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.


Treknology – Are we there yet?

At present in the early part of the second decade of the 21st century we have now become heavily dependent on technology. The rate of technological advancement in the past fifty years alone has been incredible, particularly since in development of the first microprocessor, the Intel 4004 in 1971. Since the first incarnation of Star Trek in the 1960’s audiences have been amazed by the technological wonders that seems to be available in the 23rd &   24th centuries. What’s more amazing however is the fact that many of these technologies are now a reality and yet we are still in the infancy of the 21st century. If the advancement of technology continues to increase at its present rate then it is almost impossible to imagine what the world will be like in fifty or even a hundred years, never mind what it may be like in a few centuries.

Tractor Beam Technology
Recent weeks have seen some interesting technological advances. Just a few days ago (25th January 2013) it was announced that a Star Trek “style tractor beam” had been developed by scientists, the project being led by researchers from the University of St Andrews in Scotland. This work makes use of lasers to attract microscopic particles. A simple example of a Star Trek tractor beam in operation on a small-scale can be seen in the S1E3 Episode “The Naked Now”, where Wesley Crusher develops his own “hand held” tractor beam capable of moving furniture and other small objects. In the very same episode he scales up and “reverses fields” on the Enterprises Tractor Beam to help give it a push-off from another starship thereby saving it from being destroyed from an oncoming star fragment.

 Organic Data Storage
Just a few days earlier (23rd Jaunary 2013) a BBC News story discussed another development in Nature showing that DNA would be “perfect for digital storage”. A selection of media types were encoded within the DNA including an image, text and audio. All were read back with 100% accuracy. The article states that “One gram of DNA ought to be able to hold about two petabytes of data”. DNA is also a great way to archive data capable of reliably storing information for a much longer period that any technologies we currently have such as hard disks or CDs/DVD’s.

In Star Trek of course we often hear the term “Isolinear Chip” being used, capable of storing 2.15 kiloquads of information. In terms of the use or organics within Star Trek the one thing that immediately comes to mind are the Bioneural Gelpacks featured on the USS Voyager.  One disadvantage with the organic nature of the Bioneural Gelpacks was their susceptibility to bacteria and viruses. On the positive side they were able to make a “best guess” rather than computing the solution in a more linear manner.

Transparent Aluminium
I am sure you are all well aware of Star Trek IV the Voyage Home, particularly of the scene where Scotty divulges the formula for transparent Aluminium to a scientist in the 20th century. The interesting thing of course is that a material with very similar properties has already been developed (see this article dated 12 Jan 2012). The material is called Aluminium Oxynitride or ALON & is capable of maintaining structural integrity in temperatures up to 1200 degrees C.

 Touch Screen Technology
Touch Screens have become very much the norm and are standard on all smartphones of today. I am sure that everybody thought the touch screen consoles in Main Engineering of the Enterprise NCC1701-D shown in the mid to late 1980’s were really amazing.

 If you were lucky enough to have attended CES 2013 in Las Vegas they you would have probably seen Panasonic’s 20inch 4K Tablet PC, so certainly table top computing is well on the way.

 Another nice example of table top computing is the Microsoft/Samsung SUR 40 capable of sensing up to 52 concurrent touches. Quite appropriately in the vein of Star Trek and exploring the University the application demonstrated in the video below is called NUIverse that allows one to explore the likes of our solar system and star constellations.

 More Science Investment in the News
A BBC News Article dated 28th Jan 2013 discusses the investment of two billion euro into two research projects. The Human Brain project will seek to develop a computer-based copy of the human brain allowing scientists to understand neurogical disorders and the effects of drugs. The second project will look at the use of Graphene – a material with amazing properties such as being stronger than steel and having conductivity better than copper. The “Possibilities” to quote Spock are seemingly limited only by our imagination.

Some other recent developments of interest includes the news of Intel investing four billion USD to build a 14nm chip manufacturing plan in Ireland helping to keep Moore’s Law going strong.

Has Film/TV Influenced Technology?
This post is of course not an exhaustive list of Star Trek type technologies that are currently in existance. I am sure you can think of many more exampes. An interesting question to pose is –  has the technology we have seen in film influenced the evolution of actual technology? Certainly every single time I see a Tablet Computer of today I think of the PADD from Star Trek, and similarly with Mobile Phones becoming almost akin to Tricorders with the ever increasing computing and sensory systems that are now onboard.

 So are we there yet?
To Answer my Initial question – Are we there yet? Well certainly from the examples mentioned above it looks like we have already developed many of the technologies that mesmerised us for so many years in the Star Trek TV shows and movies. Perhaps the Final Frontier is closer than we think!

If you would like to find out about some more technologies then you may enjoy watching the documentary below.