Do I Need To Be Good At Math To Be An Animator?

Definitely, you need to have a strong knowledge of math to be an animator. Today, animation is done on computers and knowledge of programming where math is fundamental is a major requirement. Whether you are talking about algebra, trigonometry, geometry or calculus, animators today need to be able to understand both the basic and advanced principles behind these mathematical concepts and apply them to the animation in order to come up with a lifelike or even a “larger than life” presentation of an animation project.

It’s easy to understand why geometry is needed in animation. Characters, weapons and backgrounds are all made up of different shapes and varying sizes—something that animators take to be essential knowledge. Geometry also tackles the properties and relationships of various geometric shapes like lines, surfaces and solids. Their knowledge of geometry allows them to make drawings and representations that are well-balanced and well-defined. Polygons, for example, have long been used in animation to create shapes that can be interpreted by computers.

Trigonometry also figures in each action made by the characters in an animated film. It is knowledge of trigonometry that makes characters move in different ways. In order to make characters turn 180 degrees or 380 degrees, animators need to understand trigonometric principles. When combined together, making calculations in geometry and trigonometry will enable animators to make characters move in different directions.

Algebra may give headaches to the artistically inclined in high school and college but if they are thinking of going into animation after college, they should pay particular attention to the equations in linear algebra. The reason? It is this knowledge of algebraic equations and solutions that animators use to make special effects that make an animation flick exciting and fun to watch. Calculus is also another thorny subject for those who would rather concentrate on the artistic side of animation. However, knowledge of calculus actually improves an artistic presentation because the principles behind it is used in programs that work to enhance a scene.

Aside from these traditional math subjects, there are also new mathematical techniques that are being used today to transform images. With this knowledge, animators can smoothen out very rough edges and make scenes more realistic.

Physics, which is also a subject that is related to math—and equally challenging for many students— is also commonly used in computer animation. This is illustrated in Pixar’s movie Brave as explained by the studio’s Senior Scientist Tony DeRose in his lecture “Math in the Movies” given in 2013. He said that physics was used in making the hair of Merida look and feel alive. DeRose explained, “In the real world, hair keeps its bounciness and volume by constantly colliding with itself… If you know any combinatorics, you know that if you have n objects, you have n² possible collisions.” This was applied in Merida’s hair which was actually made up of a total of 100,000 different elements and consequently 10 billion collisions. To make the element of something as seemingly simple as a character’s hair look and feel lifelike, DeRose said they had to make an entirely fresh spatial data structure that would make use of these collisions and give that final effect on Merida’s hair. This kind of high-level knowledge of physics and math is needed in making animated movies.

Career Spotlight: 3d Animator

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