Examples of Graphics, Animation and Fractals in Film

Vol Libre (1980) created by Loren Carpenter is an extremely well know example of early computer animation. It used fractal terrain generation of create a flythrough of a three dimensional landscape. This would in turn lead on to the development of the Genesis Sequence in Star Trek II the Wrath of Khan (1982) (IMDB).

The following video provides a nice bit of background about fractal terrain generation as described by Loren Carpenter himself. In 1978 he came across the book Fractals Form, Chance and Dimensions by Benoit Mandlebrot and having read the entire book twice started use fractal techniques to develop computer generated terrain.

Another good example of computer generated imagery is the Light Cycle battle from Tron (1982) (IMDB).

Tron Legacy (2010) (IMDB) features an updated Light Cycle battle.

Flight of the Navigator (1986) (IMDB) demonstrates the first use of image mapping the surrounding environment on to a surface. In this case it is mapped on to a Trimaxion Drone ship from Phaelon. It also features some nice scenes whereby the Drone ship morphs from “Class 3” mode to “Class 1” – thereby allowing it to efficiently cut through the Earths atmosphere.

Going back to Fractals – its interesting to see how Fractal Graphics seem to crop up in film’s from time to time such as the Mandelbrot Fractal paint job of a car featured in a desert scene from Transformers Revenge of the Fallen. This can be clearly scene at time index (0:36) in the following video clip.

Fractal techniques were again used to generate the lava spewing forth and landing upon a platform, on which Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker were engaged in a lightsaber battle, located on the volcanic planet Mustafar in Star Wars Episode III Revenge of the Sith (2005) (IMDB).

Another nice example of fractals being mentioned in a film comes from Star Trek First Contact (1996) (IMDB), whereby the Sovereign Class USS Enterprise NCC1701-E is being taken over by the Borg. The Borg are trying to reroute main control to Engineering where they are based. Upon hearing this Captain Picard asks commander Data to “Lockout the main computer”, after some interaction with a console, Data responds by saying that “I have isolated the main computer with a fractal encryption code, it is highly unlikely the Borg will be able to break it”. Hence as you can see even in the 24th century, fractal techniques still prove to be very useful.

The term “Fractal Zoom” is used to describe the opening screen effect of Limitless (2011) (IMDB). The camera carries out a number of moves in the X, Y, Z planes commencing with a downward looking view onto a city street. One can read some further detail about how the effect was achieved (online).

Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) developed a new Fractal Rendering technique for Lucy (2014) (IMDB). An overview of this may be seen (online) with detail of the work being published at SIGGRAPH. The technique was used to render many of the space travel scenes in the film.

Fractal techniques were also used more recently in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 (2017) (IMDB). The following articles (online) (online) provides a good deal of detail on the use of fractal techniques, particularly in the creation of Ego’s planet. Such techniques may also be seen in other segments of the film.

Wikipedia has a nice list of computer animation in film and television available (online). Do you know of any other interesting examples of computer graphics / animation featured in films.


2 thoughts on “Examples of Graphics, Animation and Fractals in Film

  1. This post seems to have been attracting a good deal of traffic recently, perhaps more and more people are wondering about the world of fractals and their usage in film. As such I’ve recently added a bit more detail to highlight films such as Limitless (2011), Lucy (2014) and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 (2017).

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