Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Special Effects in Animation and Live-Action

Frozen Winter Wonderlands Come to Life

Snow Special Effects seen in animated films.

It has come to that time of the year when the nights grow longer and the temperature drops lower. The sight of bobsleds and candy canes fill the scenery in addition to the first snowfall of the year. Snow seems to be an effect in animation that has always been interpreted in so many different ways and in various mediums within animation. From 3-D animation to stop motion, it seems that animating snow brings challenges to both mediums when it comes to believability. In this essay, we shall look at two animated films, The Nightmare Before Christmas and Disney’s Frozen, and analyze both film’s methods and judge their individual success to animating snow. 

A film that always seems to amaze me and catapulted stop motion animation into new heights is The Nightmare Before Christmas. It was a film that achieved technical heights never seen before in stop motion animation. Stop motion animation basically shares the same ideas and principles as hand drawn or computer animation except the medium of acting is different. Puppets with integrated metal armatures are created and used as the vehicle for animation. As you could probably tell, to achieve that sense of realism and believability, every single character is posed correctly for a frame and then shifted and posed for the next frame. A method of animation that requires the most tedious of planning and patience. As heard in “The Making of the Nightmare Before Christmas” it took a group of animators 3 long years to animate the film frame by frame. Although a whole department was dedicated to just animating the characters; another group was busy animating many of the effects seen in the film. One effect seen in the film is snow which is an element that always seems to always challenge animators. Because the film was shot frame by frame using elements that could resemble snow, the challenge seemed to be to keep the element looking like snow and not sand or cotton. In addition, allowing for the snow to not shift or alter without the control of the animators seemed to be another challenge. The films seemed to use a combination or snow, sand and cotton to achieve its Winterwonderland looking like a snow heaven. The more difficult shots requiring snow needed strategic planning considering that some characters were stepping in and out of snow with chucks not only sticking and coming off their feet as they moved but also stuck onto their bodies. I believe solid pieces of sand where suspended on parts of the characters to make it seem like snow was coming and rolling off their bodies. Not an easy feat considering that one mishap with a single frame would require the shot to be redone from the beginning. In addition, using a variation of sand and cotton allowed for the look of the snow to resemble both powdery and chunky snow. Aspects that are very important when it comes to snow attributes and making it look believable. 

Another film that tackles the theme of snow and tries to render its own version of snow effects is Disney’s film Frozen. Unlike The Nightmare Before Christmas, Frozen is animated using 3-D models. This allow for the use of various 3-D programs and software at the disposal of the artist to use to achieve their goal of animating realistic snow effects. Considering that snow is such an  important element in the film, the engineers at Disney where able to come up with an algorithm that allows for the closets rendition of realistic snow and its properties never before seen in an animated film. The algorithm allows for nParticles, which are virtual particles used in various 3-D programs that simulate various properties such as wind, gravity, water, cloth, hair, and snow, to react and update any deformations as realistically as possible. In addition, different properties of snow are also created using a variation of the algorithms. Having properties such as powdery snow, chunky snow or sticky snow are now possible thanks to the algorithm. This allows for a completely different approach when it comes to animating snow. Although, completely different to past methods, such a method allows for interesting results. 

Both films rely on different methods to create snow effects. One uses real life props such snow and sand to create the feeling of gentle powdery snow covering a festive Christmas town while the other uses intricate and complicated software to simulate various properties seen in snow. Although very different, both are successful considering their respected mediums. The snow effects seen in The Nightmare Before Christmas are successful because the film allows for the use of stylized snow due to the film being very stylized to begin with. On the other hand, animating in 3-D always allows for a more realistic approach to animation hence the use of complicated software to simulate realistic properties. Although, if I had to chose which films is more successful in representing snow; I would have to chose Frozen considering that the technological achievement produced in the film required various algorithms to achieve the realistic simulation of snow. 

Both films are different mediums in the realm of animation. One uses complicated algorithms and software to create snow while the other uses real life props to bring to life a winter wonderland. Both very successful when it comes to achieving a very difficult effect. In addition, each film’s effects not only add wonder and hope to both films but also a sense of realism. A realism that that we can believe in due to their successful interpretation of snow. So if you are in the mood for a snowy adventure traveling across winter wonderlands, look no further because both films will take you in adventures never seen before. 

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