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Improved Motion Blur in Computer Animated Film and Special Effects

This case study was produced as part of BU’s REF 2014 submission, made under unit of assessment 32 – Art and Design. It was originally published in November 2013.

Dr Ian Stephenson’s research develops new techniques to produce and render higher quality 3D images for feature film production.

The main techniques emerging from the research are as follows:

  • Anti-aliased noise to reduce artifacts when rendering rough or organic surfaces
  • Vector texturing to allow vector artwork to be directly used within the 3D rendering process
  • File compression techniques to significantly reduce file size without compromising quality
  • Use of volumetric point clouds for rendering volumetric effects such as smoke
  • Motion blur to more realistically reflect objects moving at speed.

The NCCA makes full implementation details publicly available in an ‘open source’ format, intending the research to be widely adopted.

Pixar

In 2007 Pixar implemented “Slow Shutter Opening/Timing” in their Photoreaslistic RenderMan (PRMan) Software. The first films to use the technique emerging in 2008. The shutter opening controls were announced as a “Major New Feature” of PRMan 13.

Following successful use of the new motion blur technique in the short film Presto in 2008, Pixar used it in Cars 2, which was released in 2011. The technique was used extensively in the film, which was more dependent on high speed action than any previous Pixar film. Cars 2 has a worldwide gross of $559,852,396.

$207b
Value of the global animation industry
92%
42 out of the last 53 nominees for Visual Effects Academy Awards used Pixar software

Wider Influence

Pixar are an important developer within the film industry and their software has been used by 49 out of the last 53 nominees for Visual Effects Academy Awards. They sell their PRMan rendering software to most of the major digital effects studios. The extensive reach of the software is evident through their international clients, which include Digital Domain, USA; Weta Digital, New Zealand; Moving Picture Company (MPC), USA and Canada; Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) UK; Framestore (UK and USA), Cinesite, UK and Double Negative, UK among others. PRman currently costs $2000 per copy, plus $600 annual maintenance.

Studios such as these require thousands of copies each, generating significant revenue for Pixar.

Through its inclusion within PRMan, the Shutter Timing technique is now part of the software used on virtually every major feature film production including (in 2012 alone): The Avengers, Bourne Legacy, Brave, The Dark Knight Rises, The Hobbit, Jon Carter, Life of Pi, Men in Black 3, Prometheus, TED, Total Recall and Skyfall.

Though motion blur is only one aspect of the highly complex techniques used for rendering, attention to detail at this level is what distinguishes high end commercial systems such as PRMan. Though motion blur is a small part of the production process, the films alone generated billions of dollars in revenue and were viewed by hundreds of millions of people. Artists working on them recognise the importance of small details and, while the average audience member may not be able to explicitly identify them, they contribute significantly to the viewing experience. This in turn contributes to the global animation industry worth $207 US billion.