Judging by the blank looks on their faces, the A-listers at the theater certainly didn't seem get the reference to "voxels" at the Oscars on Sunday night and most of the viewing public at home were likely similarly baffled. So what were actors Miles Teller and Margot Robbie talking about?

The reference was made as Teller and Robbie were presenting a summary of the Academy's Scientific and Technical Awards ceremony, which took place on Feb 8. Voxel was such a buzzword that evening that Teller started a drinking game, suggesting that the audience take a swig every time the term was mentioned.

So here's what all the fuss was about. The term voxel is a combination of "pixel" and "volume" and is essentially a 3D version of the pixel, itself derived from the words "picture" and "element." The voxel is to a 3D image what the pixel is to its two-dimensional counterpart. Imagine a voxel as a tiny cube, like a building block in a huge 3D structure.

Voxels have been used in brain MRIs and for other medical and scientific 3D imaging purposes, particularly in the video game industry. Obviously with the growth of 3D movies, animation and an appetite for more intricate special effects, voxels have become part of the lingo of the techies in the film industry.

Voxels are more malleable and easier to manipulate than polygons, which were previously used in 3D modelling. Creating 3D images using voxels requires far more computing power, which is why they weren't as widely used in the past. However, as the processing power available to video game developers and movie special effects creators has increased, the use of voxels has become more practical.

The video below shows a simple example of how voxels can be used to create three-dimensional smoke effects.

It does, of course, get even more complicated. There is also a "doxel," or dynamic voxel, which is a voxel as part of a four-dimensional dataset.

Blender 2.5 Smoke Test 4 from Hanno Bänsch on Vimeo.

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