Movies these days have a lot of computer generated effects and they all seem to follow the laws of physics, what render program is used for this kind of stuff ?

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    "Render programs" don't do physics, they render*. Physics is done during the animation phase of a project. Particle simulation, fluid dynamics, smoke, fire, explosions, and newtonian simulations all typically have their own specialized software package (whether it's a full app, or a plugin, module, or whatever) Perhaps clarify your question to address a particular area more specifically. *edit: technically, I guess render engines do simulate the physics of light. But that's it. Commented Jun 24, 2013 at 18:29

2 Answers 2


There are a number of different options. Some production companies use their own proprietary, in house systems for rendering. There are a large number of companies that use existing commercial products however. Maya, SoftImage, 3D Studio Max and Cinema4D are some of the big ones. I have not personally worked with Cinema4D, but I know that physics simulation is possible in all of the first 3. Cinema4D also supports physics simulation according to comments, though I have not personally used it.

It is also worth noting that a combination of both physics simulation and physical modeling can be used. For complex systems like particle effects and such, simulation is pretty much the only option, but for some larger actions, they may actually film a movement and then animate it to match what they record. This can either be automated (using motion capture where they tracks dots on an object from multiple angles and computers reconstruct the motion) or by an animator manually watching the video and reproducing it.

These models and scenes are then rendered using a process called ray tracing. Ray tracing works by having a simulated view point and a simulated screen. The image is formed at the simulated screen by sending a ray from the view point, through the pixel on the simulated screen and then allowing the reflections to be traced back until they reach light sources. This produces highly accurate reflections and lighting effects but is much more time consuming than the kind of rendering used in 3d games.

The output of the ray tracing is then combined with other information (such as depth and transparency) that comes out of the 3d rendering engine. This information is all fed in to a compositing program such as Adobe After Effects or Autodesk (formerly Discreet) Inferno. These programs combine the 3d elements back with the actual video elements and allows for filters and effects to be applied to help blend the layers together smoothly.

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    Cinema 4D does have physics simulation. Commented Jun 24, 2013 at 18:19
  • @JasonConrad - thanks, I updated the answer to include that information.
    – AJ Henderson
    Commented Jun 24, 2013 at 19:51

Blender is a free, open source 3D modeler and renderer which has physics support. It also supports compositing, or layering, animated graphics into your movie footage, right inside Blender. Like any 3D program, there's a steep learning curve. Blender has lots of learning resources to help with that, like user web sites, and Youtube tutorials.

Some short films made with Blender are available as source files - meaning the entire 3D scene files, character rigs, lighting, everything - are available for a modest cost. Having high quality content like this to take apart and play with is a very valuable learning resource.

Please be aware that when you hear about a movie FX studio using a product, they do use it - but, they usually have a team of in-house programmers that customize the daylights out of it. Those customizations are generally not available to anyone else.


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