The physics of movie-making: making computer animation more realistic

The physics of movie-making: making computer animation more realistic
©iStock/JurgaR

There is a new theory based on physics which could help computer animation and allow more life-like movie-making.

The study was led by Dartmouth College and uses the physics of cloud formation and neutron scattering as a basis for more realistic movie-making.

The software developed using their novel technique focuses on the interaction between light and microscopic particles to develop computer-generated images.

Researchers from Pixar, Disney Research, ETH Zurich and Cornell University contributed to the study.

The art of computer animation

According to Dartmouth College, objects such as clouds contain billions of individual water droplets that are not practical to plot in computer graphics for movie scenes. The current techniques in the industry only allow artists to specify the density of particles in each part of a cloud to define its shape and appearance rather than the ability to control how the particles are arranged in relationship to each other.

Benedikt Bitterli, a PhD student at Dartmouth who co-authored the research paper, said: “There is an interesting interaction between art and science when you are creating animated films.You’re doing this physics simulation, but the people using it are not physicists. We are creating software and simulations for use by artists.”

More realistic movies

The programming of the software will allow artists to create a wider variety of looks. This is because they are able to customise how light travels through “volumetric materials” such as clouds, fog, mist, a marble statue, or skin.

Wojciech Jarosz, an assistant professor of computer science at Dartmouth College who oversaw the research, explained: “By only controlling the density, current techniques basically assume that the particles are arranged randomly, without any interdependence. But this limitation can have a dramatic effect on the final appearance.”

Bitterli added:”This wasn’t simply a matter of taking techniques from other research areas and using them for generating pretty pictures with computer graphics. Getting the physics equations to work properly was a new and extraordinarily difficult challenge.”

A research paper detailing the findings will be published in the journal Transactions on Graphics.

The advancement will be presented at SIGGRAPH Asia, which is taking place from December 4-7 in Tokyo, Japan.

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