Home News Being good at maths could get you a job creating Pixar’s characters

Being good at maths could get you a job creating Pixar’s characters


It’s Saturday night and you want to watch a feel-good film… Pixar won’t disappoint. Young or old, Pixar has something for all ages, including some tear-jerkers. While the films might feel light-hearted, their productions involve quite some calculations, meaning that prospective employees were probably good when they were taught geometry, multiplications and trigonometry at school.

In a TED-ed video, Tony Derose, senior scientist at Pixar, talks about the concept of “new mathematics” applied to many of their movies – think Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc or Toy Story 2.

The characters seen on screen are “not just a bunch of spheres and cylinders stuck together” but complex creations that are designed so that they can move in two dimensions. To achieve this, the teams use midpoint calculations.

Tony goes on to talk about subdivisions. As explained in The Mirror, they were first used in the 1997 short Pixar film Geri’s Game. Essentially, Tony said, there’s more to the main character’s hands than just fingers and fingernails.

In the video, Tony explains that a subdivision rule is a recursive way of dividing a polygon or other two-dimensional shape into smaller and smaller pieces to the point it smooths out each aspect of the character, making it look far more realistic.

Pixar has built its characters this way since 1997, including Princess Merida in Brave, whose face, hands and dress were subdivisions.

What about Woody from Toy Story? Has it ever crossed your mind that a bunch of number-obsessed designers were hidden behind your favourite character?

For a character like Woody to walk from left to right, Tony explains, quite some mathematics are needed. With artists and designers thinking in shapes and images, and computers thinking in numbers and equations, it’s no wonder.

In order to instruct a character on how far to the left or right to go, Pixar staff use coordinated geometry. To give each on-screen element the right size, they use scaling.

Intrigued by how it works? Scaling in Pixar movies is applied as follows:

Xend = 2 * Xstart means that the x from the start and the end need to be multiplied by two.

With rotation, things get a little trickier. Students usually learn this in 8th or 9th grade, around the age of 14.

To rotate a character, the equation Xend = cos0 * Xstart + sin0 * Ystart is followed.

Still wondering whether doing your maths homework or not? If you want to one day work at Pixar, you better do.

Maths aren’t for everyone, but as proven by Pixar’s Tony, it’s everywhere – including your favourite movies.

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