The Next Advance In Awesome Game Physics Could Come From Disney

The Next Advance In Awesome Game Physics Could Come From Disney

We saw an extremely neat demo of realistic water physics back in April. Now it’s time to drop the temperature a bit and do the same thing with snow. Watch the video, emit a sound resembling the word “cool” and then ask the question: Who can we thank for this technology? Well, direct your fan letters to Disney, folks.

(Unfortunately, the person doing the presentation speaks very quickly in parts, making it difficult to understand the concepts — which are already tricky to get a hold on.)

While the video here was published early this month, it looks like the source is a SIGGRAPH 2013 presentation from July entitled “A Material-Point Method for Snow Simulation”. The tech itself is a group effort from Disney Animation Studios and researchers from the University of California and involves “combining a Lagrangian/Eulerian semi-implicitly solved material-point method with an elasto-plastic constitutive model”.

Which is way above my head, but I will definitely be cracking that sentence out at the next party I attend, because I enjoy repelling possible sources of social interaction.

So, why would Disney be interested in this sort of thing? 3D animated movies are big money these days and being able to simulate natural phenomena such as water and snow without an army of artists can save studios a lot of time and money. For instance, this particular implementation is used in an upcoming Disney feature called Frozen.

Game physics has always been an interesting subject, yet sadly, advances in the area often provide purely visual improvements. Hopefully in the years to come the processing power will be available that real-time simulated particle effects like these can have a gameplay impact. Basically, we need more bone-crushing avalanches, dammit.

Disney’s Frozen — A Material Point Method For Snow Simulation [YouTube]


  • As cool as this is, it isn’t coming to games any time soon. We’re approaching the plateau of computing power and this isn’t real-time. It probably took hours or even days to bake this. It would be awesome to have in games, but I doubt we will have it for years.

    • Yup, and even if it was only hours it would still have been simulated and rendered on a Disney render farm and not from a single machine. This type of stuff is next next gen at best.

    • That’s not really correct. We aren’t really reaching a plateau of computing power, that will continue to increase at a steady rate.

      We are reaching a plateau where that computing power is not going to be utilized to it’s full capacity. Games won’t be advancing as much as they used to, THAT is the plateau. The RAW power will continue to develop.

    • Yeah, I totally agree, niocora. I have yet to see believable physics in a game (or even halfway believable) where it doesn’t impact performance to below enjoyable levels. Physx certainly isn’t the amazing solution that some people make it out to be, because quite frankly … it kinda sucks.

      • Do you remember that scene (it was in Uncharted 1 or 2) when a helicopter blows out the support for the room where drake is standing and the room slants and everything in the room including drake slides down the slope.

        Now that was some nice Physx, also the part in Uncharted 3 where you are hanging from the cargo out of the air craft while its still in flight, that was also some nice Physx.

        • Ummm, I’m pretty sure the Uncharted series uses the Havok physics and animation engine, not Physx (and yeah, those scenes aren’t bad, but I wouldn’t say the physics are anything amazing, or as detailed as what is being shown in the snow demo above). And I wasn’t saying that there isn’t a game with a basic physics engine that doesn’t do it’s job, but as far as advanced and detailed physics go, there isn’t really anything about which can be implemented in real time that doesn’t put noticeable pressure on performance. If you look at any of Nvidia’s Physx tech demo’s (that are more advanced than jelly blood/water and random particles found on Borderlands 2), then you will notice that it’s always a mostly unpopulated scene, with no AI to speak of, and with objects that have limited detail and textures (which of course should be altered in itself when objects break or interact with other objects in a simulated environment).

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