The Long Tail blog by Chris Anderson has an interesting quiz on Pixar’s investment in technology, specifically their rendering power.
To see the answer you will need to highlight some text on the blog on the page below some pictures. Go and try the quiz first and then come back. I’ll have some quiz spoilers and a thought after the jump.
The “answer” text in the Long Tail blog entry stood out to me as a kind of sideways expression of some things I’ve been saying for a little bit here.
The average Cars frame took 15 hours, despite a 300x overall increase in compute power. The artists have an essentially infinite appetite for detail and realism, and Pixar’s resources have grown over the decade so it can afford to allocate more computers to the task…
In particular the comment “artists have an essentially infinite appetite for detail and realism” stood out to me. CG artists obsessed with detail and realism? Hmm. Where have we heard this before? This observation comes from a Wired editor and author, not an animator or filmmaker. Looking at the numbers, a typical frame from Cars took 15 hours to render instead of 2 hours for Toy Story (representing an increase of 7.5x). And this in light of a 300x improvement in the raw computing power of the technology at hand. So mathematically speaking Cars was 2250x (7.5 * 300) more technically complex to create than Toy Story. Now I didn’t do great at math in school so you folks tell me if I’m making some basic error here. But any way you slice it that’s quite an accomplishment, technologically speaking. You get the sense that Mr. Anderson was left quite impressed by this. It certainly does sound impressive on the surface.
But I’m left with this question: Eliminating the variable of increased audience expectation for technical sophistication in CG visuals- was the core metric for film quality (the artistic, visual, social and emotional result) of Cars superior to that of Toy Story by such an expansive order of magnitude? In other words, was Cars hundreds of times better than Toy Story? Does technological expenditure and accomplishment have a direct and predictable correlation to a film’s overall quality as perceived by audiences? The answers to these kinds of questions perhaps introduce some interesting choices, don’t you think?