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Discoveries + Breakthroughs: Math in the Movies

Computer technology, computational physics, and approximation theory have played major roles in the evolution of the production of animated movies. TV viewers recently obtained a glimpse of the mathematics that, behind the scenes, makes such films possible.

In this recent episode of the syndicated TV series Discoveries and Breakthroughs Inside Science (DBIS), computer scientist Tony DeRose of Pixar showed how geometry and other mathematics contributed to the making of films such as Finding Nemo, Toy Story, and Toy Story 2. Video.

In today's animated films, DeRose noted, "without mathematics, we wouldn't have these visually rich environments and these visually rich characters." Trigonometry helps rotate and move characters, while algebra creates the special effects that make images shine and sparkle. Calculus helps light up a scene.

"I remember that, as a mathematics student, thinking, 'Where am I ever going to use simultaneous equations?'" DeRose said. "I find myself using them every day all the time now."

"Math in the Movies" is just one of a wide range of mathematical, scientific, and technological topics covered in the DBIS series. The American Institute of Physics produces these science news programs, with the MAA as a contributing partner. The NSF-funded DBIS project delivers twelve 90-second segments each month for showing on local TV stations across the country.

News Date: 
Tuesday, June 26, 2007