Astute moviegoers may have noticed a traveling car and its trail of exhaust in a scene from Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Current tools, such as Adobe Systems's After Effects "healing brush," can readily camouflage, or inpaint, small blemishes. To fix larger gaffes, though, the user must tirelessly cut small patches of image and paste them over the unwanted object. The effort typically yields mediocre results for all but the smallest repairs: on the DVD of Fellowship, a blurry spot is visible where the car was.

But new software using advanced mathematics may soon enable video editors to automatically inpaint a moving object quickly and seamlessly. It can even massage away large moving objects that hide other action, according to the software's principal developer, computer scientist Guillermo Sapiro of the University of Minnesota.