“Proof-of-concept for a project which relies heavily on space visuals to demonstrate compelling footage can be created quickly and easily by mining the impressive public access image libraries of NASA (and others) for stunning photography, and then bringing them to life with simple 3d ‘tricks’. The final project, which is being produced by Two Story Productions (twostoryproductions.com/), will air on BC’s Knowledge Network (knowledge.ca)”
1. Saturn’s Polar Hexagon
If you’ve never heard of Saturn’s polar hexagon before, check this out. It’s mind-blowing.
Most of the shots of Saturn and its moons were accomplished in the same manner, by simply projecting high-resolution Cassini photographs onto spheres, and then navigating around those spheres with a virtual camera. Most of the shots are one image + one sphere = really simple stuff. For a shot of the polar hexagon, however, I worked in additional elements to bring the scene to life.
I started with this photograph of Saturn’s south pole, and projected the image onto a sphere. Then I found a timelapse sequence of images taken by the Cassini space probe from directly above the polar hexagon, showing the enormous vortex swirling slowly over a period of several hours. The sequence was comprised of eight individual frames, shown below:
Twixtor was used to stretch these eight short frames into a seamlessly smooth 240-frame long animation, which was then layered onto my 3d model of Saturn.
(The camera icons you see below are actually projectors: the left-hand one is projecting an image of saturn onto a sphere. An angled plane behind the sphere is ‘catching’ Saturn’s rings. The camera pointing down is projecting the polar hexagon onto the same sphere. The resulting image can be seen to the right.)
Once it was lined up with the photography, the animated polar hexagon element was then blended into the rest of the shot:
To create this lovely final composition (complete with animated weather systems!):
For a shot of the mountain in the centre of Tycho Crater, a slightly more detailed approach was needed. In this case, the source photograph was projected onto a low-resolution 3d model of the landscape in Maya.