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Motion4: July 2009 Archives

scientist.pngSome of you like my technical side notes ("wonkish" was the word you used, as I recall), so here's a crash course in the statistics that let particle systems look good.  If you'd rather just focus on learning the "how" rather than the "why," you may want to give this article a miss -- the gentler Part 2 of this series is in the pipeline (it's already written, actually).

So as a side note to Part 1, we'll be using the same process by which we set the speed of the footballs (setting an average value and a measure of random variation) to accomplish a lot with particle systems (at least in Motion).  You can control an awful lot about a given parameter just by setting two values: the average value of a parameter, and the amount of random variation you want in that parameter. 

It might help if you have dealt with basic statistics: remember the "bell curve" of the normal (or Gaussian) distribution?  It's called "normal" for a reason: an incredible range of natural phenomena fit the distribution.  That's why it's useful when we're trying to fake natural phenomena.

motion-logo.jpgParticle systems are everywhere, and if you've dealt with motion graphics you've probably bumped into the concept before.  Today we'll try to flesh out the concept from the ground up.  While my practical exercise is laid out for Motion, the principles are universal.

I'll start by saying that particle systems are worth learning.  Know them, and you'll build more stunning graphics faster.  In all sorts of organic settings -- from smoke and flame effects, to snow and rain, to fields of grass -- particle systems, used artfully, allow for coherent and visually stimulating effects with far less effort and precision than frame-by-frame animation would require.  Particle systems animate "automatically" over time, but you still have tremendous control over how the systems behave at any given time.  Plus, you have complete control over each individual wisp of smoke or blade of grass: used effectively, this allows for systems with extremely clean alpha channels as well as allowing quick, basic 3D animation.

Particle-based animation is a type of procedural animation -- instead of describing the specific transformations that you want to happen to a specific element, you describe what a typical example of the "right" behavior and give the computer the freedom to pick the specifics.  For example, I could say "take this picture of a football, and 'throw' it across the screen from left to right."  But what if I wanted to throw a whole bunch of footballs at once? 

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This page is a archive of entries in the Motion4 category from July 2009.

Motion4: June 2009 is the previous archive.

Motion4: August 2009 is the next archive.

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