Whatever Happened to Acid Rain?

This is a guest post by Valentin Burov. It is the transcript of the presentation he gave on Wednesday 11th January at CERN during a discussion on this topic in which he showed the premiere of his video, Acid Rain

Good  evening!

The title my talk: What happened to acid rain in 3D animation? is confusing for the obvious reasons. 3D Animation and Acid Rain don’t have much interaction between each other. This specific issue is what I’m here to address:

The magical place of the intersection of art and science. Where are we now? How did we get here?

R&D on technology for special effects for entertainment is a very recent phenomenon, and the foundation, which originated in the late 80’s – was things like nuclear physics, fluid mechanics and car collisions.

I’ll bring up an example since this after all a nuclear research organization.

Ray Tracing!

The study of ray tracing came from research of Evgeniy Troubetzkoy on nuclear shielding, which followed neutrons that originated either from a nuclear reactor or from an atomic bomb and calculating the effects..The similarity then is that instead of following neutrons we can follow photons, from the camera to the scene. It’s a rendering technique that simulates the way light really works except it’s in reverse. Rays are fired from the camera and intersections are calculated with the geometry. Then the normal is computed and based on material characteristics and location of light sources, a calculation is made how much light is coming from that object.

However, Evgeniy Troubetrzkoy has long left nuclear research and is now the founder of a company called Blue Sky – a major animation studios responsible for films such as Ice Age. He was still doing Nuclear Research, however, when he was at MAGI (Mathematical Applications Group, Inc. ), a predecessor to Blue Sky.

In one of my college classes, we had one of the computer scientists from ILM come in to show us briefly how they made solvers to calculate cloth – cloth is any deformable object of connected links between vertices – this can be anything from skin tissue to an air balloon to actual clothes. A solver on the other hand solves complex equations to get a result in dynamics – rigid bodies, fluid simulation, inverse dynamics, etc. ILM is a very old studio that was conceived by George Lucas for Star Wars, and is still the most prominent VFX house – he (the CS) was the one who was responsible for writing a solver for Neo’s cape from the Matrix when he’s in a brawl with an infinitude of agent smiths. His study for the cloth solver, however, was originally an attempt to recreate car collisions, to see how a certain car would deform if you applied the right properties to the “cloth”. He then tried to apply this to the court of law – which eventually ruled that you cannot use computer simulations to reflect real life.

When I asked, however, how 3D was being applied to Science and Education, the answers I got that 90% of 3D is made for entertainment, and they assumed that I was doing something with medical of pharmocopeia – which seems to be the impression that most people get since that is a real remainder of the effects industry. So we have a strange outcome – no one makes 3D for science because no one makes it. But it doesn’t mean that it can’t be done.

As it turns out to be, of course, we’re not the first ones that started doing it. Even before I went to school I saw this animation that is now, like 5 years old, and I was so captivated that it reinforced my belief that science did not have to be drawn schematically, nor did it have to lose it’s beauty and aesthetic. But this idea is lurking within a Jungian collective unconsciousness – and it’s starting to emerge. As we are stepping further and further into new technologies, smaller studios are emerging partly because that now we have processing power that before was only feasible to very large studos. A frame that could take us 3 hours to render, before could have taken 3 days. And on top of it, all of it can be made with software that can be downloaded for free. Open Source! So something like this could really only have emerged now, and not just because of the monopoly of the entertainment industry in CG art.

Another association that sometimes people make is that because there’s visuals and imagery, the animation should then be for children, but when I attended Berkeley I found nothing but the contrary. Professors continuously mentioned the limitations of textbooks, the iconic representation of objects, no expression of scale or magnitude. The students I talked to expressed similar dissatisfaction.

So…whatever happened to acid rain?

Back in the 80s everyone seemed to talk about acid rain, but it is hardly again mentioned. Is the issue still of concern, or just a symptom of media hyperbole? A successful implementation of an emissions trading cap-and-trade system was made in the United States, which was launched when Congress amended the Clean Air Act in 1990. It successfully contained the emissions that contributed to pollution by acid rain. The Program, however, collapsed in 2010 when federal courts ruled that the EPA had overstepped their boundaries and expanded the market including emissions that were not specifically mentioned in the amendment. Policy for broadening energy policy that will expand the cap and trade market to other pollutants has not yet challenged the court’s ruling.

The European Union passed more stringent regulations on emissions of power plants, thus reducing the pollution that contributed to acid rain (There are several acting trading programs for air pollutants, the largest being the European Union Emission Trading Scheme, whose purpose is to avoid dangerous climate change).

So it’s not such a hyperbole, but rather a good example of government regulation.

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