Animators Need Math

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So your child thinks that they are the arty type: left-brained, creative and imaginative. They love to draw and they’re pretty good at it. With a scented marker in their hand, they are telling you that math really won’t be that useful to them. They have other careers in mind. But artists don’t make money, you tell them. There’s a reason a “starving artist” is a proverb, you say.

Then they bring up Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons. They are millionaires, they say. And they don’t even make their own art. Just kidding, you can’t quite tell what they are saying as they have put their marker down, turned their back towards you and are hypnotised by the glare of the television. From what you can tell they are telling you something about wanting to work for Disney. “They need artists all the time for their movies, mom.”

In fact, Disney and Dreamworks probably to do need artists, specifically animators. However, contrary to your child’s beliefs, those animators need math.

To be an animator whether it’s for films, television or video games, your child will need to know algebra, trigonometry, geometry, calculus and linear algebra. Why? Because if Anna throws a snowball at Elsa to stop her singing “Let It Go” once and for all, that snowball will need to go in a particular direction to look realistic and math is necessary to work out what that direction is.

Aside from that, linear algebra is necessary to show the way an object can be moved and rotated, increased and shrunk – all standard actions in the most basic of animations.

Here is an excerpt from an interview with Tony DeRose Pixar’s senior scientist about how he made Merida’s hair in Brave.

“In the real world, hair keeps its bounciness and volume by constantly colliding with itself,” DeRose says. Merida’s hair is made of 100,000 individual elements. “If you know any combinatorics, you know that if you have n objects, you have n² possible collisions,” he says, or 10 billion. How can you render so many collisions quickly enough to be usable? You have to create a new spatial data structure that culls extraneous collisions without being too lossy.”

I’m not sure what the last sentence even means, but you can tell your child that they can’t consider dropping math until they can explain it to me.

Sources: WeUseMath; The Verge

Marina Gomer is a journalist and mother of one.  She lives with her family in Sydney, Australia.