Of Monsters, Magic and Mathematics

Who is to say that monsters don’t exist?
Who is to say that monsters are always bad?
And just who is to stop you from letting your imagination take (un)control?

Animation films have always carried with them, a sense of mysticism. They leave us yearning for more with their enchanting stories but also have us questioning “what if”, throughout. Because in this world, one sees it all through the third eye of imagination.

When the makers of The Lion King (1994) thought of making their magic, they used lions to show us how the simple relationship between a father and a son could be manipulated by the monstrous madness of a jealous and evil force (Scar). The production budget of this film was $45M, but what it collected across the world was a whopping $970 million – which makes it approximately 22 times the amount put into making the film. And when Pixar’s team decided on the first 3D animation film, Toy Story (1995), it made $375 million in the worldwide box office, which was 12 times the production budget. In 2001, Pixar animation studios came out with Monsters Inc. – a film that mainly involves two monsters from a fictional monster power factory and a little child – and this created amazing numbers at the box office. The budget of the film was close to $115M but what the box office collected was more than 5 times the  amount.

It was hence established that there was a method to all this madness. But just how and why did this formula work? Someone, somewhere must’ve thought (quite ridiculously) that monsters can be good too. One can almost imagine a nice stout old man with a cigar in his mouth saying “Yup. I’m gonna take some monsters, make ‘em good and you’re gonna pay me for it”. Outrageous, isn’t it? But that’s what’s so magical about the world of Animation. It limits the impossibilities and yearns one to be bold, free and innovative with their imagination. This is one industry that emphasises the use of the right brain as much as possible, so the left brain could go on.

CHF maketh the monster – The Cloth Hair and Fur technique

An important part of animation is CHF (Cloth, Hair and Fur) technique. Modern day animation uses a combination of mathematics and art. While the artists are involved with the visualisation of how hair, cloth or fur will look, they also must keep in mind that to make things more realistic, these elements will react based on the little things we do. Creating hair may seem like a minute or boring little detail but this is where the devil is. It is also where some of the finest magic in animation lies. An entire department of man-hours is dedicated solely to the CHF technique to bring out the desired effect. So, when a little boy’s hair is ruffled, or if a monster pops out of the closet while the fan is turned on, or if someone folds their sleeves in an animated film, you know that all this happens because of a team of CHF artists (who are also mathematicians). They use algebra and geometry to arrive at the number of hair strands per square area, number of collisions to make it look voluminous and a whole lot of other equations to arrive at the various things that cloth, hair and fur can do in a film. Norm, the main character from the movie Norm of the North (2016) had over 1 million strands of hair on his fur!

Abraca-Render – The magic of Rendering

An important step in animation is ‘rendering’.

A 2-hour film like Disney’s Moana requires a pretty high level of computing. If we decided to render it in 2kHD on one machine, we would have had to ask Mohammed Ali to press the button on an 8 core CPU computer, 47 years ago in 1971, when he was the reigning champion. Now if we decided to create a version for the 4k screen, we would have had to ask William Shakespeare to press the button for us in the year 1567AD on an 8 core machine, and it would have been done in time for screening today. An IMAX version would have taken us to the first Vikings conquering England in 875AD to press the button for us on an 8 core machine, and the rendering for the IMAX version would be complete in 1143 years.

Today, almost all films are shot at 24 frames per second, where a 90-minute film will require an approximate of 130,000 frames.  The difference with computer animated films is that each frame has hundreds of assets, and multiple layers, and every character has thousands of control points. So, an entire film can consist of 300 to 500million digital files.
Rendering while using the right kind of machines and with the help of could computing has made all this possible.

Magic is not just about what you get to experience as part of a story. In this case, magic also lies in the various things we do, the technology we use and how we put it all together to create something truly incredible. So, in a lot of ways, monsters rely on the magic we make with the secret ingredients that’re hidden in the world of mathematics. And they say ‘MATH’ is the monster! BOO!

Written by: Archith Narasimhan
Co-written by: Ishwarya Gopalan

For more information contact us at info@madassemblage.com



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