Mind Shift: Pixar In a Box Teaches Math Through Real Animation Challenges

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Pixar senior scientist Tony DeRose was faced with a problem that animators had never solved — how to make the hand of an old man look lifelike. It was 1998 and he was working on the experimental short film “Geri’s Game.” DeRose needed to figure out how to make a sculpture hand model with many angular planes look smooth and skin-like on the screen. To do this he developed an algorithm using weighted averages that won him a Scientific and Technical Academy Award in 2006.

Pixar is constantly solving new technical challenges that allow its artists, designers and storytellers a broader range of movement and texture in the movies they make. Now the company is teaming up with Khan Academy to use examples like DeRose’s discovery of surface representation to show students how the math and science they’re learning in school is applied by Pixar animators.

Khan Academy is best known for its modular videos explaining various curriculum topics that students can use to better understand and practice a concept. But, like many other groups working on reaching large numbers of people through online video lessons, its content producers have discovered that lots of people stop watching partway through.

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