Computers in Film

Computers in Film

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Computer animation is the art of creating moving images via the use of the computers. It is a subfield of computer graphics and animations (Computer Animation). It is created through the use of 2D and 3D computer graphics. This technique is becoming increasingly popular in the world of the film industry. Several animated features are now being created by the use of computers. Special effects are being created by computers as well.

Movie companies that are becoming famous for using computers are Pixar, Dream Works, Paramount Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Square Pictures and Walt Disney. Dream Works developed the computer animated movies, “Antz”, “Shark Tale” and “Shrek” (1 and 2). Paramount Pictures created, “Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius”, Square Pictures created, “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within”, and Walt Disney created the recent animated feature, “Dinosaur.” The most inventive and successful company is by far Pixar with their creation of “A Bug’s Life”, “Finding Nemo”, “Monster’s Inc.” and “The Incredibles.”(List of Computer-animated films)

In computer animation an illusion of movement is created by an image being displayed on the computer screen which is then quickly replaced by another image that is very similar but shifted slightly. One may wonder, how do these movies create images to look like smooth moving figures? The pictures must be drawn as 24 frames per second or faster. Some movies these days are putting 70 frames a second which makes it impossible for the eye or brain to process to notice the break between objects. Computer animation requires high frame rates to reinforce the realism of the picture. There is no jerkiness seen as the higher speeds due to “persistence of vision” (Computer Animation). Humans’ eyes and brains help out with computer animation, they automatically smooth out minor breaks because they store a picture for a fraction of a second and it creates the illusion of continuous movement.

After an image is sent to the screen to a back buffer, a computer can draw the image and make any changes needed before it is complete. Once the image is correct the computer tells the screen to draw from the back buffer either by copying the image from the back buffer to the primary buffer or making the back buffer the new primary buffer.

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In 2D computer animation, moving objects are called, “sprites” which are images that have location associated with them; this location is changed a little each frame and displayed to make the sprite appear it be in motion. In 3D computer animation – developed in 2001 – complicated math is used to make three dimensional polygons and apply “textures”, lighting and other effects are added to complete the image (Computer Animation). Choreography is arranged and soon the picture is complete but first the view point must be defined and scene must be drawn from that point for the audience to see it from that point.

To make certain things like the appear in real life, such as a wooden wall, a technique called, “texture mapping” must be used, whish is basically matching an image with a texture and stretching it like computer-wallpaper to fit the image. Spotlighting is also used where images need to be seen as bright or dark. Colors are lightened or darkened in certain spots to show contrast and shadows and soon the image begins to look realistic. After this process is repeated several times, pictures will start to look as if they are real and moving, eventually a scene will be created and even farther down the road the scenes will add up to a featured film.

Three movies that had exceptional use of computer animation and special effects were Pixar’s, “Finding Nemo”, Columbia Picture’s, “Spiderman” and Tom Hank’s, “Polar Express.”

Pixar animation studios is an award winning computer generated imagery animation firm (Pixar). They specialized in high-end computer graphics technology. It’s creation of “Finding Nemo” was a huge leap in the computer animation world; the movie became the highest grossing animated film of all time and it received an Academy Award for Best Animated feature film in 2004 (Pixar). To make this underwater tale look life-like, computers were used. The lighting of the underwater sea world and the characters were accomplished through use of computer animation. The movement of all the fish, from the stroke of their fins to the movement of their mouths was all computerized. There was also a 3-D water simulator which allowed the water to look as if it was interacting with itself (Pixar How We Do It). All of these things put together with years of labor created an award winning film.

In the movie, “Spiderman”, many computer generated graphics were used and needed to make the city and its superhero come to life. The scenes showing Spiderman jumping from building to building or flying through the city were all animated by computers. Also many of the fight scenes between Spiderman and other “bad-guys” had computerized special effects added to them, such as explosions and moves done by the characters. This movie and its sequel both had scenes loaded with computer animation and the movie would not have been as great with out them.

Castle Rock Entertainment’s, “Polar Express” is the newest of the computer animated films. This movie is based upon live-action motion-captured technology. Where sensors are placed on actors such as Tom Hanks in this case. The motion sensors record and send expressions and movements to a computer, which can then produce computer animated characters onto the screen. This movie which is based on a children’s book used computer animation to bring the story to the 21st century and put it on the big screen. Everything was done through computers in this film, the wiping of the steam from the windows, showing slight reflections, framing shots around reflections were all believable-looking by the computer animation techniques used.

Computer animation is a strong force taking over the film industry, especially the children’s movies industry. Computer animation has become regular and popular in special effects. The best animated films over the past few years have all been computer animated. One wonders if eventually it will be impossible to distinguish between computer generated films and those that were filmed live. Whether its computer toys, rampaging dinosaurs, superheroes, or a magical train driving through the North Pole, computer animation has become more and more prevalent in movies and TV today. As technology evolves and computers become faster and faster, the animation will become more and more convincing and realistic. Given the record-breaking amount of money computer animated films generate today, it's easy to conclude that better technology has captured moviegoers young and old. Movies will never be the same as technology improves; there is no
telling what the future has in store for us.

Works Cited

Computer Animation. Online. 8 Dec 2004.

List of Computer-animated Films. Online. 8 Dec 2004.

Movie Photos: Spider-Man. Online. 10 Dec 2004.

Movie Photos: The Polar Express. Online. 9 Dec 2004.

Pixar. Online. 8 Dec 2004.
Pixar How We Do It. Online. 8 Dec 2004.
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