HUBBLE FLY-THROUGH SEQUENCE:
SCIENCE & ARTISTRY MEET IN ANIMATION
Written by Jason Harwell - Co-Producer
Hi gang, I'm Jason, Co-Producer, Segment Producer & team lead for the Hubble Telescope images fly-through sequence.
This immersive segment was a very fascinating part of the film to work on. It was often tedious, but that was helped by having absolutely stunning content to work on!
Starting as a volunteer image processor doing many of these by myself, I worked my up to segment producer by working through the initial tech issues, developing a production pipeline, and ultimately coordinating a talented team who brought many of their own techniques to bear, to get several dozen of these ready for director Stephen Van Vuuren to choose his shots.
Before being able to fly the viewer "through" the scenery, the images had to be prepared for that type of camerawork.
This involved separating the foregrounds, mid-grounds, backgrounds, and primary features into individual digital plates (Photoshop layers), just as one would with physical plates in traditional animation.
Here's a simplified explanation of what our team had to do, and how:
1. For maximum clarity, resolution & image control, some of our images were pulled from almost-raw Hubble data (known as FITS files) which had to have each color channel rendered and composited into a full-color image by talented imaging experts like image processor Judy Schmidt.
Science and artistry meet here in that the image processor must make aesthetic decisions such as brightness, contrast and color intensity, which can enhance or subdue different physical features of the subject, just as a real photographer does when taking pictures with a film camera.
The goal of our image processors was to approximate as best as possible the most natural image that your real human eye would see, were you actually present at the camera's point in space, or looking through a real physical (and incredibly powerful) telescope eyepiece.
This sometimes meant subduing many of the heavily-saturated colors and intense contrasts used in publicized space imagery, to achieve a more natural sense of realism.
For more info on how a full-color image is created from nearly-raw telescope data, or to create them yourself & contribute to the scientific community's catalog of viewable space images, click here!http://hubblesite.org/get_involved/hubble_image_processors/
2. To ensure as much scientific accuracy as possible, a team led by Dr. Steve Danford (Astronomer & Professor at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro) analyzed each image using available distance data for known objects (such as stars, globular clusters, & galaxies).
Dr. Danford inverted the original image (creating a digital photo-negative) and labeled the main objects according to that data, by what's called their Z-index (rank of object in order of closest to farthest from the camera plane). Creating the negative just made things easier to label and read.
Here's an example of Dr. Danford's analysis, using an image of the Andromeda Galaxy (M31):