Discovery Turns to Effects for ‘Collision’

Jul 25, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Space is really, really black. And there aren’t a lot of cameras up there. That’s why Discovery is relying on about 15 minutes’ worth of special effects from Eden FX to tell the story of NASA’s three-year project to shoot an interstellar bullet into a comet in its hour-long “Comet Collision” special. The program airs July 31 in a simulcast on Discovery Channel and Discovery HD Theater.

“We couldn’t have done this without the animation, the special effects of the impact,” said Tomi Landis, executive producer for the Discovery Channel.

The show traces the history of NASA’s plans to launch a so-called “comet impactor” to smash into the Tempel 1 comet, allowing scientists to conduct tests on the nature of comets, since many believe that comets were formed at the same time as the universe. The show takes viewers from the design and building of the deep-impact spacecraft through to Tempel’s launch in January and subsequent collision with the comet on July 4, Ms. Landis said. The spacecraft released the impactor, creating what appeared to be a crater.

Eden FX designed a CGI rendition of the impactor’s trip and impact, showing its journey across the inky blackness of space and then its path as it hurtled into its cosmic target. “We showed in photorealistic imagery what was going to happen,” said John Gross, co-president and creative director at Eden FX.

The special effects crew created three scenarios based on the possibilities that NASA engineers envisioned. The impactor would create a crater, break into pieces if the comet was hard, or smash through the comet if it were porous. The impactor is believed to have created a crater, but the special will show all three possibilities.

Eden FX crafted 47 special effects for the show, including a sequence depicting the formation of the solar system, representing 5 billion years in 75 seconds of animation.

Ms. Landis said the images are as good as anything viewers would see in movie theaters today. That’s high praise given the eye candy moviegoers have feasted on recently with “Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith,” “War of the Worlds” and “Fantastic Four.”

The quality is particularly good because the animations were rendered in high definition, she said.

Discovery Channel has been using CGI animation since its “Walking With Dinosaurs” special five years ago, the best-known program it created based around effects, Ms. Landis said. “Cameras can’t be everywhere, so when there is a story Discovery Channel wants to tell and cameras can’t be there, we have used animation,” she said.

Discovery Channel has also relied heavily on CGI effects for shows such as “Inside the Space Station” and “Alien Planet.”

Eden FX also crafts special effects for ABC’s “Lost” and “Alias.” Other visual effects houses are garnering more television work. Look Effects recently landed work creating 3-D animation, cityscapes and skylines for “CSI: NY.”