How Pixar Artists Use Math Every Day

by Caroline Mercurio on November 17, 2014 No comments

The next time your child (or your inner, math-fearing child) protests that “no one uses math,” you might tell them there would be no Woody without it.

In an interview with the large-brained folks at Numberphile, Pixar’s Tony DeRose explains the role of ones and zeroes in softening the shapes that eventually become Pixar animations.

DeRose drops a lot of terms you might not have heard since high school (e.g., parabolic arcs, derivatives, tangents, subdivision, polynomials) while demonstrating how numbers, not brushstrokes, are key to smoothing the surface of animated diamond and cube shapes.

The basic process, which he calls “splitting and averaging,” works a lot like creating curves using Photoshop’s Pen tool:

Working with curves in computer-generated 3D, however, relies more upon math than intuitive stroke points. In fact, “there are some magic numbers involved,” says DeRose, in moving from the 8-bit look of videogames to the smooth CGI you see in animated movies and 3D renderings.

As he demonstrates in the video, it’s a lot more complex than using a simple blur filter or liquefy tool—or shouting “enhance” at the screen like you see on television.

We’ll never look at “Toy Story,” math teachers, or whatever “parabolic arcs” are the same way.

[Video: Numberphile]

Matt Siegel writes about stock images, 3D animation, and complex Pixar equations for GraphicStock.

Caroline MercurioHow Pixar Artists Use Math Every Day

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