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Animate Your Mind

If you have seen movies such as How to Train Your Dragon, Frozen or Brave then you have been watching computer generated imagery or CGI. The first feature-length, computer-animated film was made back in 1995. It was called Toy Story.

An animator’s job is to take a static (non-moving) object and bring it to life. There are many ways to go about animating objects. In the “old” days, an animator would draw a character in the various stages of performing an action, e.g. running. The drawings would then be turned into individual frames on a strip of film.  When the frames are pulled through a projector, each image on the screen is quickly replaced by a new one (changed ever so slightly). To create the illusion of smooth movement, the images must appear at a rate of 24 or 30 frames per second.

Another animation technique is stop motion. This is where an object is moved in small increments between individually photographed frames. The illusion of movement is created when the series of photographed frames are played quickly as a continuous sequence. You can probably imagine how long it takes to produce one scene! Nick Park's Wallace and Gromit films show the potential of stop motion animation. In 2012, IBM researchers created the world's smallest stop motion animation using atoms.

In contrast to these styles, CGI animation works by using 3D animation software and a computer to draw each frame, instead of hand drawing every detail or photographing individual frames. Compared with 2D or traditional animation, 3D has depth and can look more realistic. It can construct fictional worlds and life-like virtual characters.

Starting with a basic digital shape called a vector, a 3D model (viewable from any angle) is drawn on the computer. Sometimes the animator starts by scanning a clay or plastic object to create the computer model. Then, a virtual skeleton known as a wireframe is added. The animator, using computer software, changes the position of the wireframe step by step to animate the movement of the object. Once the basic motion has been sketched in, details like hair, clothing, skin, buildings, trees and scenery are added. This process is known as rendering. Each frame can take about six hours to render. Thankfully an animator can work on more than one frame at a time—otherwise a 90 minute movie could take 88 years to render.

The LEGO® Movie opened in theatres on Friday, February 7, 2014. It is a clever mix of CGI and stop-motion cinematography. The blend between CGI and stop motion is so good that the directors state that you won’t be able to tell the difference.

Now until May 6, 2014, you will be able to create extraordinary vehicles that can get you to where you want to go by travelling over land, sea and air, with Science World's brand new exhibition, LEGO Travel Adventure. Build with LEGO bricks and explore some amazing pre-made creations. Later, perhaps you’ll even try your hand at stop-motion animation and make your own LEGO movie at home?

Where will you go?


Further Reading

How computer animation works

How to make a LEGO® animation

LEGO® history timeline

Try animation for yourself!