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Comment The visual effects industry (Score 4, Interesting) 352

I've been working in the visual effects industry since I graduated (~10 years ago). I started for a small studio writing scripts to automate common tasks. Since then I've:
- built a distributed render system on top of open source software
- written animation tools for artists
- written software for animating, simulating, and rendering fur
- learned Houdini, Maya, RenderMan and many others
- written shaders
- written many, many plugins and tools in various languages

I'm now managing a team and have discovered that it's hard to find talented software developers with a solid grounding in mathematics and computer science who have the skills to work in VFX. There are plenty of hackers who can put together a MEL script, but few who actually understand the underpinnings of the systems involved.

If working on VFX for film and TV shows sounds interesting to you, look into developing your skills as a Technical Director (or TD). The skills I look for in a TD are:
- understanding of the 3D pipeline (modeling, texturing, rigging, layout, tracking, animation, lighting, rendering, compositing)
- technical competency in the software used (Maya, Shake or Nuke, Renderman or Mental Ray)
- solid background in programming (scripting, understanding of OO design, C++ desirable, Python especially)
- solid understanding of Unix as a technical user
- ability to learn and master new technologies quickly
- ability to empathize with artists and understand their perspective as a user
- strong mathematics background is highly desirable
- experience in digital or traditional filmmaking also highly desirable

The people I've worked with in the past usually fall into one of three categories:
- have a degree in computer science (or related), minored in fine arts (or just had the interest), and then took a college program in 3D
- smart people from a completely different background who taught themselves both 3D software and programming
- artists who took a college program in 3D, who then taught themselves programming

I recommend the first option, or if you're persistent enough, teach yourself the software at home and start networking online.

If you have a masters in computer graphics, mathematics, or physics, another job open to you is that of the Shader Writer. Shader writers build either complete shading systems or components that model how light reacts with materials. These models are not usually physically accurate (although that is becoming more of an option now). Things to look into:
- ambient occlusion and color bleeding
- subsurface scattering
- procedural texturing and modeling
- shader anti-aliasing
- global illumination techniques
- shading languages such as RSL, GLSL or Cg

Competent shader writers are HIGHLY sought after and very well compensated.

Check out the job postings at Pixar, Industrial Light & Magic, Sony Imageworks, Rhythm & Hues, and Dreamworks Animation for more info. Also check out the forums at and


Submission + - Surfer dude's Theory of Everything (

An anonymous reader writes: NewScientist (subscription required) and others are running a story about a promising new Theory of Everything from surfer/snowboarder/physicist, Garrett Lisi. Based on a mathematical shape called E8, An Exceptionally Simple Theory of Everything has many in the physics community taking notice:
"Lee Smolin at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, describes Lisi's work as "fabulous". "It is one of the most compelling unification models I've seen in many, many years," he says.
"Although he cultivates a bit of a surfer-guy image its clear he has put enormous effort and time into working the complexities of this structure out over several years," Prof Smolin tells The Telegraph.
"Some incredibly beautiful stuff falls out of Lisi's theory," adds David Ritz Finkelstein at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta. "This must be more than coincidence and he really is touching on something profound."


Submission + - Theory of everything

wpiman writes: A surfer has stunned the physics community by suggesting and publishing a "theory of everything". It has received some rave review from scientists. Read the paper here. What do you think?
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Submission + - An Exceptionally Simple Theory of Everything

lrohrer writes: "Surfer physicist, Garrett Lisi, proposes alternative to string theory. Lisi's inspiration lies in the most elegant and intricate shape known to mathematics, called E8 — a complex, eight-dimensional mathematical pattern with 248 points first found in 1887, but only fully understood by mathematicians this year after workings, that, if written out in tiny print, would cover an area the size of Manhattan. E8 encapsulates the symmetries of a geometric object that is 57-dimensional and is itself is 248-dimensional. Lisi says "I think our universe is this beautiful shape.""

Crime Reduction Linked To Lead-Free Gasoline 616

Hugh Pickens writes "Even low levels of lead can cause brain damage, increasing the likelihood of behavioral and cognitive traits such as impulsivity, aggressiveness, and low IQ that are strongly linked with criminal behavior. The NYTimes has a story on how the phasing out of leaded gasoline starting with the Clean Air Act in 1973 may have led to a 56% drop in violent crime in the US in the 1990s. An economics professor at Amherst College, Jessica Wolpaw Reyes, discovered the connection and wrote a paper comparing the reduction of lead from gasoline between states (PDF) and the reduction of violent crime. She constructed a table linking crime rates in every state to childhood lead exposure in that state 20 or 30 years earlier. If lead poisoning is a factor in the development of criminal behavior, then countries that didn't switch to unleaded fuel until the 1980s, like Britain and Australia, should soon see a dip in crime as the last lead-damaged children outgrow their most violent years."

Video of Wild Crow Tool Use Caught With Tail Cams 203

willatnewscientist writes "Scientists from the University of Oxford have recorded New Caledonian crows using tools in the wild for first time. The footage was captured by attaching tiny cameras to their tail feathers. The wireless cameras weigh just 14 grammes and can be worn by the crows without disturbing their natural behavior. The trick has provided the first direct evidence of the birds' using tools in the wild and may represent an important development in animal behavior studies. 'The camera also contains a simple radio transmitter that reveals the crows' location. This lets the researchers track them at a distance of few hundred metres, so that they can catch the camera's video signal with a portable receiving dish. Up to 70 minutes of footage can be broadcast by the camera's chip, and the camera is shed once the bird moults its tail feathers.'"

Submission + - Secretive company pulls CO2 out of atmosphere (

Bayscribe writes: "A secretive Silicon Valley company called Calera says it can stop global warming and ocean acidification by pulling greenhouse gas out of the atmosphere. It is building a way to grab carbon dioxide from its surroundings during the manufacturing of cement. Cement has a huge culprit of greenhouse gas emissions: It uses about 2.5 billion tons of cement, and produces that many tons in carbon dioxide. If this carbon was eliminated, we'd be one third of the way to the target of 7 billion tons per year, some experts say. Started by a Stanford University professor of life sciences, the company has raised a round of venture capital to pursue tests of its technology."

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