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SXSW Interactive 2015

Astrophysics Goes Hollywood: Cinematic Science

The amazing visuals from astronomical observatories like NASA’s Hubble and Spitzer Space Telescopes reveal our universe as never before. With awe-inspiring images up to billions of pixels, and dynamic results from supercomputer simulations, the cosmos is primed for big screen display. This panel will discuss the art and science of transforming astrophysics data into cinematic movie sequences for NASA press releases, digital planetariums, and IMAX films.

Such projects require ‘Renaissance teams’, fostering a deep collaboration between creative and technical participants. A combination of astrophysics research codes, Hollywood graphics software, and powerful computers are required to go from photons to pixels to voxels to animation. From interpreting the true 3D structure of our own Milky Way to envisioning the titanic collision of two galaxies to creating the spectacular journey into the Orion Nebula in IMAX “Hubble”, each production is guided by both accuracy and aesthetics.

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  1. In producing compelling cosmic movies, how much effort and specialized knowledge are required to convert astronomical data and images from scientific formats to imagery suitable for film work?
  2. How do you transform 2D images from telescopes into 3D astronomy models, and how much is science knowledge versus estimation and intuition versus artistic interpretation?
  3. When striving for scientific authenticity as well as broad public appeal, what limitations are imposed and what compromises must be made by the science and the art sides of the collaboration?
  4. What mix of methods, from scientific analysis and processing to cinematic computer graphics techniques, is necessary to maintain a combination of astronomical accuracy and striking visual aesthetics?
  5. Is there anything more awe inspiring and serenely beautiful than floating amongst newborn stars and nascent planetary systems within the vast glowing gaseous landscape of the Orion Nebula?



Donna Cox, Director, Advanced Visualization Laboratory, National Center for Supercomputing Applications

Meta Information:

  • Tags: film
  • Event: Interactive
  • Format: Panel
  • Track: Science and Space Exploration
  • Level: Intermediate
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