Maths in movie magic

When you see dancing insects or walking bread loaves in movies and commercials it’s most likely the character rigger who created the moving skeletons behind the three-dimensional animations.

Cara Gately is a character rigger and has worked on blockbuster films like Thor: Ragnarok and Peter Rabbit.

Cara applies mathematics every day, incorporating concepts like Euler angles and quaternion numbers to calculate rotations and orientations of items in virtual space. She also codes in Python and C++ languages.

“I never thought I’d use mathematics on a daily basis. It was a huge shock when I found out"


Using maths backwards is the coolest thing about her job, she says.

“When thinking about car wheels in real life, we know that the engine turns the wheels, which propels the car. In 3D, the animators move the car, and we use the car’s movement to calculate how fast to rotate the wheels so it looks correct.”

While Cara liked trigonometry, algebra and physics at school, surprisingly she never thought she’d work with them outside the classroom.

“I never thought I’d use mathematics on a daily basis. It was a huge shock when I found out,” she laughs.

“I can legit remember the first day I had to look up a math formula for circumference and learn how to adapt it to a 3D environment. It hurt my brain. But I solved it and it felt great!”

While she’s created mythical humans and dangerous creatures, a little yellow character is her favourite.

“SpongeBob SquarePants! I love working on cartoon characters,” she says.

The mix between challenge and enjoyment is what keeps Cara captivated and she recommends that anyone studying maths who’s interested should simply ‘do it’.

“It’s so much fun. The job has a great balance of logic and creative elements that I find really fun and refreshing.

“I’ve been doing this for almost 15 years now, both in Australia and overseas. My brain still hurts regularly from solving puzzles and learning new things. But I like that there’s always something new around the corner.”

Cara’s study and career path

  • Diploma of Animation, Interactive Technology, Video Graphics and Special Effects, SAE

  • Rigging Technical Director, Framestore, Montreal

  • Character Rigger, Animal Logic.

Claire Harris

First published on

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