Disney's Practical Guide to Path Tracing

How does Disney animation create such realistic images?

Have you enjoyed the beautiful imagery from Disney’s new animated films like Big Hero 6, Frozen, or Tangled? What makes them look so realistic and beautiful?

Unlike in traditional animation, where each frame is hand-drawn and painted, today’s CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) Animation is actually based on the physics of light, while still being controlled and styled by artists.

While the technology shown in the movie Big Hero 6 was amazing, the technology used to bring the film to life was equally impressive. From software like Tonic, originally developed for Rapunzel’s hair in Tangled, and used tremendously to illustrate Elsa’s character arc through her hair in Frozen; to Hyperion, a new renderer developed over two years while Big Hero 6 was in production (and named after the original location of Walt Disney Animation).

However, some of the imagery in Big Hero 6 was so complex that the team at Walt Disney Animation had to create new software just to handle it: Coda (named after Koda from Brother Bear, but with a computer ‘coding’ twist). What Coda does is create a 55,000 core Supercomputer out of render farms spread across 4 geographic locations!

To give you an idea of how powerful this supercomputer is, Disney’s Chief Technology Officer Andy Hendrickson says it “could render Tangled from scratch every 10 days.”

Why did the Disney artists need so much computing power to bring Big Hero 6 to the screens? This entertaining video from Walt Disney Animation Studios explains how their artists and technicians work together to create beautiful imagery. It’s a little bit technical, but entertaining enough to capture your attention. Who knows, this might inspire the next generation of artists and computer scientists!

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