“When you’re animating a robot, it’s hard just to visualize math,” says Scott. “It’s hard to imagine that the same part of the body has the equivalent of 10,000 different joints or that something has tens of thousands of tiny moving parts. You really have to have your whole body in your head all the time.” One of the most common ways animators work with math is to model an element of the character so quickly they can just see it and make things work. If you’ve ever heard Disney talking about how the animators make their creations move, they use this technique all the time. “They’ll go through all these animations, they’ll go through hundreds of models,” Scott explains. “And they’ll find the one that looks cool, which isn’t the one that is actually how it really works.”
The animation software that Pixar relies on is called Maya. Scott says, “When we were animating on set and working with it, we really didn’t really understand how it worked.” Maya offers multiple types of animation, depending on the project—animations that are done as still or motion-capture, that give you access to the character and let you work on his behaviors using body language and body movements, or animation that is rendered and layered on top of a different type of animation, that gives you more freedom in the way you do the animation. Maya uses a combination of vector graphics and computer vision to do its calculations. “Vector graphics are like a vectorized version of your painting technique,” Scott says.
The animation studios often incorporate data, from physical devices like cameras to sound to computer models for sound effects, into their work. “The camera will have a point of view that moves,” says David Janko, the production assistant who is in charge of character motion to make things move more naturally. “And if you are creating a character that is in three-dimensional space, it’s going to have that perspective on the camera, so it will help when you’re animating your character to make it feel more real.”
When you’re animating a character, you can always create a character that doesn’t move. The best example is the animator with a computer vision tool like Maya that is constantly capturing and analyzing things. “When you’re in front of the light table, you just need to pick out the light. Sometimes there are no lights on the screen,” says Matt Groening, head of character animation on The Simpsons. “And on set,