The same subtle, random movements, bouncing shadows, and immense complexity that make plants fascinating to observe in life also make them hell to animate. Like water and fire, a rustling tree is one of the hardest things for a computer animator to realistically render. Thankfully, a new computer program can design realistic trees by watching and copying video of real ones, saving animators plenty of time and money.

Developed at the University of Bath, England, the program works by analyzing digital video of actual trees. Then, the computer program can make copies of the original video, but with enough slight, random variations to make the new tree appear unique. Apply those variations to the movement of a wholly new computer generated tree and viola, all the realism of a painstakingly animated tree with none of the hassle.

This may seem like a trivial advance, but imagine animating an entire forest, and you get the idea of how this could speed up and cheapen the animation process. In fact, the technology is so promising that Aardman, the animation studio responsible for the Wallace and Gromit movies has already expressed interest in the project.

Additionally, this technology is only the first step. The University of Bath scientists hope to develop similar programs that allow computers to learn from videos of other notoriously difficult to animate materials like smoke, fire, clouds, and water.

Now, with the painstaking process of animating fluids and trees automated, animators will need to come up with a new reason to stay long hours at work, avoiding their friends and loved ones.