Cool Advances in CG Motion Blur

Here are some intriguing animation examples from a paper delivered at SIGGRAPH 2010 about “Programmable Motion Effects.” The researchers were Johannes Schmid, Robert Sumner, Huw Bowles and Markus Gross. They experimented with different ways of adding motion lines as an alternative to traditional CGI motion blurring. Here is the paper abstract for those of you who speak CG:

Although animation is one of the most compelling aspects of computer graphics, the possibilities for depicting the movement that make dynamic scenes so exciting remain limited for both still images and animations. In our work, we experiment with motion depiction as a first-class entity within the rendering process. We extend the concept of a surface shader, which is evaluated on an infinitesimal portion of an object’s surface at one instant in time, to that of a programmable motion effect, which is evaluated with global knowledge about all portions of an object’s surface that pass in front of a pixel during an arbitrary long sequence of time. With this added information, our programmable motion effects can decide to color pixels long after (or long before) an object has passed in front of them. In order to compute the input required by the motion effects, we propose a 4D data structure that aggregates an object’s movement into a single geometric representation by sampling an object’s position at different time instances and connecting corresponding edges in two adjacent samples with a bilinear patch. We present example motion effects for various styles of speed lines, multiple stroboscopic images, temporal offsetting, and photorealistic and stylized blurring on both simple and production examples.

As sophisticated as computer technology is nowadays, it amazes me that we have trouble figuring out how to recreate effects that animators achieved effortlessly seventy years ago. In terms of graphic sophistication and artistry, computer animation has always struck me as being one step forward, two steps back…

Motion Blur


  • http://luismendezblog.blogspot.com/ Luis

    The Pinocchio demo looked pretty good with that effect. But perhaps they should tone it down just a LITTLE bit. It got a little messy looking at times.

    • Chris Sobieniak

      I definitely could see how it should be toned down as well. Don’t get too wild with it now that you have it.

      • Josh

        Also agree. At the moment it looks very much like low quality NTSC motion blur to me.

        Good effect though, with a bit more refining it could turn out looking really nice.

      • Ryan

        What’s all this “tone it down” stuff? Toning anything down is boring. Executives ask for things that are toned down. You don’t want to be like them, do you?

      • The Gee

        Ryan, smears, blurs and all those other tricks are cheats. You never want the cheats to appear obvious, do you?

        As it goes, I’m surprised it took this long to do these things, too. But, if research needed to be done and for some reason there was no immediate alternative to waiting…like a chopped down tree, I’m stumped.

    • Isaac

      They must have did it because they wanted to demonstrate it in as many situations as possible.

      • http://mrseanlane.com Sean

        That’s what I figured, they were just showing off the technology to an extreme. I’m sure they could tone it down.

    • Isaac

      (must have done it)

  • http://www.srulibroocker.com Sruli Broocker

    Nice idea. I’d like to see a halfway point between current CG blur and the prototype here. I think the new blurs are interesting, but they should be more transparent – so they can be felt more than seen.

  • http://hunteachother.com Max W.

    Motion blur, does not a great animator make. Mmm hmm.

    • MichaelHughes

      Yeah you don’t even get motion blur in stop motion.
      They could digital paint this stuff, easy.

      • jAnsen

        yes, you do. google “go motion”.

      • http://hunteachother.com Max W

        … when was the last time go motion was used though? Long ago, my friend. Dragonslayer?

  • Wayne

    Used sparingly, the speed lines could be an enhancement. Overdone, they could be one of the most irritating visual distractions we’ve ever seen.

  • joe micallef

    It doesn’t look good in my opinion. Lacks personality. I would to see more research in topology adjustments. CG still hasn’t found an answer for the a good “take”.

  • Kyle Maloney

    Very nice. As others have mentioned it needs toning down, but I’m sure they exaggerated to get the point across here. It can be dialed up and down.

    Presto, along with John K’s blog posts on the subject brought my attention to the fact that we still have ways to go to get more cartoony blurs in 3d. This is a huge step in the right direction, just needs to be less, perfect I guess. break up the lines a bit, but not evenly spaces like some of these examples. when over done it looks like strings are attached to the characters limbs. funny considering its being demoed with Pinocchio, heh.

  • http://2dwannabe.blogspot.com robcat2075

    cool technically, but “speedlines” were probably the least effective of the motion blur substitutes. It’s like a sign that says “this is supposed to look fast” instead of actually making something look fast.

    I think in “Illusion of Life” they compare the appearance to spaghetti?

    Isn’t it “interesting” that animation is trying hard to get good motion blur, while live action subjects like sports are trying to get rid of it?

    • Paul N

      Kind of like how studios like Pixar are adding barrel distortion to their images to make them look more like live-action footage?

  • matt

    Ah jeez Amid. An interesting post but in the end yet another in your long line of taking every opportunity to rag on an artform still comparatively (to 2d) in its infancy. Way to go. It’s getting tired, not classy and undermines you as a writer. In my ironically critical opinion. Jerry posts up that great Gangné piece but then it’s right back to the disingenuous posts with you. I’m not asking for a second that you excuse shortcomings. Only to compare apples to apples and that cg is still roughly in the rubber hose stage of it’s development. And even 2d regressed for a while from the sophistication of McCay to rubber hose (whether they had dry-brush effects, spaghetti lines or not)! Give cg the same measure of consideration. Myopia benefits no-one.

    Brad Bird will be happy they’re finally getting there though. Remember when he was asking for curved CG motion blur on I think Incredibles?

    • Tedzey

      Totally agree with you Matt. This is going at the same pace as it did, maybe even faster. We tend to forget that animation was invented the same time as regular motion picture, so saying that its a step behind is kind off ignorant to film-making in general. I mean that looney tunes picture you have above was about 30 years prior to the stuff windsor mccay did, and his stuff was pretty primitive.

  • http://los-utopicos.blogspot.com allari

    meh, so much effort with modern toys to try to replicate something talented artsits could do with their bare hands.
    Personally i prefer good ole hand drawn animation over fancy gadgets any day.

    • purin

      Bare hands…

      I wonder if anyone’s ever done a 3D piece and then actually actually hand drew the blurs and smears and superimposed them. These things really only last a few frames, after all.

    • http://altrok.com Sean Carolan

      Computers don’t just provide precision, they require it. Good ole hand drawn stuff benefits from the artist being able to make a rough approximation of where, aesthetically, the motion blur should appear, depending on the viewer’s eye/brain to blend it, optimally at 24fps, into a smoothly percepted blur. As soon as computers are capable of that seat-of-the-pants imprecision, they’ll compare better with hand-drawn animation (but I wouldn’t rely on one with such seat-of-the-pants reckoning to balance my checking account…)

  • http://www.stopmotionworld.com SMW

    Really nice! I can definitely see the potential this tool will have, lets just remember that this is just another tool in the cg world. Anything that will improve animation is great. I think we should really note that 2d and 3d are completely different mediums of animation and they are both really respectable, or at least I talk on a personal level. Love both medium and SIGGRAPH is always an amazing platform to see new technologies coming out for animation and games.

  • Emily

    Awesome! Already in the clips shown, the animation feels more alive.

    • Jimmy Timmy

      what were you watching? You’ll never see this even remotely touched by a feature animator. this does nothing to enhance the animation at all.

      If you were to use this… make sure you track your arcs better than what was shown here.

  • Cyle

    This is interesting stuff. I do think it’s a bit strange to keep pointing out how CG differs from hand drawn animation though. There are qualities unique to CG that aren’t found elsewhere, and the same thing applies to stop motion, hand drawn animation, and live action film. Different techniques have different advantages and strengths.

    That said, I’m glad people are working on this. Obviously, artists should have options, so the technology doesn’t limit their creativity. At the same time, I think that if your goal is to make the CG look like hand drawn animation, at some point that defeats the purpose of using CG in the first place.

    I don’t really see this as CG catching up to 2D though since After Effects can create a similar effect, so technically stylized speed lines have been possible for a while. It’s good that this uses information from the surface within the animation software, because it’d be pretty inefficient to do all the speed lines in AE. I’m sure it will be more toned down/adjustable when it’s completed than it is in those test renders. They should let you keyframe the look of the trails too.

  • http://danielhamman.blogspot.com Hellohue

    I totally agree with Amid’s point (one step forward, two steps back). Countless things that are such a labour to achieve with CG I just think ‘I could draw that and it’d be done within a minute’.

    How does using a technique like this get justified in the budgeting, too, when it’s so simple working with a drawn image? Don’t tell any of the bigwigs this could literally be done in a (dry) brushstroke.

    @robcat2075 The point about whether motion blur should exist is an interesting one. I HATE walking into a shop nowadays and seeing these huge TVs ‘force’ frames out of BluRays and whatnot filmed at 24fps, everything feels so strangely sped up like a silent movie.

    Though my friends are convinced I only hate the idea of more than 24fps because it would mean needing to draw more frames. I think it might be! haha

  • Peter H

    Nice trick but is it what CGI needs? Whizz lines, like multiple images and smears, evolved because animators needed to a way to show very fast action. If they could have created motion blur they would have been very happy.

    The driving aim in the 20s was to achieve smoothness of action – jerkiness was the bane of animated films, and distributors kept hammering home the need for smoothness until it became an industry obsession. Solid areas seemed to move more smoothly than open lines, round shapes better than angular, etc. (and at Fleischers’, especially, progressive drawings must always have sufficient overlap).

    A result of this drive for smoothness was that nothing should bump on and off – so speed lines had to be “animated out”. Hence they took on a life of their own, reacting away in whiplike fashion as they dwindled, for instance. They became animated graphic devices in their own right, over and above doing the job of carrying fast action.

    But CGI has the ability to create motion blur – to accurately simulate the passage of something across a single ‘exposure’ – and it seems to me that that is what they should be pursuing: creating image blurs that follow defined paths (Brad Bird’s need for curves) and even fade out moving in their own spin-off paths and shapes, if the desire is to emulate effects from 2D cartoons. But speed lines?? Surely they are incongruous when the rest of the scene is rendered and shaded in realistic 3D.

    • http://los-utopicos.blogspot.com allari

      yeah but motion blur kinda riuns it for me, what i hate a about CGI films is how one can´t really concentrate in a a specific expression or enjoy some good physical acting without everything moving all over the place.
      Toy Story 3 does a great job of solving that awful blurring and motion problems though and adds some nice action setpieces.

  • http://mymedicatedlife.blogspot.com/ Bitter Animator

    I’m not sure if I’m even supposed to be impressed. I’m seeing lines here and a bit of bending. I was wondering if the next thing up was going to be a tool to put a lightbulb over a character’s head to show he had an idea.

    As others have said, After Effects can do just about everything here. This isn’t CG catching up to anything.

  • kool

    i agree with most of the comments here. i think its messy at times, it would be nice to CHOOSE when to use it and not have it running the whole way through. but very cool, it has so much potential

  • http://arschblog.blogspot.com/ Steffi-Alien

    They try so hard to replace classic(2D)animation with CGI!
    It sort of fails when you still see the motion blurr in the final film, it destroys the illusion of animation.

  • Tom Cushwa

    The paper talks of a “4D data structure” where time is considered as part of the object.

    Hum… I think this is very interesting. Not necessarily for motion blurs but for a lot of scientific analysis and maybe for more design oriented motion graphics.

    I think using this kind of technology is definitely useful but using it for “40″s style motion blur is like using an atom bomb to pound in a nail.

    Disney obviously has a bunch of guys with big brains over in Zurich thinking up this stuff. I think I am more interested in the unintended consequences of this research rather than what Disney has in mind for it.

  • Eric Drobile

    All this automation is great and all but I think the only way this can work in CG (as it did in the old days) is with a tool where the animator selectively paints his smear frames and that gets carried over through the pipeline to lighting where they can alter color, opacity, and shape, to a certain extent.

    We can do things like this now but the problem is the ‘painting’ tool would have to be relatively sophisticated in that it has different brush strokes and styles, kind of like photoshop, and have to seamlessly carry over to lighting, while still showing up in animation playblasts.

  • Brad Constantine

    the breakthrough to come is that the trail becomes an “animatable” 3d object with control points. This will give animators much more control over how the arc of a blur is controlled. Consider the wiping effects in Baton Bunny. This sort of thing can get very linear and jagged when used over a small number of frames.(no arcs) Having a tangible arc to control is the logical next step forward. These examples have the right spirit,
    but not the best timing to show the potential for this kind of thing. More control over the 3d arcs is needed and would be better than a programming effect post animation.

  • Charles England

    I think it’s definitely a worthwhile cause. I don’t see the complaints that it needs to be toned down in that example as overly valid because it’s a software prototype. It’s point is to show you what can be done, and the exaggeration is part of it. Naturally any storytelling animation would be more selectively used. And mimicking the techniques used in traditional animation is good, just like Glen Keane mimicking the art of Fragonarde are good.

    CG Animation is a different art form than traditional animation. Poo-pooing it because it’s new and used badly by a lot of people right now doesn’t make traditional animation superior. It’s fine if it’s not to your taste, but don’t claim that it’s an inferior art form.

  • http://grahaeme.blogspot.comorstareface.blogspot.com grahaeme

    Great post Amid. Nice to see the technology pushing forward. As the other posters here I agree its a little overused in the pinocchio demo, but imagine it was done to emphasize the technology as opposed to show-off finished product.

    I am curious if you feel like the whole thing has slow timing though? Isn`t it really that the smears are held on screen for far too long and the super slow ins and outs with every movement are emphasizing that? I feel its too underwater looking. If it were snappier then it would have more effect, but then I presume at least the extended frames of smear or dry brush were left in to emphasize the technology.

  • purin

    This looks interesting. Like 2D speed lines and blurs this could both be used brilliantly or misused ad nauseam.

    I really would like to see how they’d be employed by an animator in a fully rendered scene, for more than just showing off the programming.

  • http://cheekyentertainment.blogspot.com/ Craig Clark

    I wonder what Brad Bird thinks? This was one of his requests for improved rendering options in CG. This would have to be used sparingly, but it does create another job classification for TD’s out there.

  • Roberto Severino

    It’s a very interesting attempt at adapting motion blur to CGI technology, especially with the animation of Pinnochio. It seemed kinda clunky a lot of the time, though. Still an admirable effort.

  • http://www.frankpanucci.com FP

    Good idea, but the effect needs to be translucent, and possibly blurred. As presented, it looks like 3D geometry gone wrong.

  • Tom Bertino

    Okay, I don’t know if anybody’s already gotten to this, but I was intrigued by Amid’s comment about nailing things animators had already done successfully in the past, and I also felt the speed lines on the Pinocchio clip were a bit over the top. Then I looked at the Fudd frame grab and it dawned on me…What the 40s animators did was they generally used those lines, or smears, or blurs, or whatever you want to call them, IN PLACE OF the inbetweens. Go through enough of them on frame advance and you’ll see what I mean. The reason the CG version looks like “too much” is because every incremental position is there, PLUS the smears, which are therefore a bit redundant. I think further experimentation with this, but relying more heavily on keys, will bear fruit. It’s a great thing to be investigating; the clip is exciting and points in a good direction for CG.

  • JOe Micallef

    read: Richard Williams Animation Survival Guide page 97 & 98 to see how motion blur was done in the 1930′s & 1940′s, to see the history of speed lines and motion blur,
    and if they should even be used at all.

    Also Houdini is capable of creating adjustable speed lines. See Peter Quint’s Tutorials on Vimeo if you want to use them in your own work (and if you use Houdini…)

  • EHH

    Good to see they are working on motion blurs. Also, the scene with Pinocchio and the woodpeckers was pretty amusing all on its own and I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only person who was chuckling.

  • Erin

    It’s looking pretty good, but only when the object in question is moving VERY fast relative to the camera. The UFO looked terrible. The bird looked pretty good. Pinocchio looked good occasionally, but mostly iffy. But sticking blurs/strobo-scopic images on EVERYthing is way too much. Even small motions caused the character to spaghetti-fy. And if you’re moving at the same speed as an object, like with the ufo, there isn’t going to be any speedlines. Instead, you should speedline the CLOUDS (since they’re speeding away relative to you) and shift them back just to emphasize that.
    Just an awkward attempt and doesn’t demonstrate the technology very well on that first demo. The bird was the best example where this new technique is the most effective and actually adds something to the performance.

    • purin

      Oh, DUH! I was wondering why that UFO bothered me.

      It should be obvious….

    • Cyle

      I agree. I think you covered everything that was wrong with this. If you follow a speeding car with a camera, the background blurs, not the car.

  • Rooniman

    I don’t know if I like this or not. It’s a neat effect, but It looks really silly. Traditional animation pulls off all that blurring (with paint that is…) so effortlessly.

  • Gerard de Souza

    Thing is, in traditional animation it is used comparatively sparingly. In these demos (and much CG cartoons) it’s as if motion blur is on all the time. The point of motion blur is to feel it, not so much see it. As with other digital effects, restraint is needed.
    Pinocchio character animation was excellent.

    • The Gee

      okay, I didn’t see this when I replied to Ryan above….
      But, to repeat myself: these things are cheats and, like Gerard says, they shouldn’t be seen. They shouldn’t overwhelm the animation for most folks.

      People who look for such things…well, they’ll see it either at first or later. But, it should be subtle to add not distract. Fortunately, that does sorta seem to be their goal. And, I hope it works out.

  • Kyle

    What I find funny is that in the Pinocchio side-by-side comparison of conventional motion blur to the new effects, the conventional looks so much better. The new effects look ridiculous and are poorly executed. I couldn’t watch an entire film with those crazy lines streaming off of every moving object and character.

    • Cyle

      Yeah, the shading mimics realism, so speed lines look out of place. Color streaks only work in hand drawn animation because that’s the logical way to “blur” a drawing. Outside of that context it doesn’t make sense. The Pinocchio scene should have been cel-shaded or stylized to resemble illustration in some way. That way it would make sense to smear the virtual paint.

      • Chris Sobieniak

        I’m starting to think that would work much, much better here. If you went the cel-shaded, stylized look of the characters colors then it might be OK versus using more realistic textures and shades.

  • erlab

    Here’s a solution: PAINT OVER THE FINISHED CG RENDER. It eliminates all the technological problems. Per usual, that Elmer pic at the bottom shows that 2D is the way to go.

    • Pez

      That is exactly what I was going to post. I’m really glad that someone in the CGI world is realizing that the current blurry motion blur used in CGI animation is not working. The Test above is cool but the blurs don’t support the line of action and lead your eye in weird zig zags. I hate when things move fast in CGI and then all your eye has to look at is a big Blurry mess. Important to keep parts of the figure clear and readable. Incredible had a lot of this I thought. Yep. The paint over the final render is defiantly the smartest thing I have ever herd. Far to often peeps try to take a real life approach to toons. Nope Not gonna work , sorry.

  • Pac

    I’m sad to say that the Pinocchio footage looks very ugly. The speedlines have needless edges in them where a smooth curves would have been preferable.

  • Rodrigo

    I’m a fan of regular motion blur.

  • DonaldC

    Needs work.
    But this technology is a step in the right direction.

  • http://tillmyhands.blogspot.com Anoniguy

    CG isn’t going away, so crying that it isn’t 2d doesn’t solve anything.

    One more potentially useful tool to the CG animator’s toolbox. Great!

  • Professor Widebottom

    I find the conventional CGI motion blur suitable for 3D work. Applying a line streak invokes a different physical universe, as suggested by dry brush 2D effects on cels. I’m not sure why you’d want to do this, although I’m sure there would be exceptions too.

  • JubbaTheHott

    does this video exist somewhere else now that it’s been removed from youtube?