Voyager 2 Encounters Saturn: Computer Simulation (1981)

21 Dec
Director   James F. Blinn and Charles Kohlhase
Producer   Anaheim, Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Length   6 min
B&W/Color   color
UO Library Catalog description:  Includes time-lapse of rotations of Saturn and its rings. (Listed in UO Catalog as “Voyager 2 Encounters Saturn,” but this is the tin title.)
Call # FILM Ma208
Genre  documentary
Rare  no
Online  no
Copyright status  public domain
Physical condition good
Oregon-related  no


Narration begins abruptly a few minutes in after a silent lead-in; may be deliberate, seems more likely a flaw in the film. One of a series. There’s an excellent interview with Kohlhase here in which he explains the creation of these animations at length:

“A personally exciting time for me was when Jim Blinn, one of the great pioneers in computer graphics, and I worked on the flyby animations. We’d been doing just simple wire-frame animations before. Jim was hired at JPL to work with me – my budget paid his salary – and he developed software to simulate the flybys, and then I would use them to make each little movie script. We worked as a pair. We did Voyager 1 and 2 — in sequence — Voyager 1 at Jupiter; Voyager 2 at Jupiter, Voyager 1 at Saturn, and so on.

It was great to see the finished product. Since we released these before the flybys, one of the challenges we had in making the movies was that before we got to these planets we didn’t know what the moons actually looked like up close, so we had {renowned space artists} Don Davis, and later Rick Sternbach, work with us. Don helped us render surfaces of things for best guesses when we didn’t know what they actually looked like. We would imagine what the surfaces would look like and Don would paint them. But once Voyager 1 arrived and took the real pictures, we would quickly patch the photographs of the real moons on the animation before we made the Voyager 2 animations. So the second in the series was always better.”

Blinn pioneered, among other CGI techniques, bump mapping (rendering of lumpy surfaces) and reflection mapping. While the film is not relentlessly fascinating, it’s certainly an interesting piece of CGI history.

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