Every SciFi movie fan will remember the visual splendour in Christopher Nolan’s 2014 movie Interstellar of the black hole ‘Gigantuan’ the crew of astronauts approached. But the even more astounding story is how close the VFX crew at DNEG came to correctly visualising the actual black hole, since observed in the surrounds of the M87 galaxy using the Event Horizon telescope.
During the work on Interstellar, the DNEG team led by Chief Scientist Oliver James and VFX Supervisor Paul Franklin, collaborated with Nobel Prize-winning physicist Kip Thorne to create a simulation of a black hole that not only supported the film’s aesthetic and storytelling, but which was rooted in Thorne’s calculations.
Back then while the film was being made, real scientists were yet to capture an image of a black hole. These are areas of the universe where gravity is so powerful that not even light waves can escape.
Oliver James first showed the comparison at the Starmus Festival last year, and the video above shows Kip Thorne talking at Cardiff Thorne describing how the final result of the collaboration with DNEG was an almost perfect representation of a black hole. The custom software designed by DNEG’s research and development team created a new way of visualising the gravitational lensing of a black hole. It allowed DNEG’s artists to explore this warped space and create the iconic images seen in the movie.
The work contributed to Interstellar winning the Academy Award for Best Achievement in Visual Effects in 2015 and led to the publication of two scientific papers by the DNEG team. However, it wasn’t until 2019, when an image of a black hole was finally captured, that the scientific accuracy of the visuals was recognised.