Films. Apparently it’s all about the boxes

Most think the film set is reserved for the likes of A-list actors and hotshot directors. They’re the faces we all recognize and they get all the glory. But more often than not, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Jolie and Clooney are mathematicians. You see CGI plays a starring role in most films nowadays, and maths people are needed to make that happen.

Now if you’re into your big screen you’ll know all about it. But for those of you that don’t, CGI means Computer Generated Imagery. About 99% of movies use its services these days – think the likes of Gladiator, King Kong and Lord of the Rings and we’re definitely on the same page. CGI helps make the unbelievable, believable, with characters like Shrek becoming heroes in their own right. But how does the thing work?

Try and imagine the object in an animation as simple boxes. I know this sounds basic but go with it. Big boxes and little boxes all stuck together to make the final shape. To get these boxes moving, equations from geometry are used to create computer programs. These work out how much of the box will be seen, whenever the camera angle changes. Here’s the detail:

And just when we thought technology couldn’t blow our minds anymore, along came Gollum and motion capture technology. While being totally computer generated, Gollum’s sinister expressions and movements came courtesy of actor Andy Serkis, After decorating the man in sensors, his movements could be drip fed into a computer. Gollum then came out the other side, kicking and screaming.

Films aren’t just about characters either. No, no. Things like lighting, backgrounds, water, smoke and even clouds need the CGI treatment.

So credit in the direction of mathematicians everyone. They’re the ones keeping you glued to your seat.

Careers in the technical side of CGI include being:

  • Mathematician translating discoveries about the natural world to computer models which make animations more realistic
  • Software developer taking maths and putting it into software to create life like animations
  • Computer games designer looking at what animation can be used in computer games in real time situations

Or you could be involved in developing the animations:

  • Animator using software to create CGI animations
  • Model maker creating models which can be used as the starting point for computer animations
  • Set designer developing the background for live action filming
  • Special effects technician creating special effects for either real life filming or as tests to base animation on
  • Stunt performer showing what animations are possible in real life making the animation more believable