A Calculated Drama

A Calculated Drama

Department of Computer Science |
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It’s quite the distance between UBC mathematics professor Robert Bridson’s home province of Newfoundland and Pandora, the lush (and hypothetical) moon in the Alpha Centauri star system made famous in the 2009 movie Avatar. Equally mysterious and far-reaching is the path to Middle-earth, as imagined in The Hobbit movie franchise (2012 and counting) or the eerily silent but gut-wrenchingly ‘real’ space in Gravity, the 2013 blockbuster.

However, it wasn’t luck, it was smarts – and Bridson’s amazing software – that helped create the incredible scenes in all three movies. At the 2015 Academy Awards, those skills won Bridson a Technical Achievement Oscar for these and other silver-screen jaw droppers and his work over the past 13 years.

Mathematicians and ‘movie magic’ might seem incongruous but in an industry now reliant on cost-effective yet ever bigger effects, it’s the behind-the-scenes math expertise that drives the increasingly more realistic computer-generated imaging.

“It has to look real,” said Bridson. “It has to behave real, and the best way to do some of those things is to go to the real laws of physics and math behind nature to simulate it.”

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UBC professor Robert Bridson receives a Technical Achievement Oscar for his work on several films over the past 13 years, including The Hobbit. Photo Credit: UBC Science

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Mathematicians and ‘movie magic’ might seem incongruous but it’s the behind-the-scenes math expertise that drives the increasingly more realistic computer-generated imaging.

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