The Game Design Through Mentoring and Collaboration (GDMC) program, run by George Mason University, is designed to increase student interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects in traditionally underserved communities. Learn more in this Discovery.
Credit: Evan Cantwell, George Mason University
If you spend a lot of time online, you may have an electronic alter ego--an avatar. An avatar is a movable image that people design to represent themselves in virtual reality environments or in cyberspace. But is one's avatar just a virtual identity, or can it also affect how the person is in the real world?
Find out more in this Science Nation video. Credit: Science Nation, National Science Foundation
Chris Rogers at Tufts University is working to improve science education by bringing engineering into K-12 classrooms. Rogers started the Center for Engineering Education and Outreach (CEEO) in the School of Engineering at Tufts University. One of the first programs the CEEO started was the Tufts Student Teacher Outreach Mentorship Program (STOMP). The STOMP program enlists undergraduate engineering students to mentor K-12 teachers and students. Learn more in this Discovery.
Credit: Elsa Head, Tufts University
Mitchel Resnick and his colleagues at the MIT Media Lab are focused on getting young people excited about computer science. Their goal is to encourage young people to use technology as a means to express themselves in creative ways, including through computer programming. Read more in this news release.
Credit: L. Barry Hetherington
Ron Fedkiw is an associate professor of computer science at Stanford University. In 2008, he received an academy award for his groundbreaking work in liquid simulations. While people don't usually associate computational scientists with movie stars, Fedkiw's honor shows the impact of computer science on Hollywood and people's lives. Read more in this news release.
Credit: Frank Losasso, Jerry Talton, Nipun Kwatra, Ron Fedkiw / courtesy of Stanford University
The Division of Undergraduate Education (DUE) of the Directorate for Education and Human Resources accomplishes its mission through providing leadership, supporting curriculum development, preparing the workforce and fostering connections. DUE's current programs constitute a comprehensive approach to strengthening STEM education at two- and four-year colleges and universities by improving curricula, instruction, laboratories, infrastructure, assessment, diversity of students and faculty, and collaborations.
A young student finds himself transformed into a tiny superhero and flung into the midst of an alien plot to take over the world--a plot he can foil only by defying gravity, walking on water and charging across electric fields. This narrative dilemma is the basic storyline for "Geckoman!," an online video game developed by Northeastern University researchers that seeks to educate middle-school students about nanoscience and technology.
June 13, 2011
The Physics of Animation
The best animators know their physics
From 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.
"The 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."
Sitting 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.
Physicist 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."
Garcia 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.
Animators 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."
But 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," says Riesberg.
Animators 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.
Garcia's 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.
With 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 invaluable.
"I 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."
Emily 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."
In 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."
Learning 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 industries.
"It's 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.
Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations presented in this material are only those of the presenter grantee/researcher, author, or agency employee; and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.