Math and the Movies | National Math Festival
Various screenshots from movies

Math and the Movies

The 2021 National Math Festival featured a talk by Dr. Joseph Teran (University of California, Davis) on Math and the Movies. While this talk was not recorded due to copyrighted content, Dr. Teran shared several resources with students interested in pursuing research or applied mathematics careers in solving computer animation industry challenges. 

Dr. Teran suggested that coursework in calculus is the starting point for this career path. Many of his students studied mathematics or physics at the undergraduate level, and electrical engineering or mechanical engineering are also potential entry points. For graduate students, it is typically necessary to "learn whatever you missed" from these fields in your previous studies. 

Many of the methods for improving the computer-generated animations displays in film rely heavily on the type of mathematics known as partial differential equations (PDE). To learn more about these equations, here is a video from the YouTube channel 3Blue1Brown: But what is a partial differential equation? 

Grant Sanderson of 3Blue1Brown also recommends 2021 Festival presenter Dr. Steven Strogatz's book Infinite Powers: The Story of Calculus (2020), as a starting point to learn more about how calculus can be used to represent real-world movement. A recording of Dr. Strogatz's NMF presentation, aimed at a general audience, can be viewed here.

To learn more about computer animation and the many types of work involved in creating such films and television programs, check out the free Pixar in a Box collection of resources available from Khan Academy.

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