Even though CGI has come a long way since that terrible plane crash sequence in Air Force One, the technology has yet to master more mundane visual effects. Case in point, determining how millions of granules of sugar, salt or sand will react when poured into a bowl.
Researchers from Disney Research Zurich, ETH Zurich, and Dartmouth College have teamed up to conquer the problem, resulting in a new simulation that will make the process look more realistic while also increasing rendering speed.
The breakthrough is outlined in a paper titled Efficient Rendering of Heterogeneous Poly-Disperse Granular Media. The effect is demonstrated in the video below and will likely be used to streamline effects for movies and games.