Engineering At the Movies

In this issue, we look at how gaming engines influence design processes; how CAD aids visual effects; and how design technologies are used to help some familiar superheroes fight crime.

In this issue, we look at how gaming engines influence design processes; how CAD aids visual effects; and how design technologies are used to help some familiar superheroes fight crime.

Welcome to a very special edition of digital engineering magazine, in which we venture from the factory floor to the Dream Factory of Hollywood, where the same CAD, simulation and prototyping technologies leveraged by aerospace and automotive manufacturers are used to create robots, aliens, monsters and flying cars.

I have to admit that the entirety of this theme issue was the result of a completely selfish bit of curiosity on my part. My kids and I watch a CW superhero show called “Stargirl” every week. One of the characters on the show uses a 12-foot robotic mech-suit to fight crime. While most of the special effects on the show (and in most similar films and TV shows) are computer generated, I was surprised to see that the robot (dubbed S.T.R.I.P.E.) was clearly a physical prop. A really big prop. 

This was a rare instance where one of my personal interests (filmmaking) intersected with my day job. I had to know how that thing was built, and because I happen to be the editor of a distinguished engineering magazine, I had no problem calling up the folks who made it. 

You can read more about the S.T.R.I.P.E. robot design in a case study within this issue. What I found interesting was that, while special effects do not require the same amount of safety and stress testing a real robot or car would need, the tools used to create these effects are much the same as our average readers use to build real machines, vehicles and products.

Increasingly, the technology advances in each of these spheres (manufacturing and entertainment) are benefitting each other. You can see that in high-end rendering, visualization, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, 3D printing, rapid prototyping, etc. The same is true when it comes to gaming design.

So in this issue, we take a look at how gaming engines are working their way into design processes; how CAD contributes to visual effects; and how common design technologies are being used to help some familiar superheroes fight crime.

This was a fun issue to put together, and allowed me to revisit an earlier period in my journalistic career. In a past life when I was still a freelancer, I used to write regularly about film and television production. My work was largely focused on the low-rent side of the business. My highest profile interviews were probably with Oscar-nominated director Richard Rush and legendary producer Roger Corman. On the other end of the spectrum, I interviewed the folks who made the 1972 film “Invasion of the Blood Farmers.” (Honest, it’s a real movie.)

My own son, however, has already lapped me. Thanks to a family connection at his school, he got to interview Joe and Anthony Russo, the Cleveland-born brothers who co-directed the last two “Avengers” movies.

He’s showing me up, and he hasn’t even finished middle school yet.

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About the Author

Brian Albright's avatar
Brian Albright

Brian Albright is the editorial director of Digital Engineering. Contact him at [email protected].

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