When was the last time the staid world of academia had an interaction with the frontier world of Hollywood entertainment? Last year’s Christopher Nolan release, ‘Interstellar’ has become the latest in such cases, if there ever were any before. The Interstellar universe, if viewers remember, took the viewers closest and most accurate to visuals of near black hole vicinities. Such endeavors to be as close to scientifically observable phenomena made Nolan depict black holes in the most realistic way possible.
First proposed as an idea, by the theoretical physicist Kip Thorne, who until 2009 was the Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech); the nearest black hole visuals pulled off in the movie were developed at a London studio called ‘Double Negative’.
Now it turns out that Nolan’s depiction of vicinities of a black hole were as accurate as possible, as has been confirmed by an academic research paper, which came out in the Institute of Physics’ Classical and Quantum Gravity journal. Not only did the published paper confirm the accuracy of the visuals depicted in the movie, it also went on to explain further and reveal additional details about the computer code that was utilized for the creation of stunning visuals of black holes, wormholes and other celestial objects that populated the movie’s environment.
The paper explained that because the dense whirling mass of black hole drags space around it into a whirlpool type motion, the images that are captured by a camera tend to get concentrated along one edge of the black hole’s shadow. This causes more than a dozen images of individual stars floating all around the universe, to accumulate along the edges of a black hole.
The near perfect generation of what an actual black hole might look like to a nearby viewer was possible because of the ‘innovative computer code’ developed by the Double Negative studios. The code called the ‘Double Negative Gravitational Renderer’ (DNGR) efficiently mapped the paths of millions of light beams and their evolving cross sections as they passed through the warped space-time around a black hole’s periphery’. This mapping enabled the code to display ‘gravitational lensing’, by which a camera captures the bending and distortion of light beams coming in from various corners of the universe. These light beams, then coagulate around the edges of a black hole, thus giving rise to a glowing disk surrounding it.
“Interstellar is the first Hollywood movie to attempt depicting a black hole as it would actually be seen by somebody nearby. For this, our team at Double Negative Visual Effects, in collaboration with physicist Kip Thorne, developed a code called Double Negative Gravitational Renderer (DNGR) to solve the equations for ray-bundle (light-beam) propagation through the curved spacetime of a spinning (Kerr) black hole, and to render IMAX-quality, rapidly changing images,” stated the team in their publication.
“Our ray-bundle techniques were crucial for achieving IMAX-quality smoothness without flickering; and they differ from physicists’ image-generation techniques (which generally rely on individual light rays rather than ray bundles), and also differ from techniques previously used in the film industry’s CGI community.”
Now, after confirmation of the scientific authenticity of the principle encoded in the program that graphically depicted a black hole in the movie, the Double Negative studios have not missed the future possibilities that have opened up regarding mapping of celestial phenomena and code based visualization of far off heavenly objects.