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We used procedural displacement mapping for the rendering of the comet itself, procedural volumetric shaders for its vapor tail, and some dynamic simulations for the impacts. We made 4 elements future Sun, collision between Andromeda galaxy and the Milky Way, an elliptical galaxy and a generic nebula and computed for 8 shots that another vendor Atomic Fiction integrated in the final compositing.
The Crab Nebula is one of the most beautiful cosmic objects and the idea of building it was a very exciting challenge. We started with modeling the global exterior shape of the nebula and used it to generate particles, defining their color and density by using a photo of the nebula mapped on the model. A long shot of this sequence more than 1 min shows the position of the Crab Nebula in the Milky Way, its distance from our Solar System, and then pulls back to show the local galaxies cluster.
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BUF created some earth views, with various assets depending on its age : proto volcanic earth, primordial moon-like earth, Pangea earth, current earth. To simulate the Big Bang, the Big Crunch and the infinite expansion theories, we started from the current state of the Universe, large cluster of galaxies built from a fractal tree distribution with thousands of particles textured with galaxies' photos. In addition to the Milky Way and Andromeda, BUF was asked to create several assets of galaxies that could be animated to show some internal motion of stars and dust during a hologram sequence in SOTI.
After a casting of 8 interesting galaxies, we built assets using a sandwich of textured cards and a bunch of particle stars. We also created an asset of a giant elliptical galaxy. To illustrate the cosmological phenomenon of gravitational distortion that bends the light rays near the massive galaxy clusters, we had to create a specific camera lens shader simulating a spatial distortion.
For our full 3D galaxy cluster, we used as reference the astrophotographies of the Coma Galaxy cluster. Before a sequence about the Black Hole, Neil de Grasse Tyson makes a little detour by New York to explain the concept of gravity force. We had to create a couple of examples of hyper gravity environment and apply them to ordinary objects.
In the first shot, a cardboard box falls on the pavement and is crushed under a 3 G gravity force.
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We animated the box using a cloth simulation. To obtain a satisfying result, all the main creases were designed on the box model. We added some polystyrene chips and glass debris that are ejected when the box breaks up. The idea was to enhance the unusual gravity by a strange behavior on those very light elements that fall curtly on the ground and squeeze.
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In the second shot, a fire hydrant suffers several thousands G of gravity. After numerous simulation tests and different technical approaches, we chose to use a high viscosity liquid simulation. After having built the fire hydrant mesh with the correct thickness inside it we used blue prints , we voxelized it and filled the plain parts with particles. Then we made a liquid dynamic simulation, increasing the gravity force during the shot. The resulted behavior was similar to a viscous toothpaste. We then used this set of animated particles to warp a well refined polygon mesh.
The cracked sidewalk was designed separately and then rigged to a grid animated with a cloth simulation, reacting to the fire hydrant squashing. For some of Neal's explanations in SOTI, we had to provide some hologram animations showing the behavior of a blue giant star and its black hole companion.
To build this gigantic vortex with that is the size of 3 earths, we decided to see it as canyons of clouds, almost solid at this scale. To ease the process, we chose to work with procedural modeling, and created special manipulation tools to design and animate the huge cyclonic shapes.
A procedural displacement texture comes at the end to add thin details. A special shader was created to simulate the cloudy nature of the model, using translucency. Upon this model, we designed many paths flowing along the canyon walls to lead the particles of smoke.
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The ground, a plain of clouds, was built using several satellite photos of Earth's cyclones in multiple transparency layers, animated in. BUF created a complex asset of the Milky Way that was used for numerous shots. Built from a spiral fractal tree, many layers were generated : various size of stars and star clusters, clouds and dust, pink nebulae, hot heart made of dust particles and dark tendrils based on hair shaders textured with cosmic clouds.
For some shots showing a time-lapse of our galaxy during millions of years, this asset was animated with a procedural coiling that simulates the physical laws revealing the dark matter.
This category includes many different shots with various purposes : some of them are showing specific cosmic places the Eta Carina nebula, the Crab nebula, the Emission nebula, the Rosette nebula, the Orion nebula and others are more generic nebulae, cloudy colorful cosmic postcards.
Based on astrophotography references, the challenge here was to dimentionalize and build assets in order to travel around or through the nebulae. Various approaches were used depending on the shot, from simple cards textures, smoke particles, sprites, metaballs, hair shaders, procedural shaders. We were very careful to optimize the rendering cost, specially for those using volumetric shaders. For example, the journey into the Eta Carina nebula is a 2. This representation of a pulsar needed some fluid simulations and a hair shader to simulate the magnetic distortions.
This sequence illustrates how humanity is emitting radio signals through space, symbolized with bubbles that are spread out and reach the neighboring stars. We also made an hypothetical alien signal based on strange attractor textures , that crosses the trajectory of the Earth. To have parallax in some starfield shots, we generated some volume filled with particle stars, paying special attention to obtain a natural distribution, and analyzing various astrophotographies to find the right density of stars and color variations.
The solar system genesis sequences awarded to BUF represented very challenging shots, full of gigantic events, proto planets and asteroids colliding with each other or being bombarded with comets, birth of the moon, in the cosmic landscape of the dust and smoke primordial accretion disc. A bank of generic asteroid collisions dynamic simulations was prepared. A special tool was written to allow us to control the density of comets' impacts on planets, with automatic reverse animation of the comet. For the time-lapse of the moon aggregation, we created a procedural reverse animation, ejecting particles from a sphere filled with debris.
For the biggest collisions, we used a liquid simulation dressed with incandescent debris, that fit better with the scale. Many shots involve the Spaceship Of The Imagination because the production wanted it to be the visual signature of the Cosmos series. At the end of the production, the client needed to re-shoot some additional sequences for some episodes, with Neil speaking in the spaceship.
The problem was that the set did not still exist at this time, several months after the end of the main shooting. In one of those shots, we created a complex extension set, with the camera turning around Neil, inside and outside of SOTI, in a full CGI landscape of rice paddy fields. Our expert authors combine facts, analysis, perspective, new ideas, and enthusiasm to make interesting and challenging topics highly readable. How big and small are big and small?
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