Wednesday, December 29, 2010

It's the Physics, Amigo

As the New York Times says:

... [I]f you want computer-generated hair (or fur) to look convincingly real when it is twisted, clumped, matted, coiled, soaked, dusty, wind swept, singed — or just about anything else a film director could possibly think to do to it — then Eitan Grinspun, the director of Columbia University’s Computer Graphics Group, is the man to consult. ...

Mr. Grinspun and his team of graduate students have helped scientists from Walt Disney Studios, Pixar, Weta Digital and Adobe Systems solve their toughest C.G.I. problems ... “There’s not a huge number of people who can do this,” said Alasdair Coull, head of Weta Digital’s software development team. “We’re essentially looking for the best in the world.” ...

And why are various CG studios looking for the best? Because the bar for CGI features keeps getting higher as time goes on. Sure, you can farm the work out to a Mumbai job shop, but having Jimmy Neutron-quality graphics and animation for, say, Avatar or Tangled won't really make for a wondrous, enveloping movie-going experience.

It hasn't escaped the notice of corporate chieftans that higher-end CGI work tends to put more fannies in theatre seats. Tinkerbell IV on Blu-ray is one thing, but when you're blowing a digital image up to billboard-sized proportions at the local AMC, you want the hair and fur believable, the animation convincing and nuanced. Department store mannequins clanking around just won't cut it.

Given that, it makes sense for Weta Digital to engage high-powered academics. Just like it makes sense to hire production teams that can deliver compelling images and screen-time on the back end of all the research.


Anonymous said...

What exactly is next for CGI animation? I'm very curious to see what is next, keep in mind I'm not an animator just someone who wants to know what other limitations still exist in CGI animation.

Anonymous said...

None but strong stories and characters.

Anonymous said...

the future of cinema is all contingent on good stories and characters development. Looking at the success of movies like The Town, Social Network and now True Grit, and large success of quality animated films this year, ex. toy story 3, HTTYD, Despicable Me and Tangled, It's evident that the majority of the movie going public are hungry for some quality cinema.

Sure big blockbuster flicks will still do well, Avatar, Alice in Wonderland, Iron Man etc, but we're seeing more and more of these films fall to the lower budgeted, quality story and character driven material.

I have no idea if what I just wrote relates in any way to the article in question. However I hold the right to my opinions albeit in context or not. Besides this blog isn't exactly The New York Times of blogs. Sorry Steve.

Anonymous said...

There's LOTS of things that dont work right in CG animation. Just because it looks good on screen doesnt mean it wasnt FULL of cheats.

Working with the computer is slow, difficult, not intuitive, and did I mention, SLOW.

But, thats all on the back end, not whats seen on screen

Anonymous said...

"Another persistent problem is having certain types of materials keep their general shape even when they’re moved or pushed. In “Tangled” keeping Rapunzel’s puffed sleeves puffed was an impossible task. (Artists ultimately had to draw in the puffs."

What? No one had to "draw" in any sleeve puffs! I've never even heard of Mr. Grinspun. Who IS this guy?

Is he just trying to take credit on something he had nothing (or perhaps, almost nothing) to do with?

Floyd Norman said...

I'll confess I was blown away by the images on the big screen. "Tangled" looked absolutely marvelous.

Having said that, I still miss old fashion drawing. I even miss being chewed out by Milt Kahl and Frank Thomas.

Anonymous said...

Although you probably never were.

Anonymous said...

>There's LOTS of things that dont work right in CG animation. Just because it looks good on screen doesnt mean it wasnt FULL of cheats.

Yep. It's still just eye magic, no matter what you want to call it. When hi tech bio medical engineers have to design the way a real heart works in simulation on a computer, they actually design the real functioning heart in 3D to study its complexity, not simply a visual interpretation of one. It takes exponentially more computing power to accomplish real world functioning simulations, and it is extraordinarily difficult and time consuming to achieve even the most modest results. Recreating what simply 'looks' like a functioning structure in 3D is a cake walk for these guys in comparison to what their brains are usually paid to do. It is still just the illusion of life, no matter how many texture maps you throw on it.

Anonymous said...

And dont be too swayed by the tech-media. A LOT of the hair shots in Tangled were animated by hand.

But thats not a slam at all on the hair department. They did brilliant, mind-blowing work. But even they did a lot of cheating :)

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