Skip to Content
Uncategorized

Great Balls of Fire

New software simulates the complex physics of combustion to produce convincing animations of flame and smoke.
February 15, 2004

When you see fire in movies, it’s usually real and dangerous. Computer animations are rarely used, because they neglect the intricate physics of fire-and it shows. Now computer scientists Ron Fedkiw of Stanford University and Henrik Jensen of the University of California, San Diego, have developed software that creates realistic animations of fire. Set initial conditions, like temperature, type of fuel, and surface shape, and the computer does the rest. The software solves equations that describe swirling fluids, expanding gases, and vaporized fuel, and renders effects like smoke, soot, and objects igniting. It takes about five minutes to generate each frame, but filmmakers and special-effects companies are interested. San Rafael, CA-based Industrial Light and Magic used similar techniques to create explosions for Terminator 3. But making fire animations easy to control and ready for film production will take another year or two, says Fedkiw. Other applications include virtual-reality training for firefighters.

Other Prototypes

Keep Reading

Most Popular

Here’s how a Twitter engineer says it will break in the coming weeks

One insider says the company’s current staffing isn’t able to sustain the platform.

Technology that lets us “speak” to our dead relatives has arrived. Are we ready?

Digital clones of the people we love could forever change how we grieve.

How to befriend a crow

I watched a bunch of crows on TikTok and now I'm trying to connect with some local birds.

Starlink signals can be reverse-engineered to work like GPS—whether SpaceX likes it or not

Elon said no thanks to using his mega-constellation for navigation. Researchers went ahead anyway.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.