Home > Articles

Principles of Process


You now know the shot you are going to create in this book's workshop, how the shot fits into the overall structure of a larger production, and how the use of layers will be employed to create the final imagery for TheEnd.

Before moving into Lesson 4, I want to tell you about one of the fundamental cognitive shifts you'll need to make to be a successful CGI artist.

Sight and Perception

Seeing is the physiological process of light entering into the eye, stimulating the cells on the retina and transmitting the resultant information to the visual cortex of your brain. Your brain processes that information and a wonderful thing happens—you experience the phenomenon known as seeing.

Perception is the mental process you go through to decide what those images mean. The eye tells you what is out there; your perception determines the meaning and the reality of what you are seeing.

Chrome-Plated Reality

When I was a student studying Industrial Design, we were given an assignment to use magic markers or colored pencils to illustrate a chrome hubcap. If you know any industrial designers, you will know that we are taught how to render many different materials to illustrate our designs quickly for evaluation of form, material, and so on. A chrome hubcap is the best place to learn how to really see how form affects the size and shape of the reflections of the environment in the surface of the object. This rapid-vis exercise (short for Rapid Visualization) was an in-class assignment and we were given 20 minutes to complete it.

At the end of the 20 minutes, one by one, we put our attempts at chrome up on the wall for critique. The last student came up to show his work. I can still see him in my memory: pinning his drawing to the wall, standing back, obviously proud of his attempt to render chrome. We all sat speechless. His drawing consisted of a circle (right shape for a hubcap). Good enough start. He then had taken a silver pencil and colored in the circle with the pencil; a nice coloring job, very even, no white of the paper showing through, and no discernible scribbles outside the borders.

For this student, chrome was silver. That was his reality and it was what he saw when he looked at chrome. He didn't see the subtle gradation of the core of the sky, the dark mass of the horizon reflection distorted by the contours of the form of the hubcap. He didn't see the hubcap. What he saw was what his mind had been trained to see: silver.

To have your eyes opened and really see the world around you, you must begin to perceive all that you can see in terms of its material, how light falls on its surface, the reflection patterns that are produced by the form of the object, and its relationship to you in the environment.

If you rely on the computer to solve such fundamental visual phenomena, you will never have the ability to free your vision from the limitations of the tool. This will take some practice.

There are CGI artists who have the same deficiency in their ability to really see beyond the superficial and I will forever honor my former classmate by thinking of them as "silver pencil" artists. They rely on the default abilities of the powerful computer tools available to them without really learning to create believable reality.

Suspension of Disbelief

In movies, this ability to create believable reality results in what is called suspension of disbelief. When an audience is totally captivated by the filmmaker's magic, they willingly choose to believe what their eyes are taking in—they suspend their disbelief.

To achieve the suspension of disbelief in your audience, you must understand the visual reality of what they will be looking at. Good examples abound. Here's one excruciatingly simple solution to a huge visual problem.

Dennis Muren, VFX Supervisor, Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace, was tasked with 2,000 special effects shots to complete this movie. Dennis has won eight Academy Awards for his work and is the only visual-effects magician to have his name on Hollywood's Walk of Fame. When some of the shots in the Pod Race scene required a large crowd of people filling the stands, Dennis and his crew used cotton-tipped swabs painted in different "crowd people" colors. Digitally multiplied and combined, they are a convincing example of a simple, elegant solution to a visual problem.

Figure 3.8 shows the fireflies from TheEnd.avi. This is an example of creating the core essence of something using a minimum of visual elements.

Figure 3.8 The fireflies are little glowing spheres following spinning elliptical paths.

When you watch TheEnd.avi, the fireflies appear to be flocking and moving in random orbits—at least, that is what they appear to be doing to the viewer. The reality is that they are following very simple elliptical paths that have been animated to spin. You can see those paths in the wireframe view in Figure 3.8. This shot won't win an Academy Award for the result. The important thing was to apply the simple principles we have been talking about to create the visual reality of fireflies.

Taking a Step Back

The first step forward in creating such simple solutions is to take a step back. Visually, mentally, step back from the image you are trying to create and ask the question, "What is it I am actually seeing here?"

In the case of The Phantom Menace crowd scene, what we are actually seeing is a bunch of fuzzy-colored blobs that, when viewed from a distance, look like people. In the case of the fireflies, what we are actually seeing is a bunch of fuzzy-colored blobs that, when viewed from a distance, look like fireflies.

When looked at this way, the challenge becomes, "How do I create a bunch of fuzzy-colored blobs?" not "How do I create a crowd scene of fireflies?" It's very Zen, and practicing this ability to take a step back is important. Next time you are drying off from a shower, try thinking that you are not drying yourself off, you are making the towel as wet as possible. This is nonlinear paradoxical thinking. It is the antithesis of the "silver pencil" reality.

Choosing Perception

Perception is about choice and in the case of my former classmate, whether or not it was a conscious choice, he chose to create chrome with a silver pencil. In the case of Dennis Muren, you can't argue with eight Academy Awards. When you begin to see the world in terms of how light interacts with form, and learn to perceive and not just see, you have taken the first necessary cognitive steps toward becoming an excellent artist.

InformIT Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from InformIT and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information

To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.


Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites, develop new products and services, conduct educational research and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.


If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email information@informit.com.

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information

Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at customer-service@informit.com and we will process the deletion of a user's account.


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by InformIT. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive: www.informit.com/u.aspx.

Sale of Personal Information

Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to NevadaDesignatedRequest@pearson.com.

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents

California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure

Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact

Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice

We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020