Algebra in filmmaking

Okay, so I'm in ap algebra, but I don't see why I would ever need it. Square roots have nothing to do with writing and directing, which is my main focus, rather than vfx. Is there anytime I will ever actually need algebra?


  • NormanPCN
    NormanPCN Posts: 4,136 Enthusiast

    Perhaps you should look at things a little different. I don't see school as really about teaching you A,B,C and that is what you then know. And all you know, because that is somehow what you need. More importantly it is about learning how to learn, IMO. Learning to extend yourself from within yourself. Learn to identify what you are missing and then how get answers to your missing part(s) to finish the task handed to you. Different topics will stress your faculties differently.

    Interesting you mention square roots. Since video is photography there are square roots involved in the recording of images via lenses. One can largely ignore that, and get the job done. But they are fundamental.

  • Aladdin4d
    Aladdin4d Posts: 2,481 Enthusiast

    Well you would be surprised. You are going to use basic algebra skills for finances, budgeting of anything, not just money, logistics, scheduling, travel times, measurements, power requirements, set building and it's a stepping stone to geometry, trigonometry and physics. What angle do you want to shoot? Geometry. How is the light going to bounce? Trigonometry. How much light do I need. Physics.

  • Triem23
    Triem23 Posts: 20,585 Ambassador

    Tricky discussion. 

    First, in general, lets define "Algebra" which is branch of mathematics on solving problems with incomplete information (solve for "x," right?). In general this branch of mathematics is priming you for certain methods of problem solving. While you'll probably never use a quadratic equation in your life, the basic principles of problem solving will be useful in so many circumstances, it's actually difficult to list specific examples.

    For writing, all I can say is a grounding in math and science is helpful if you're going to write anything involving science and tech. Without some grounding in science you'll not be able to write scientific characters (a recent sci-fi show I watched had a character refer to a "scientific gravitational constant of 9.8m/s^2." That's absolutely not a gravitational constant, but is the acceleration of gravity at sea level on Earth. In the context of the story that line was meaningless and was basically a BS "miracle solve" of a problem. Terrible writing. 

    Understanding science means you can write it. 

    In the context of directing, this grounding is going to help you talk to your techs who DO have to know that stuff.

    In the context of VFX, well, a lot of VFX comes off geometry and trig (which usually have Algebra as a pre-requisite). If you're trying to figure out the distance between two objects in 3D space, that's trig. If you're shooting background plates to composite in a giant creature, that's a lot of trig ("Ok, if we're shooting from 50 feet away from the building, and the camera is tilted 60 degrees up, how high is that 40 feet away from the camera if the tripod is six feet high? Because that's where I want the head to be, which tells me how tall the creature is.").

    Current software has a lot of tools that can reduce the need for direct calculations, and a lot of stuff is "eyeballed," but knowing the math is useful.

    Here's a Hitfilm specific example. Let's say you want to match a Hitfilm camera to a real-world camera--3D objects are being composited. Since Hitfilm's camera is using arbitrary units for camera values, an algebraic equation is needed to actually find the Hitfilm values needed to match a camera lens (covered in my first camera tutorial on the Hitfilm University YouTube channel). Now, you can avoid the math and eyeball it, but that aforementioned tutorial covers the eyeball method and the equation. The math is easier and faster... One of my future tutorials returns to the topic, doing a test composite of a 3D model to real footage with a matched camera vs the default camera, and you can absolutely see the difference. 

  • spydurhank
    spydurhank Posts: 3,193 Expert

    Everything done on a computer is mathematical, VFX although beautiful and artistic is pretty mathematical so algebra can do nothing but help you because all you do is measure or dial in an effect in photos videos and audio till you get something you like. Stuff gets a bit more complex when you get into any type of 3D work ie physics/fluid/smoke sims, destruction, particles, lighting, modelling, texturing, materials, matchmoving a camera, compositing 3D with live footage. It is all math.  

  • CleverTagline
    CleverTagline Posts: 3,332 Ambassador

    Lots of great advice above.  From my end, I'll take the "you never know when you'll actually need [skill] later in life" approach.

    You think you have your future career path locked in stone.  I felt the same way when I was your age (totally guessing your age), and was quick to dismiss the stats I heard about the number of times the average person changes careers over the course of their life.

    Then reality hit.

    I made my first change shortly after graduation, pursuing something completely different that wasn't even a thing when I was a high school senior.  I went to school for it, and worked it for about 7 years (career #1), all the while with me thinking I'd found my "one" real career.

    Then reality hit again.

    What I initially enjoyed became something I actually dreaded.  I shifted gears yet again, though not as drastically as he first time.  Same field, different job (#2).  That's also about the time I began pursuing a side interest as a freelance income source.

    Four years later I felt like that side interest was a better fit as my primary career path (#3), with a related path tying into it nicely (#3.5), so I quit my day job to pursue those two, once again thinking that I'd found "my thing(s)."

    But reality wasn't done hitting me yet.

    Just three months after that exit from my day job, I took on a side job (#4) to help fill the income gaps as I was attempting to get 3 and 3.5 off the ground.  Over the course of the next three to four years, I made very little progress with 3, plus some aspects of it were beginning to rub me the wrong way, and 3.5 was similarly floundering.  In the meantime, fill-in job 4 completely caught me by surprise and was growing like gangbusters.  While I'd initially told myself after the day-job exit that I would never work a full-time job again, I found myself longing to go back to full-time work with 4.

    Which brings us to today.

    I'm still growing and loving 4, but it's something that (once again) I didn't even know was a thing way back in high school when I thought I had my future mapped out, and when I felt that certain subjects were a waste of time to study.  How many of those "useless" subjects have I used in the course of all these career changes?  Almost all of them.  Now, not everyone will make as many changes as I have, but the number isn't my point. My point is this:

    Never assume that you know exactly how your future will go.  Chances are you're wrong.

    And if you're reading this and thinking to yourself, "Yeah, but I'm different," chances are you're wrong.  :)

    Nobody is immune to change.  Learn to not just accept it, but embrace it, and you'll live a far happier life.