On beautiful math that makes beautiful art

The other day at the office I was talking with some friends about animation, art, code, math. You know, the usual stuff. The subject of beauty came up, and it occurred to me that beauty, in all of these different disciplines, is often associated with elegant solutions to problems. Beautiful math explains complex phenomena with simple formulas, while beautiful animation accomplishes rich and layered storytelling goals with seemingly simple actions.


A couple of days later I stumbled on Daniel White’s amazing 3D fractal images, via my friend Saschka. I’ve been a fan of fractals since reading Mandelbrot’s book in high school. The Mandelbrot set is this rare creature that’s beautiful both mathematically (an elegant formula) and visually (rewarding exploration with endless variety). Like everybody else, I wondered whether something as beautiful could exist in three dimensions (or more, for that matter!) Until recently, though, nothing had turned up. There were beautiful shapes made using complex formulas, and elegant formulas that made ho-hum images, but nothing as sublime as Mandelbrot’s set. This thing, though, looks very promising!

If you like math even a little bit, it’s really worth reading White’s account of how these images got made. The guy wrote his own renderer, for crying out loud!

Daniel White doesn’t seem convinced yet that this object is the “real” 3D Mandelbrot, and I’m inclined to agree: as stunning as it is visually, there’s something a bit unwieldy about the formula, with all its thetas and phis. But what’s wonderful is the way White and his colleagues are conducting their search. They’re not content with just one kind of beauty. It won’t be “real” to them unless it has both!

Another Dragon trailer

I guess there are two different trailers making the rounds. This one is the “international” trailer (which I think really means “not the USA or Canada”.) It’s interesting to see how they pitch the movie slightly differently to different audiences. The same warnings apply: watch this only if you don’t mind spoilers!

How to Train Your Dragon trailer

This is the movie I’ve been working on for the past year or so. I can’t say enough good about this film. By far the best one I’ve ever worked on, I can recommend it without hesitation. Yes, it’s that good!

The trailer is finally up, and it has a bunch of my shots in it! (The freeze frame you see below is one of them.) I have mixed feelings about posting the trailer here: on the one hand, compared to the previous teasers and leaked footage that’s been out there, this does a much better job at representing what the movie’s really like. But on the other hand, it takes a lot of sweet moments and shows them out of context, which could take away some of the surprise and enjoyment when you see it in the theater. So, if you don’t mind spoilers, watch the trailer below. But if you’d rather keep yourself pure and unsullied, just wait ’til March 26th and go see it on the big screen!

And here’s a link to the full-res trailer if you’d like to see it a bit bigger!

On the Value of Drawing for CG Animators

Last weekend I got to see a live interview with one of my all-time heroes, Hayao Miyazaki. He said, through a translator, all kinds of interesting things. When asked about computer animation, he had this to say: “One time we hired an expert to animate some scenes on the computer, but in the end we found that we could draw the scenes faster with a pencil.”

Now maybe this was his choice of words, and maybe it was the translator’s, but I found this response pretty revealing. It reflects a thought process about what animation is, in which drawing is central to everything. If what you’re trying to do is draw a scene, a pencil really is faster than a computer. But is that necessarily true? Is animation, at its heart, about drawing?
Continue reading On the Value of Drawing for CG Animators

Acerola mimosas

On the last day of my trip, I made brunch for a group of wonderful friends of the family. There’s no such thing as “brunch” in Brazil, so I tried to be a good culinary ambassador and introduce the concept in the best possible light. Each item was adapted to the local scene: scrambled eggs with queijo de minas and fresh herbs from the front yard; coconut brioche French toast with a passionfruit-pear compote (and maple syrup straight from New York); and mimosas made with acerola juice. Nothing came out quite as I expected: the bread had a really strange texture, and the compote was more like a soup. But my hosts seemed to enjoy it all, and the mimosas were a definite hit!

Cheese ice cream with hot guava sauce

The Brazilian state of Minas Gerais is famous for its cheese, and infamous for its cheese-loving citizens. A popular snack here is queijo de Minas with a slice of guava jelly. So when I saw this item on the menu, I had to try it. The cheese in question has a very light, subtle, slightly tangy flavor, so the result was somewhat reminiscent of a cold slice of cheesecake. Verdict: surprisingly delicious!

Tropical fruits of Brazil

I’m in Brazil for a couple of weeks, Visiting family. My favorite thing about Brazil is the abundant fresh fruit, stuff you never hear about in the States. Shown here: figs, passionfruit juice, and atemóia, which is a hybrid between the cherimoya and the pinha. The flavor is sweet and wonderful and hard to describe, somewhere between a pear and a pineapple, and the texture is slightly chewy and fleshy like a lychee nut. I could eat these all day.



Eric Rodenbeck just pointed me to this gorgeous little game for the iPhone: Drop7. It combines the best elements of Tetris and Sudoku, but somehow transcends them both. While most games start out interesting and then plateau, this one actually gets better with time. It tempts you to come up with ever-more-creative ways to set up the domino-like chain reactions that yield the highest scores. The design is also solidly appealing (hey, with two nice weights of Helvetica, how can you go wrong!) And is it addictive? Ohhhh man, is it ever. The first time I played it, I was on a hard-seated chair. I don’t know how long I was sitting there, but when I tried to stand up, I couldn’t feel my toes. Both of my legs had gone to sleep. It’s that addictive.

My only critique is that every single number is the wrong color. Consult a synesthete next time, ok guys? :-)

Inadvertent data art


I’m fascinated by the way our viral video has been spreading around the web. It’s a very chaotic process. One day it’ll get a few hundred views, and the next day 60,000. Blip.tv gives some very basic statistics, but it doesn’t really tell the story of how the clip’s popularity spreads from one community to another. So I’ve started using Processing to try to visualize it. Processing is really easy to learn to use, but certain commands, like bezierVertex(), have slightly less-than-intuitive arguments. The image above was the result of one of several failed attempts to understand that particular function.

So that’s how babby is formed!

Looks like our How to Make a Baby video has gone viral. It’s been on Boing Boing, Neatorama, Geekologie, Cartoon Brew, MSN.com, and about a zillion other blogs. In the mainstream media, it’s been on Canal Plus, Metro (UK), Epoca, Glamour, and ESPN of all places.

As of today, our original video has been watched over 400,000 times. (I’m still trying to figure out how much popcorn that would mean if all those people had to go see it in a movie theater.) Meanwhile, an unofficial copy on YouTube has garnered another quarter of a million views (although for some reason my “official” YouTube copy has a scant 10,000… go figure!) And I guess the lack of dialog gives the short some kind of global appeal, because it’s been blogged in Catalan, Chinese, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, French, German, Hebrew, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Latvian, Lithuanian, Malay, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, Thai, and Turkish. Whew!

Here are some of the best comments I’ve seen so far (in English, anyway…)

“The pope was right – condoms ARE useless. Rubber gloves, however!”

“Excellent! I played it for my 5 year old daughter and her 5 year old cousin before they left for school. I’m sure it’ll make for an interesting day for their teachers :)”

“Scientifically inaccurate – fails to show the crucial contribution made by the stork.”

“Now that is dedication! I’m watching this on the set of a stop-motion film, and it certainly puts our long waiting times between takes into perspective.”

“Adoption is much easier and less stressful on the lungs/stomach.”

“That is exactly how my wife and I did it. By the way, NEVER blow on two fingers at once. Yep … twins!”

“My girlfriend is inflatable, too. God, I’m so lonely.”

Cassidy Curtis's splendid display of colorful things.