June 13, 2024


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How ETH AI technology brings fire creatures to life in the current Pixar movie

The animated film “Elemental” from Walt Disney Studios and Pixar Animation Studio has recently been shown to Swiss cinemas. The movie is about the fiery Ember who lives in Element City – a place where beings of fire, water, earth and air live. The movie contains not only Hollywood, but also ETH technology.

The animated film “Elemental” was recently shown in Swiss cinemas. The movie revolves around the main character, Ember. She is a fiery elemental, her head made of flames that are constantly moving. Realistically tracing these flames, pyrotechnics, and heat presented animation filmmakers with a major challenge, as Tech magazine recently did. I mentioned wired. Using technology from ETH, they finally came up with a solution that made the flame structure on Ember’s face appear more visible than was possible with previous simulation techniques.

“Our technology gives flames a unique style, which makes them a tool for artists to visually support a story,” says Barbara Solenthaler, Professor of Computer Graphics at ETH and Group Head of Simulation and Animation. Under her direction, new technology is being developed in 2019/2020 at the Computer Graphics Laboratory at ETH Zurich.

Transfer photos to support the story

New 3D simulation technology uses artificial intelligence and allows technical control over the appearance and structures of smoke, fire or liquids. With the help of this AI, clouds of smoke, for example, can be used specifically for visual storytelling. ETH can artistically alter flames, smoke clouds, or liquids to support the story.

Technology does not control the outward appearance, but rather the local structures in the smoke. For example, you can calculate a spiral pattern on a smoke cloud. She can easily transfer the style of Van Gogh’s painting “Starry Night” to smoke. “Our technology can transfer the structure of any input image into smoke, flames or even liquids,” says Barbara Solenthaler. The hare-like cloud formations can be nicely seen in a video from the Solenthaler group. In another video also worth watching, the Solenthaler team demonstrates how they can depict the phenomenon of flow, fire and smoke in a way that is both artistic and naturalistic.

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Disney was immediately interested

The 3D simulation technology based on artificial intelligence generated a lot of interest at Walt Disney Studios shortly after it was published by researchers from the European Institute of Technology. “The technology was developed in ETH and the code for it was made open source,” says Barbara Solenthaler. “We then moved the technology into the Disney Animation Studios and Pixar Animation Studio pipelines with the help of Disney Research Studios in Zurich.”

ETH technology was first used in 2021 in the computer-animated fantasy movie “Raya and the Last Dragon” — in a scene posted online, where circular smoke formations rise from the rubble. “The effect in the movie Raya was based on our issuance of ETH. For the Pixar movie ‘Elemental’ which is currently playing in Swiss cinemas, Disney Research Studios in Zurich developed the technology and used it with main character Ember,” Solenthaler says.

Technology for the main character

Specifically, “Elemental” revolves around the fact that the main character Ember is a fiery creature whose face is always in flame-like motion. The new ETH technology has now made it possible to artistically transfer the initially created flame structure into Ember’s appearance in such a way that the fire and flames on Ember’s body look very lifelike. ETH technology has played its part in bringing Ember and other fire creatures living in Element City to life, as Walt Disney Studios recently described it.

ETH researchers are no longer involved in the eventual development of these effects; Completed by Disney Research Studios and Pixar Animation Studio themselves. How Ember’s flame tip is animated using the new technology is also now documented in the movie. “When I see how amazing the effects are in Elemental and Ember in particular, I am thrilled that our research is the starting point,” Solenthaler says.

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This article first appeared on ETH.

Also read: In order to bring AI technology closer to the general public, ETH has developed the game “Morph Tales – Discover AI”.. In the game, the so-called “Morphs” personify a young, untrained artificial intelligence that needs training.