The Physics of Animation

A new college course intends to teach future Hollywood artists the basic science necessary to make virtual worlds look realistic

Is This Fight Physically Realistic?

Dreamworks Animation

San Jose State University is soon going to start offering a class called "Physics of Animation," that aims to teach future animators the proper way to render a leaf falling to the ground or a person walking with a realistic gait. Or a kung-fu fighting panda getting launched into the air by a furry little creature.

Physics is a key element of realism, says the course's professor, physicist Alejandro Garcia. Any movie-viewer can spot bad physics, though they might not always recognize what's bothering them. And for all the progress that has been made in animation in the last decade, and all the science homework that effects experts say they do prior to creating scenes, most movies still let through a glitch or two that makes the attentive viewer wince.

For example, that rogue wave in Poseidon was certainly better than the one that rolled through The Perfect Storm a few years earlier, but it still looked fake.

The professors involved hope to start offering the course in the fall of 2009 - which means we the people will have a long time to wait until the results of their work start showing up on the big screen.