Animated Movies and the Science Behind Them

Like millions of others, the wonder of animated movies made up a significant portion of my childhood. I watched Sleeping Beauty countless times, and even named my favourite teddy bear ‘Nemo.’ Animated movies offer an outlet for imagination, emotion and entertainment through beautiful visual storytelling. Often these films are so perfectly crafted that the public is unaware of the massive amount of effort taken to create them. We see the final product; not the months and years of planning, execution, editing and more that goes into creating a one to two-hour film.

Classic animated movies such as Snow White, Cinderella and The Lion King were made using the time-consuming, detailed art of two-dimensional animation. In the widely used celluloid process, scenes were broken down into layers and frames were individually drawn to create the illusion of movement. Although these conveyed stories in fluid and understandable formats, simple enough for children to understand and love, they were amateur compared to the complex science of 3D animation.

In 1995 Disney released Toy Story, the first feature-length film made with 3D animation. 2D animation was a complicated process that required skill and planning, and 3D animation took this to a new level. Danielle Feinberg, computer scientist and director of photography at Pixar, delivered a Ted Talk in April earlier this year giving the world a glimpse at what goes into creating 3D animated films.

“To create our movies, we create a three-dimensional world inside the computer. We start with a point that makes a line that makes a face that creates characters, or trees and rocks that eventually become a forest. And because it’s a three-dimensional world, we can move a camera around inside that world.”

Animated Movies and the Science Behind Them

Virtual realities created by complex code do not follow the physical limitations of reality, and Feinberg calls this phenomena “untethered artistic freedom” in which the content created can be unbelievable to audiences.

To maintain a sense of realism in their limitless virtual world, filmmakers need to use science. Feinberg explained the use of Computer Generated Images (CGI) in an explanation of how Finding Nemo was made:

“One of the most critical elements was how the light travels through the water. So we coded up a light that mimics this physics — first, the visibility of the water, and then what happens with the color. Objects close to the eye have their full, rich colors. As light travels deeper into the water, we lose the red wavelengths, then the green wavelengths, leaving us with blue at the far depths.”

She continues, discussing how the creation of 3D animated films needs to achieve certain visual standards. This is where the artistry comes in; finding the middle ground between limitless capability and science in order to recreate a magical version of reality.

“We use math, science and code to create these amazing worlds. We use storytelling and art to bring them to life. It’s this interweaving of art and science that elevates the world to a place of wonder, a place with soul, a place we can believe in, a place where the things you imagine can become real…”

Animated Movies and the Science Behind Them

This just comes to show how complex, high-tech and sophisticated the world of bringing wonder to children (well, not just children) in the 21st century is.


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