Animators build believable motion into their models of dragons for the movie “How to Train Your Dragon”.
drawings to computer animation, the magic of cartoon movies allows
audiences to explore a fantastical and imaginary world. To make animated
characters life-like on the big-screen, the laws of physics have to be
taken into account by film makers. To be believable, every character’s
movements have to have the fundamentals of physics supporting them. If
film makers incorporate scientific principles in the creation of the
animated movie, audiences can escape reality and enter a fantasy world.
biggest win is when the audience feels an emotional connection to the
character,” says Cassidy Curtis, a character animator for DreamWorks.
“Physics is integral to everything we do as animators because when
something doesn’t feel like it’s physically capable of happening, it
pops the audience out of the moment. It reminds the audience what
they’re watching isn’t real.”
in front of a computer screen, he shows the early drawings and
animations of Toothless, the young flying dragon in the movie “How to
Train Your Dragon.” Curtis helped develop the character that flies
through explosive flames, spins out of control and falls from the sky.
“Our job is to convince the audience that, not only could that animal
fly, but if he hits the ground, it will kill him,” he says.
Alejandro Garcia, a professor at San Jose State University, advises
DreamWorks animators, including Curtis, to create believable characters.
With physics in mind, he and other scientists help animators make
dragons fly right and explosions look real. “Anatomy is a topic that
doctors study, and so do artists,” Garcia says. “With animation, physics
has become another science essential to the craft of these artists.”
also helps animators create realistic yet whacky worlds of their own.
“It’s very important for animators to understand motion because that’s
really what they’re doing, they’re creating motion,” says Garcia.
create worlds that aren’t always a plausible fit in the natural world.
Damon Riesberg, a DreamWorks animator and the head of character effects
for DreamWorks’ “Megamind,” understands how to mix imagination with
reality. “Each movie, each film animation that we do has its own world
of physics,” Riesberg says. “They’re slightly off from what our normal
physics would be. ‘Megamind”s world wasn’t necessarily our world.”
other parts of “Megamind” are much more realistic. To create the
perfect cape design, animators took various capes out for a test spin.
“Our team built real capes of different fabrics, different materials,
lengths and thicknesses to see what the real world physics would be,”
analyze the real world physics of cape behavior while running, spinning
and jumping around. The tests give the animators understanding of how
to create a reasonable yet individualistic cape. “That’s some of the
science Garcia teaches,” says Riesberg.
physics lessons have also taught Jason Spencer-Galsworthy, supervising
animator for “Megamind,” a few things as well. “He explains how physics
actually works,” Spencer-Galsworthy says. Garcia gives lessons about
gravity to help animators figure out the speed of falling objects or how
characters should shift their weight from side to side when they’re
running, walking or standing still.
support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Garcia has been
able to develop a course at San Jose State University on the physics of
animation. The objective is to teach animators-in-training how to make
it all look plausible. Students who have taken the course say it’s
learned about the physics of jumps,” says student Carlos Nunez. “I
learned about light and how light is affected by the world around us and
how sound is affected.”
Johnstone is another student who appreciates Garcia’s course. “Physics
is what life is all about,” says Johnstone. “What we’re trying to
capture is how life works and how things behave.”
the classroom, Garcia analyzes a student’s animation and points out
subtle changes that would make the animation appear more realistic.
Garcia’s student, Paul Yula, says, “There’s a believability that comes
into play in animation. You can stretch the rules, but you can never
break the rules.”
these rules could give future animators a leg up on the competition
when they start the job search in the profitable movie, TV and gaming
a very highly skilled industry, both on the art and technology side,”
says Marilyn Friedman, head of outreach and special projects at
DreamWorks. “Not every school is teaching it in the way that will set
them up to succeed at a place like this.”
With physics as groundwork, prospective animators could make any imaginary world seem as authentic as our own.