Monday, October 31, 2016

The Animation Show of Shows!

Hey, check it out!

I went to the Animation Show of Shows screening this weekend. It's a tastefully curated collection of animated shorts from all over the world. In my opinion, this year's selection was fantastic. I was awed, surprised, shocked, amazed, and amused from nearly all the shorts. Easily worth the $7 I paid. I would highly recommend the event to anyone with an interest in animation. Go see it!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Outline for the Second Term Paper

1.     Introduction
a.     Paths of actions
                                               i.     Due to acceleration, gravity, and inertia
b.     Thesis: In certain scenes, some films lack proper parabolic paths of actions.
2.     Speed (1994 film)
a.     Bus is required to keep a certain speed, or else a bomb attached underneath will detonate; certain events lead the bus to an incomplete highway overpass with a large gap
b.     Path of action should lead the bus in a downward arc towards the ground, but instead the bus is lifted by an “invisible force” and completes the jump
c.     Directors/producers likely aware of improbability for bus to make the jump, but allow it for thematic purposes
3.     Mac and Me (1988 film)
a.     Eric, a wheelchair-bound boy, spots and chases after a visiting alien (MAC). Eric begins to roll down a hill and loses control of his wheelchair, eventually falling off a cliff into a lake
b.     The angle of descent down the hill doesn’t match the arc-lacking drop in the falling shot, making the jump from the hill rolling shot to the lake falling shot pretty hilarious. Eric should have followed a parabolic arc that probably would have lead him to hit the rock wall on the other side of the lake
c.     Likely unintentional error (poor cinematography/visual effects), and was not re-recorded/fixed due to low production value.
4.     Kung Fury (2015 film)
a.     In an early scene where Kung Fury gains his kung fu powers, Kung Fury kicks the enemy ninja into the air. He then jumps up in the air with seemingly instant velocity and no deceleration, kicks the ninja down, and continues flying up
b.     Next shot, shows him landing in a classic Jean-Claude Van Damme split pose
c.     Realistic arc (for any human capable of jumping that high) would have a natural arc to Kung Fury’s jump with a deceleration and eventual speed of 0 (for a brief moment) at the apex of the arc, which is not shown at all in the scene
d.     Intentional breakage of physics laws for comedic effect
5.     Conclusion
a.     Some films break physics erroneously, and some do it consciously for comedic effect or to complete a plot point.

b.     Kung Fury should not be taken seriously, but is highly a recommended watch

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Stop Motion Animation of Falling

For this assignment,  I wanted to make something more out of the required fall, so I decided to create a little story with it. I created this animation using my DSLR, Dragonframe, and too much free time.

For the intro walking scene, about half of the shots required a counterbalance for the teapot to stay standing, so I used an extended paperclip to hold it into place. I set up a "key light" with my desk lamp and used a tripod to stabilize all the shots.

In the shower scene, I used a combination of paperclips and a swiss army knife (it was the only thing I had nearby that was strong enough to hang the teapot from!) to pose the teapot, both on top of the bar and in mid-air. For the actual drop, the frames were planned ahead using the odd rule to calculate the distance per frame of the falling teapot.

After shooting, I compiled the frames together in After Effects, did some editing to remove my hands and paperclips, and added some music and sound to liven up the animation. The animation was shot on twos, but I lengthened certain frames for dramatic effect/editing.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The Laws of Physics in an Animation Universe - WALL-E

WALL-E is a feature animated film by Pixar Animation Studios, released in 2008. The movie illustrates a story of a dystopian future Earth, where humans have departed from the planet and left it in a trashed state, with only an army of compacting “WALL-E” robots to clean it up. As it turns out, a single WALL-E lives on amongst the army during the 700 years of the humans’ absence, who has gained sentience and a charming personality. WALL-E ends up finding a healthy plant amongst the trash, and is later visited by a scouting robot, EVE, who retrieves the plant. WALL-E, who is infatuated with EVE, hitches a ride on EVE’s ship back to her “mother” ship, the Axiom, and the rest is Disney film history.

Part of WALL-E’s great appeal is its relatability – the two main characters WALL-E and EVE are stylistically robotic machines, but with clear humanistic personalities and emotions. The interactions between the two emulate a classic, one-sided, head-over-heels in love relationship which certainly power the film’s romantic storyline. But what really sells the film’s relatability and belivability is their realistic physical appearances, and the realistic physics of their actions and the world around them. To engage the audience in the film’s story, the laws of physics in the animated world of WALL-E were developed intentionally to be highly similar to real-world physics. Some of the many laws of physics Pixar emulated in their film have been chosen to be examined in this essay; we will begin with action & reaction.

As stated in Isaac Newton’s third law of motion: “When one body exerts a force on a second body, the second body simultaneously exerts a force equal in magnitude and opposite in direction on the first body.” This is a familiar concept to most of us: we perform a physical action, like a push or a pull, and expect an equal force in the opposite direction. Animators commonly use this action/reaction property for producing anticipation, in order to allow audiences to see certain actions on screen and have said actions feel realistic. In WALL-E, the animators used this law to not only demonstrate realism, but provide dramatic and humorous effect. The “Define Dancing” clip seen below is an iconic scene from WALL-E, showing WALL-E and EVE flying around the Axiom exterior in a synchronized swirling dance. WALL-E is propelling himself through space using a fire extinguisher – this is certainly possible in reality! With the expulsion of the fire extinguishing agent, there is a significant enough force to push a human with low friction. This has been demonstrated in videos online (, and in WALL-E’s case, a small robot in an essentially friction-less space could accelerate very quickly from the force of the extinguisher.

Another scene that demonstrates the action/reaction property is at the first quarter of the film, when EVE ends an angered outburst by blowing up the beached ship that had inadvertently trapped her with its crane-hanging magnet earlier. As the ship blows up and tips over, it collides into the ship next to it, causing that ship to slowly tip and collide with the one further down, and so on. Similarly to how domino blocks fall and the action/reaction property that enables them to, the ships fell in a cascading manner that required an action from the previous ship tipping over to cause the reaction of next ship tipping over.

One more instance that illustrates the action/reaction property is shown numerous times in the second half of the film, onboard the Axiom. Due to the microgravity environment and reliance on automated crew and hoverchairs, the futuristic humans have lost most of their motor controls and gained significant weight. In several occasions, some humans are shaken, bumped into, or fall off their hoverchairs, with their bodies jiggling and reverberating like jelly. Just like a water balloon might vibrate after falling to the floor, the animators did an amazing job recreating the gelatinous effect in the humans’ bodies. Even in the scene with the captain’s fight with the auto-pilot system “Auto”, as the captain grabs hold of Auto and is swung around, his body shakes and swings, illustrating his weight and a reaction to Auto’s rotational action.

Inertia and drag are two other physical properties that Pixar emulates impressively well to further the realistic look in the film. Newton’s first law of motion, “An object either remains at rest or continues to move at a constant velocity, unless acted upon by a net force”, is the usual baseline description of inertia. We see it in play in a number of scenes:

Near the end of the film, the captain loses control of the steering to Auto, who begins to tilt the Axiom on its side. A high angle shot from inside the ship shows all the human passengers beginning to fall and eventually roll to one side of the ship. A following shot shows one passenger who slides past another, reaching their hand out desperately to grab something or someone to stop their descent. A stationary passenger grabs hold of one falling person, but upon grabbing the hand of another, the stationary passenger himself begins to fall off of his hoverchair and down to the side of the ship. The friction of the passengers’ suits and the floor keeps them from accelerating too quickly, but the inertia of their large bodies prevented the one stationary passenger from saving the other two.

Another scene which demonstrates the properties of drag is one of the Axiom bridge scenes, where the captain has just acquired the plant for the first time and is watching a recorded video of some dancers. As the captain shakes the plant in time with the dancers, a leaf falls off the plant and drops slowly in a classic side-to-side spinning motion, typical of real leaves. This is a realistic replication of the inertia and air resistance (which is essentially drag) property of leaves, due to the simulated gravitational pull inside the ship’s bridge.

A final set of properties that Pixar aimed to replicate realistically are magnetics and heat – while they were less prominent in the film compared to the other properties mention earlier, these details are worth pointing out for their accurate replications:

In a scene mentioned earlier with EVE blowing up a beached ship, a few seconds before she shoots the ship, EVE was trapped by a large hanging magnet on a crane of the ship. Realistic to how a metallic object (like EVE) would react, as she first flew over the ship, the magnet above her slowly rotated to follow her path. As she stopped to think, the magnetic pull lifted her and violently collided her into the magnet, leaving her trapped. Only until she used her ray gun to explosively exit the magnet could she manage to escape the magnetic pull. Given a real magnet used in real-life shipyards, a metallic object like EVE could easily be similarly “stuck” to it.

Finally, the physical properties of heat are shown in the film in various scenes – when objects accumulate large amounts of heat, they typically emit electromagnetic radiation visible to our eyes in the form of color (blackbody radiation). An object can visibly glow at a certain temperature, depending on its material, but can be estimated by the color too. In the scene of the film that shows the descending ship containing EVE, as WALL-E rises from his hiding spot in the rocks directly below where the ship landed, the rocks are shown to be red hot as a result of the high temperature from EVE’s ship rockets. Another scene early in the film with WALL-E naively waiting for EVE to wake up atop his trailer replicates a property of heat in air (convection), and how it produces a mirage called heat haze. The blurred shimmering effect shown in the foreground of the shot is the realistic emulation of that property.

With a film like WALL-E, Pixar knew that convincing the audience of the reality of “the last robot on Earth” would have been difficult if it were ‘cartoonized’ too strongly. The connection to the main character would have been lost, and the story arc less impactful. In that effort to connect the audience to the world of WALL-E, the physics of WALL-E were made to highly mimic the real word. The success brought on by the film reveals the truth to this theory, and sealed it in history as one of the best animated films of all time.

A closing note: on the development and animation of the robot characters, Andrew Stanton, director and co-writer of WALL-E, said in an interview, “We wanted the audience to believe they were witnessing a machine that has come to life. The more they believe it’s a machine, the more appealing the story becomes. I kept trying to make the animators put limitations on themselves, because I wanted the construction of the machines and how they were engineered to be evident,” Stanton added. “The characters seem robotic because they don’t squash and stretch.”

As the director himself fantastically stated, Pixar intentionally did not squash and/or stretch the robot character animations. To keep the illusion of the robots as real functioning machines, Pixar intentionally limited the rigs to only allow realistic motion and movement – no heavy manipulation of the model shapes allowed. In both physics and animation, Pixar kept the magic alive through realistic imagery.

Note about outline: I've taken out a few examples from the outline that I felt were weak + replaced the counter-arguments section with my note about realistic animation.