As audiences and Academy Award voters await Christopher Nolan’s ‘Interstellar’, ‘Wired’ took a look into the science that went behind the upcoming blockbuster to discover that the effects in the film are strikingly accurate to actual space phenomena.
Kip Thorne, a theoretical physicist and colleague to both Stephen Hawking and Carl Sagan served as an adviser to ‘Interstellar’. He aided visual effects supervisor Paul Franklin and special effects house Double Negative to create a wormhole and eventually a massive black hole spinning close to the speed of light.
Since light and time do not behave normally when approaching a wormhole or black hole, Thorne created a series of equations that were later used by Double Negative to render a visual interpretation. The team started off by designing a wormhole. According to ‘Wired’, “The result was extraordinary. It was like a crystal ball reflecting the universe, a spherical hole in spacetime.”
The team then went on to design an accurate-looking black hole. This created a series of new complications, as filmmaking relies heavily on light. However, black holes have such a massive amount of gravity that light cannot escape. Filmmakers typically use a process called ray tracing to create light reflections and refractions. However, this is done presuming that light and time aren’t being absorbed by a black hole. Therefore, the special effects team ran into an important issue. How will the viewers be able to see a black hole?
Franklin started reading about accretion discs or matter that orbits a central body, spiraling inward. Accretion discs typically orbit stars, but some do tend to orbit black holes. Eugénie von Tunzelmann, a CG supervisor at Double Negative essentially designed an accretion disc and used it to outline the spinning black hole. This resulted in a very interesting effect.
“We found that warping space around the black hole also warps the accretion disc,” Franklin stated. “So rather than looking like Saturn’s rings around a black sphere, the light creates this extraordinary halo.”
Seeing the final rendering of the black hole seemed to have had a profound effect on Thorne. He realized that the team’s designs were surprisingly accurate to his calculations.
“This is our observational data,” Thorne asserts. “That’s the way nature behaves. Period.”
You can read the full ‘Wired’ article here.
Christopher Nolan’s ‘Interstellar’ stars Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain. It opens November 7.