Cinematic Scientific Visualizations
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The Hubble Space Telescope has provided the world with incredible imagery of the surrounding universe. The aesthetic quality of this imagery is limited by production resources; by creating a method to harness the highly refined detail and quality of CG elements in live-action films, we can inspire and educate at a much greater level. In this thesis, I create a rendering approach that allows camera movement around and through elements such as nebulae and galaxies, creating a more cinematic experience. The solution will also allow for reasonable scientific accuracy, visual appeal, efficiency, and extendability to other astronomical visualizations. 3D meshes are constructed and textured using telescopic images as reference. Splats are volumetrically generated using a voxelized bounding box around the mesh. Valid splats within a user specified maximum distance receive initial color and alpha values from the texture map. Probability density functions are used to create a density falloff along the edges of the object, and modifications to the RGBA values are made to achieve the desired cloud-like appearance. The data sets are rendered using a C program developed at the Space Telescope Science Institute by Dr. Frank Summers. The methodology is applied to the test cases of a nebula, star-forming region Sharpless 2-106, and a galaxy, Messier 51, or the Whirlpool Galaxy. The results of this thesis demonstrate the visual, scientific, and technical success of this solution. The code developed during this project generates the desired imagery with reasonable efficiency. A short animation moving from outside the galaxy to a close up of the nebula exhibits the flexibility in scale and camera movement. A careful balance between scientific accuracy and visual appeal were maintained through consultation with astronomers at the Space Telescope Science Institute. The favorable efficient, flexible, visual, and scientific results presented by this work make this process extendable to most other cases of nebula and galaxy visualizations.
Litaker, Kendall R (2013). Cinematic Scientific Visualizations. Master's thesis, Texas A & M University. Available electronically from