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New software will let artists control how light interacts with objects

November 30th, 2018
Clouds contain billions of individual water droplets that are difficult to plot in computer graphics for movie scenes.

Enlarge / Clouds contain billions of individual water droplets that are difficult to plot in computer graphics for movie scenes. (credit: Dartmouth Visual Computing Lab)

Animators will now be able to precisely control how microscopic particles interact with light in their renderings of objects, thanks to a research collaboration between computer scientists at Dartmouth University and staff scientists at Pixar and Disney. The team will describe this new work next week at the SIGGRAPH Asia event in Tokyo, Japan; a paper is also forthcoming in the journal Transactions on Graphics.

The breakthrough will allow animation artists more creative leeway when designing the look of various objects by giving them the ability to customize the way light travels through them. It should have the biggest impact on renderings of so-called "volumetric materials"—clouds, fog, mist, skin, or marble statues, for instance. (Marble is a material that reflects some light off the surface but allows some to pass through, giving it a translucent appearance.)

"There is a whole range of dramatically different appearances that artists just couldn't explore until now," said Dartmouth co-author Wojciech Jarosz. "Previously, artists basically had one control that could affect the appearance of a cloud. Now it's possible to explore a vastly richer palette of possibilities, a change that is as dynamic as the transition from black-and-white images to color."

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