After working on Cosmos, I was inspired to create this animation describing Conway's cellular automaton.
The project is a self-education on procedural animation in the open-source 3D animation tool "Blender". It was inspired by a short sequence on Conway in the documentary series "Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking". The sequence used a grid of squares to represent cells, and I was disappointed there were no adorable little beasties to elevate the simulation beyond its mathematical roots for the benefit of non-scientists.
I used a combination of hand-keyed and procedural animation. The wide simulation shots contain 3,600 cell models with 125,000 keyframes controlling the lighting over 1,200 frames, one generation per frame.
The production chain began with a procedural simulation written in Python. An initial, breadth-first simulation-to-Blender-scene rendering strategy resulted in a scene which took 6 hours to generate and included an unmanageable 6 million keyframes. A depth-first strategy reduced the generation time to less than 10 minutes and resulted in the final keyframe count of 125,000.
The toolchain to get from code to finished movie is: Python -> Blender -> PNG sequence -> AfterEffects -> MP4 Output.
See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conway's_Game_of_Life for more information on Conway's impact on math, computer science, the biological sciences, music, and video games.