Ron Henderson, director of research and development at DreamWorks Animation, works on equations for the fluid dynamics behind a fluid simulation technology that gives animation artists the tools to work on the upcoming movie "Home" as they draw soap bubbles inhabited by diminutive aliens called the Boov. Photo: Al Seib/Los Angeles Times/MCT
In a small office, Ron Henderson was busy writing out equations.
Henderson explained that Newton's laws are behind a computer program he has developed. The program will soon help a group of artists with a difficult task: making three-dimensional bubbles that look almost real.
Henderson used to be a physics professor at Caltech. These days he works at DreamWorks Animation in California.
Animated films are cartoons that last as long as a movie. In the past, they were drawn entirely by hand. Now artists produce them on a computer.
Now Henderson is working on animated movies himself. Each has its own tricky effect: For example, there's the frost in “Rise of the Guardians.” Then there's the cannon fire in “Kung Fu Panda 2.” Or there's the ice-breathing dragon in “How to Train Your Dragon 2.”
How Do Bubbles Behave?
His latest challenge was creating those bubbles in “Home." They aren't just the aliens' homes. They're also spaceships for the aliens.
Making a picture of a bubble on a flat surface isn't too hard. What's much trickier is this: Wrapping that picture around a floating shape that's a bit like a soccer ball.
Henderson set out to solve the problem. To do so, he drew on his knowledge of how bubbles behave. What he came up with is based on a computer program used to study weather patterns.
The fact that few moviegoers will appreciate his achievement doesn’t bother Henderson. The work is its own reward.
Henderson enjoys “doing something where you can clearly see the results of your work." Figuring out new ways to help artists is a thrill for him, he said. "That’s what keeps me coming here every day.”