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The Science of Animation

The Science of Animation

It’s easy to forget the level of sophistication in the science and technology behind an animated film. Carissa Braun  touches on some of the key aspects of modeling snow, ice and light in the movie Frozen. Check out the adaptation of this post on Imgur for more delightful animations:

Originally shared by Carissa Braun

The Science Behind the Art of Frozen

What makes animated films beautiful? Depending on the film, it could be stylistic approach, the storyline, or, as in the case of films like Frozen, the science. 

Close to the release date of Frozen, Disney Animation Studios released a hint of the science used for the film. The beautiful snow is based on a material point method algorithm. To summarize: a particle has position, velocity, and deformation. The algorithm gives the particle mass, velocity, and volume as needed modified by collision response until you have an updated particle position. When you model each particle, you have impressive, realistic snow. When you tweak the various parameters such as snow strength, you can any type of snow possible, but you should know what parameters to use: density, hardening, and elasticity being some of the main ones if not accounting for temperature.

That’s just for the snow, but what about light? The angles, the material, the reflection or refraction, absorption, and even the movement of light through various transparencies such as sections of skin all must be considered. The Rendering Equation is one solution for computing images by simulation of the physical behavior of light; however, it does require knowledge of accurate geometry, materials, and lights. If certain parameters aren’t known or not met, the realism of a film suffers.

How much it matters depends on the studio and the film. The brilliance of Frozen was to be captured on a number of aspects from the music to the storyline to the visuals. The amount of work, time, and effort to achieve such a visual is rarely scrutinized, but perhaps next time you see an animated film and noticed how realistic the snow is, or how beautiful the ice reflects even the magical source of light, you’ll start to wonder how they actually achieved it.

Sources and Further Reading

Disney Snow Demonstration [Smithsonian Blog]

Young’s Modulus Snow [Google Books Preview] 

Rendering Equation [Central European Seminar on Computer Graphics (website)] [Dartmouth (pdf)]

Origin of Image [Let It Go Sequence (YouTube)]

For #ScienceSunday  (ScienceSunday; Allison Sekuler, Aubrey Francisco, Buddhini Samarasinghe, Chad Haney, Rajini Rao, Robby Bowles, and me) although there is #ScienceEveryday !


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