Math Careers: Computer Animation (Games and Movies)


pixar_-_front_gatesVideo gaming.  Creating cool movies.  If you want to do computer animation, you need math.

One of our recent graduates ended up working in just this field.  Actually, he wasn’t even a math major:  he was a theater major who picked up a math minor in his last two years.   He’s now doing graphics programming, and it requires a ton of math:  he mentioned that the most important course turned out to be Linear Algebra.   In all fairness, since he’s officially a software engineer I have to assume he had some computer science as well.  But we don’t even offer a computer science degree, and he started work in this right out of college, so I don’ t know how much formal computer science training he had.

The article Math in the Movies from 2007 gives similar information.  There’s a 90-second video there, which I can’t seem to reproduce here, but in part of it the announcer Cindy Demus(?) says:

Trigonometry helps rotate and move characters, while algebra creates the special effects that make images shine and sparkle.  Calculus helps light up a scene and new math techniques turn images like this [flat and blocky] into this [smooth and more realistic].

Then Tony DeRose, a computer scientist from Pixar Animation Studios, added

I remember as a mathematics student thinking, “Well, where am I ever going to use simultaneous equations?” And I find myself using them every day, all the time now.”

So with some sort of computer background and good math skills, that job could be yours as well.

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10 Responses to “Math Careers: Computer Animation (Games and Movies)”

  1. Maria H. Andersen Says:

    Nice post!

  2. Ξ Says:

    Thanks Maria!

  3. Jason Dyer Says:

    You know, what I really would like from these people is an an actual actual problem. You know, not just “here’s something that’s like what we might do” but “here’s this tricky equation I had to solve in rendering Toy Story 2, and here’s a picture of the scene before and after, and here’s why it worked”.

    That kind of networking between work and school never seems to happen. Just a guest day where they hint at some day that trig just might be useful, without giving anything real to convince the students.

    I try to write such problems myself but I have limits as to what I can look up and my own expertise.

  4. Ξ Says:

    Jason, that’s a really good point. I don’t have an in with Pixar, but I’ll contact our alum and see if he can provide something I can post here.

  5. Math Problems from Professionals for Educators? « The Number Warrior Says:

    […] Professionals for Educators? Posted on November 20, 2008 by Jason Dyer After responding to this post I started wondering about some sort of project that would connect educators to the workplace and […]

  6. Randall Harris Says:

    Interesting, but in reality most gaming companies- even when the economy was better 10 years ago- wanted candidates with substantial gaming experience. For a detailed perspective on mathematicians’ employment opportunities, please visit my “The Mathematician’s Guide to the Real World” at

  7. H Says:

    I have a master of applied math and programming skills.
    how to get these graphic jobs? I really like it!

  8. Aalijah B. Says:

    With video games…you need math especially if you are creating one because you cannot create what the game will consist of without it. For instance in games, 2D graphics programming is a matter of nudging object coordinates around on a plane, then drawing images every frame based on those coordinates. Bounding boxes (comparing coordinate differences) and the distance formula (Pythagorean Theorem) are commonly used to test whether two objects have collided with one another.When you are trying to make a person move or do something, you are using what is stated above. Angles play a major part in video games especially those with guns or cannons such as, Grand Theft Auto and many others. When determining what percentage of a bullet’s total velocity the x-speed and y-speed are given the angle of a firing cannon and so forth are easier when using trig to shoot at an angle which is considered math. Math plays a major role in video game making and even playing it. The question is how could you create a game without math because reasonably you cannot.

  9. jana Says:

    So i recently decided to give into that side of me that has been leaning towards math for a while now. I also want to do something in animation. i was told that this will require some bio and physics. is that true, cz i dont wanna go any deeper into those courses.

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