a powerhouse research center around her specialty: computer graphics. Her research applies insights about human perception and communication of shapes to algorithmic shape processing, yielding novel modeling methods targeted at a broad user base. The algorithms she has developed accelerate and simplify the creation of virtual and real shapes across multiple domains, including fashion and product design.

Royal Society of Canada video when Alla Sheffer named a Fellow

Sheffer is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and an IEEE Fellow. Her other recent honors include the Canadian Human Computer Communications Society 2018 Achievement Award, and a UBC Killam Research Award (2019). In addition, last year she was inducted into the ACM SIGGRAPH Academy, an honorary group of individuals who have made significant contributions to the field of computer graphics. Sheffer was recognized for her contributions in geometry processing and interactive geometric modeling.

Sheffer is also an Amazon Scholar, an expanding group of academics who work on large-scale technical challenges for Amazon while continuing to teach and conduct research at their universities. Sheffer has an affinity for meshed cows and dragon stuffies, as both are excellent examples of applications of computer graphics algorithms.

We recently spoke with Professor Sheffer about the field of computer graphics, her career, and her work with Amazon Fashion on its recently announced “Made for You” Custom T-shirt.

Alla Sheffer with cows
Alla Sheffer admits to an affinity for meshed cows and dragon stuffies, as both are excellent examples of applications of computer graphics algorithms.
Courtesy Alla Sheffer

What drew you to computer graphics?

I took a computer graphics course during my undergrad studies and was enamored by the ability that graphics algorithms provide for folks with no art skills to create beautiful content. I then drifted into doing more engineering-oriented research, such as computer aided design and finite element mesh generation, but came back to graphics, as I just find it more visually appealing and exciting. 

One of the things I find exciting about graphics is that many technical problems that arise when creating virtual content directly correlate to real-world fabrication challenges. For instance, algorithms for computing texture atlases for graphics applications are directly applicable to fabrication of stuffed toys. In both settings, one needs to compute 2D charts, or patterns, that can be stitched together in three dimensions to form the desired virtual shape or real stuffed toy.

How does your work impact Amazon?

I am helping Amazon Fashion solve shopping challenges, such as size and fit. Most recently we launched Made for You, which is a new way for customers to shop in “Size You” using virtual fit technology that allows customers to create a custom T-shirt to their exact measurements and style preferences.

Traditionally, creating made-to-measure garments requires an expert pattern maker to take individual customer body measurements, modify the original garment patterns with these measurements in mind, and have a single custom garment manufactured. The pattern maker would then test how well the resulting garment fits a mannequin with your dimensions and iteratively adjust the patterns until they are satisfied with the fit. The time and expertise required to generate well-fitted, made-to-measure garments means that very few customers can afford to purchase such clothing.

With Made for You we are using technology to make it easier and more affordable for all customers to order made-to-measure, customizable garments. Providing the algorithmic support to achieve this goal requires solving two hard research problems. First, what does it even mean for a garment to look, or fit, the same on two different people? To answer this question, we need to understand how customers perceive fit. Once we know what the customer expects, how do we create the garment that the customer wants? Or specifically, how do we generate the patterns for this desired garment? These are two separate problems, and we are looking at both.

Made for You Customer T-shirt
Alla Sheffer is helping Amazon Fashion solve shopping challenges, such as size and fit, including her work on the recently announced Made for You service. Providing the algorithmic support to help create Made for You requires solving two hard research problems, Sheffer says.
Credit: Glynis Condon

How did you become interested in garments?

I find clothes fascinating – they are ubiquitous yet ridiculously hard to design to fit well even for just traditional sizes. While I have no formal garment design or pattern-making background, I learned a little bit about pattern making and sewing from my mom. She was a semi-professional tailor and I grew up in a house where tailoring magazines, patterns, and sewing tools were all around. I never expected this knowledge to be useful in my professional life, but here I am.

What led you to become an Amazon Scholar?

I love my university position; it gives me the opportunity to train undergraduate and graduate students and enables me to research fundamental open problems in computer graphics and related fields. But it lacks the immediate satisfaction of seeing your inventions being used by the general public. I found the opportunity to work on practical problems that Amazon provides exciting. The opportunity to impact how millions of people purchase clothing is tremendously exciting. I am also personally looking forward to the day where I can purchase clothing that perfectly fits me without first having to try on dozens of ill-fitting garments. 

The opportunity to impact how millions of people purchase clothing is tremendously exciting.
Alla Sheffer

Does working at Amazon benefit your academic research?

Yes, it does. I learn a lot from the amazing researchers, developers, and garment design professionals I am working with. I am also inspired by the workflow processes that Amazon uses. Adopting some of them for the academic environment would be very useful.

What advice would you give to someone interested in computer graphics as a career?

Do it! Computer graphics is cool and a computer graphics background provides you with a lot of work opportunities both inside and outside the traditional movie or video game industries. To be successful as a graphics researcher or developer you need to have a strong background in computer science theory and mathematics, and to be a very, very good programmer. In graphics, being able to code complex algorithms and to make them run as fast as possible is critical. Most universities have courses dedicated to computer graphics. Take them. Graphics has many different sub-areas – such as geometric modeling, which is what I do. See which ones attract you and try to take specialized courses in those.

Research areas

Related content

US, WA, Seattle
We are a team of doers working passionately to apply cutting-edge advances in deep learning in the life sciences to solve real-world problems. As a Senior Applied Science Manager you will participate in developing exciting products for customers. Our team rewards curiosity while maintaining a laser-focus in bringing products to market. Competitive candidates are responsive, flexible, and able to succeed within an open, collaborative, entrepreneurial, startup-like environment. At the leading edge of both academic and applied research in this product area, you have the opportunity to work together with a diverse and talented team of scientists, engineers, and product managers and collaborate with others teams. Location is in Seattle, US Embrace Diversity Here at Amazon, we embrace our differences. We are committed to furthering our culture of inclusion. We have ten employee-led affinity groups, reaching 40,000 employees in over 190 chapters globally. We have innovative benefit offerings, and host annual and ongoing learning experiences, including our Conversations on Race and Ethnicity (CORE) and AmazeCon (gender diversity) conferences. Amazon’s culture of inclusion is reinforced within our 14 Leadership Principles, which remind team members to seek diverse perspectives, learn and be curious, and earn trust Balance Work and Life Our team puts a high value on work-life balance. It isn’t about how many hours you spend at home or at work; it’s about the flow you establish that brings energy to both parts of your life. We believe striking the right balance between your personal and professional life is critical to life-long happiness and fulfillment. We offer flexibility in working hours and encourage you to find your own balance between your work and personal lives Mentor & Grow Careers Our team is dedicated to supporting new members. We have a broad mix of experience levels and tenures, and we’re building an environment that celebrates knowledge sharing and mentorship. Our senior members enjoy one-on-one mentoring and thorough, but kind, code reviews. We care about your career growth and strive to assign projects based on what will help each team member develop into a better-rounded engineer and enable them to take on more complex tasks in the future. Key job responsibilities • Manage high performing engineering and science teams • Hire and develop top-performing engineers, scientists, and other managers • Develop and execute on project plans and delivery commitments • Work with business, data science, software engineer, biological, and product leaders to help define product requirements and with managers, scientists, and engineers to execute on them • Build and maintain world-class customer experience and operational excellence for your deliverables
US, Virtual
The Amazon Economics Team is hiring Interns in Economics. We are looking for detail-oriented, organized, and responsible individuals who are eager to learn how to work with large and complicated data sets. Some knowledge of econometrics, as well as basic familiarity with Stata, R, or Python is necessary. Experience with SQL, UNIX, Sawtooth, and Spark would be a plus. These are full-time positions at 40 hours per week, with compensation being awarded on an hourly basis. You will learn how to build data sets and perform applied econometric analysis at Internet speed collaborating with economists, data scientists and MBAʼs. These skills will translate well into writing applied chapters in your dissertation and provide you with work experience that may help you with placement. Roughly 85% of interns from previous cohorts have converted to full time economics employment at Amazon. If you are interested, please send your CV to our mailing list at econ-internship@amazon.com.
US, WA, Seattle
Amazon internships are full-time (40 hours/week) for 12 consecutive weeks with start dates in May - July 2023. Our internship program provides hands-on learning and building experiences for students who are interested in a career in hardware engineering. This role will be based in Seattle, and candidates must be willing to work in-person. Corporate Projects (CPT) is a team that sits within the broader Corporate Development organization at Amazon. We seek to bring net-new, strategic projects to life by working together with customers and evolving projects from ZERO-to-ONE. To do so, we deploy our resources towards proofs-of-concept (POCs) and pilot programs and develop them from high-level ideas (the ZERO) to tangible short-term results that provide validating signal and a path to scale (the ONE). We work with our customers to develop and create net-new opportunities by relentlessly scouring all of Amazon and finding new and innovative ways to strengthen and/or accelerate the Amazon Flywheel. CPT seeks an Applied Science intern to work with a diverse, cross-functional team to build new, innovative customer experiences. Within CPT, you will apply both traditional and novel scientific approaches to solve and scale problems and solutions. We are a team where science meets application. A successful candidate will be a self-starter comfortable with ambiguity, strong attention to detail, and the ability to work in a fast-paced, ever-changing environment. As an Applied Science Intern, you will own the design and development of end-to-end systems. You’ll have the opportunity to create technical roadmaps, and drive production level projects that will support Amazon Science. You will work closely with Amazon scientists, and other science interns to develop solutions and deploy them into production. The ideal scientist must have the ability to work with diverse groups of people and cross-functional teams to solve complex business problems.
US, WA, Seattle
Amazon internships are full-time (40 hours/week) for 12 consecutive weeks with start dates in May - July 2023. Our internship program provides hands-on learning and building experiences for students who are interested in a career in hardware engineering. This role will be based in Seattle, and candidates must be willing to work in-person. Corporate Projects (CPT) is a team that sits within the broader Corporate Development organization at Amazon. We seek to bring net-new, strategic projects to life by working together with customers and evolving projects from ZERO-to-ONE. To do so, we deploy our resources towards proofs-of-concept (POCs) and pilot programs and develop them from high-level ideas (the ZERO) to tangible short-term results that provide validating signal and a path to scale (the ONE). We work with our customers to develop and create net-new opportunities by relentlessly scouring all of Amazon and finding new and innovative ways to strengthen and/or accelerate the Amazon Flywheel. CPT seeks an Applied Science intern to work with a diverse, cross-functional team to build new, innovative customer experiences. Within CPT, you will apply both traditional and novel scientific approaches to solve and scale problems and solutions. We are a team where science meets application. A successful candidate will be a self-starter comfortable with ambiguity, strong attention to detail, and the ability to work in a fast-paced, ever-changing environment. As an Applied Science Intern, you will own the design and development of end-to-end systems. You’ll have the opportunity to create technical roadmaps, and drive production level projects that will support Amazon Science. You will work closely with Amazon scientists, and other science interns to develop solutions and deploy them into production. The ideal scientist must have the ability to work with diverse groups of people and cross-functional teams to solve complex business problems.
US, CA, Palo Alto
The Amazon Search team creates powerful, customer-focused search solutions and technologies. Whenever a customer visits an Amazon site worldwide and types in a query or browses through product categories, Amazon Search services go to work. We design, develop, and deploy high performance, fault-tolerant distributed search systems used by millions of Amazon customers every day. We’re seeking a Principal Scientist with a deep expertise in Search Science. Your responsibilities will include everything from developing and prototyping innovative machine learning, and deep learning algorithms to implementing, testing, and supporting full solutions in a production environment. We are looking for innovators who can contribute to advancing search technology on what’s scientifically possible while remaining committed to creating world-class products. Joining this team, you’ll experience the benefits of working in a dynamic, entrepreneurial environment, while leveraging the resources of Amazon.com (AMZN), Earth's most customer-centric company one of the world's leading internet companies. We provide a highly customer-centric, team-oriented environment in our offices located in Palo Alto, California. Key job responsibilities As a hands-on leader of this team, you’ll be responsible for defining key research questions, identifying relevant data, adopting or proposing innovative machine learning solutions conducting rigorous experiments, publishing results and working with the engineering team to deploy these solutions. As a strategic leader, you will identify investment opportunities, develop long term strategies, and propose, prioritize and deliver on goals. You’ll also participate in organizational planning, hiring, mentorship and leadership development. You will be technically fearless and with a passion for building scalable science and engineering solutions. You will serve as a key scientific resource in full-cycle development (conception, design, implementation, testing to documentation, delivery, and maintenance). About the team Starting in 2009, the Visual Search & Augmented Reality team has thus far launched many visual search solutions on the Amazon App that use computer vision and machine learning/deep learning to help customers complete their shopping missions more easily; multiple internal teams at Amazon (devices, Kindle, Seller services, etc.) also use our libraries and APIs to deliver solutions to their own customers. We are a full stack shop, and our team capabilities cover the whole solution spectrum, ranging across applied science, large scale engineering services, product management, UX design, and mobile app development for iOS and Android.
US, MN, Minneapolis
AWS Central Economics is an interdisciplinary team on the cutting edge of economics, statistical analysis, and machine learning whose mission is to solve problems that have high risk with abnormally high returns. Our team leverages the strengths of our scientists to build solutions for some of the toughest business problems here at Amazon AWS. We are looking for an exceptionally talented, seasoned, and motivated Economist to manage a team of economists and data scientists to drive the science for AWS. Key job responsibilities Manage a team of economists and data scientists to deliver actionable economic analyses to business leaders, provide leadership on the economics and science used in the analyses, and engage with business leaders to identify challenges AWS faces that call for in-depth economic analyses and to ensure the analyses have their intended impact.
LU, Luxembourg
&ltHire Relocation Requisition - not for posting> Provides insights to leadership on improving Supply Chain cost and Speed by using Data Science and Analytics techniques. Build Dashboards and models to industrialize these findings at scale.
US, VA, Arlington
The People eXperience and Technology Central Science Team (PXTCS) uses economics, behavioral science, statistics, and machine learning to proactively identify mechanisms and process improvements which simultaneously improve Amazon and the lives, wellbeing, and the value of work to Amazonians. We are an interdisciplinary team that combines the talents of science and engineering to develop and deliver solutions that measurably achieve this goal. We are looking for economists who are able to work with business partners to hone complex problems into specific, scientific questions, and test those questions to generate insights. The ideal candidate will work with engineers and computer scientists to estimate models and algorithms on large scale data, design pilots and measure their impact, and transform successful prototypes into improved policies and programs at scale. We are looking for creative thinkers who can combine a strong technical economic toolbox with a desire to learn from other disciplines, and who know how to execute and deliver on big ideas as part of an interdisciplinary technical team. Ideal candidates will work closely with business partners to develop science that solves the most important business challenges. They will work in a team setting with individuals from diverse disciplines and backgrounds. They will serve as an ambassador for science and a scientific resource for business teams, so that scientific processes permeate throughout the HR organization to the benefit of Amazonians and Amazon. Ideal candidates will own the data analysis, modeling, and experimentation that is necessary for estimating and validating models. They will work closely with engineering teams to develop scalable data resources to support rapid insights, and take successful models and findings into production as new products and services. They will be customer-centric and will communicate scientific approaches and findings to business leaders, listening to and incorporate their feedback, and delivering successful scientific solutions. Key job responsibilities Use causal inference methods to evaluate the impact of policies on employee outcomes. Examine how external labor market and economic conditions impact Amazon's ability to hire and retain talent. Use scientifically rigorous methods to develop and recommend career paths for employees. A day in the life Work with teammates to apply economic methods to business problems. This might include identifying the appropriate research questions, writing code to implement a DID analysis or estimate a structural model, or writing and presenting a document with findings to business leaders. Our economists also collaborate with partner teams throughout the process, from understanding their challenges, to developing a research agenda that will address those challenges, to help them implement solutions. About the team We are a multidisciplinary team that combines the talents of science and engineering to develop innovative solutions to make Amazon Earth's Best Employer.
US, WA, Seattle
The People eXperience and Technology Central Science Team (PXTCS) uses economics, behavioral science, statistics, and machine learning to proactively identify mechanisms and process improvements which simultaneously improve Amazon and the lives, wellbeing, and the value of work to Amazonians. We are an interdisciplinary team that combines the talents of science and engineering to develop and deliver solutions that measurably achieve this goal. We are looking for economists who are able to apply economic methods to address business problems. The ideal candidate will work with engineers and computer scientists to estimate models and algorithms on large scale data, design pilots and measure their impact, and transform successful prototypes into improved policies and programs at scale. We are looking for creative thinkers who can combine a strong technical economic toolbox with a desire to learn from other disciplines, and who know how to execute and deliver on big ideas as part of an interdisciplinary technical team. Ideal candidates will work in a team setting with individuals from diverse disciplines and backgrounds. They will work with teammates to develop scientific models and conduct the data analysis, modeling, and experimentation that is necessary for estimating and validating models. They will work closely with engineering teams to develop scalable data resources to support rapid insights, and take successful models and findings into production as new products and services. They will be customer-centric and will communicate scientific approaches and findings to business leaders, listening to and incorporate their feedback, and delivering successful scientific solutions. Key job responsibilities Use causal inference methods to evaluate the impact of policies on employee outcomes. Examine how external labor market and economic conditions impact Amazon's ability to hire and retain talent. Use scientifically rigorous methods to develop and recommend career paths for employees. A day in the life Work with teammates to apply economic methods to business problems. This might include identifying the appropriate research questions, writing code to implement a DID analysis or estimate a structural model, or writing and presenting a document with findings to business leaders. Our economists also collaborate with partner teams throughout the process, from understanding their challenges, to developing a research agenda that will address those challenges, to help them implement solutions. About the team We are a multidisciplinary team that combines the talents of science and engineering to develop innovative solutions to make Amazon Earth's Best Employer.
US, WA, Seattle
Amazon is looking for talented Postdoctoral Scientists to join our global Science teams for a one-year, full-time research position. Postdoctoral Scientists will innovate as members of Amazon’s key global Science teams, including: AWS, Alexa AI, Alexa Shopping, Amazon Style, CoreAI, Last Mile, and Supply Chain Optimization Technologies. Postdoctoral Scientists will join one of may central, global science teams focused on solving research-intense business problems by leveraging Machine Learning, Econometrics, Statistics, and Data Science. Postdoctoral Scientists will work at the intersection of ML and systems to solve practical data driven optimization problems at Amazon scale. Postdocs will raise the scientific bar across Amazon by diving deep into exploratory areas of research to enhance the customer experience and improve efficiencies. Please note: This posting is one of several Amazon Postdoctoral Scientist postings. Please only apply to a maximum of 2 Amazon Postdoctoral Scientist postings that are relevant to your technical field and subject matter expertise. Key job responsibilities * Work closely with a senior science advisor, collaborate with other scientists and engineers, and be part of Amazon’s vibrant and diverse global science community. * Publish your innovation in top-tier academic venues and hone your presentation skills. * Be inspired by challenges and opportunities to invent cutting-edge techniques in your area(s) of expertise.