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Case Study: Cosmic Cookbook

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Figure 1. Perseverance descends on Mars.

Lyon Ritchie helped bring the adventure of space travel to the screen for Home Run Pictures' client Buhl Planetarium at Carnegie Science Center. Cosmic Cookbook resulted in two full-dome animated sequences featuring rocket launches and robotic exploration on other worlds.


Video 1. Atlas V launch composite.
Video 2. Perseverance with descent stage, ready for their Mars debut.

Fully CGI animated dome productions, which feature a 180-degree view, require a wider perspective – and more computing horsepower – than their standard camera-perspective counterparts.

A rocket launch, which we would repeat on another upcoming show Blueprints to Blastoff, required several layers of visual effects, The Mars rover, Perseverance, needed to engage the audience as not only a machine but a character with personality.

Our Approach

The provided storyboards depicted a low camera to capture Perseverance’s arrival and brief science sortie. Freely available 3d models from NASA, for the rover and descent stage, meant that we could focus on dramatic lighting and animation that pull the audience in.

For the dramatic liftoff of Atlas V, we turned to reference footage of rocket launches. Home Run Pictures sent us scene geometry that we used for simulation and lighting adjustments for the final composite.


For the arrival of Perseverance on Mars, we set up the materials, lighting, and rigged the rover for animation. Most of the lighting and reflections comes from a panoramic image and, primarily due to the camera angle, we didn’t need to construct a detailed environment.

After drop-off, Perseverance wastes no time and deploys her cluster of science instruments directly overhead – an instant hit with audience members.

Layering ice, smoke, and fire onto client-supplied renders of the launch sequence gave the event life. Physics simulations for both the falling ice and smoke (actually, super-cold condensate) helped with realism. The rocket plume, however, was achieved with some animated noise used to displace the mesh.

Lighting was also adjusted to account for the light contributed by the bright rocket plume along with a subtle lens effect.


Each CGI software app has its strengths and weaknesses. Working with Gary’s different army of toolsets on this sequence eliminated the weaknesses. With the ability to use Home Run Pictures' tools where they excelled and his where they did we were able to solve the visual needs.

Tom Casey, CEO, Home Run Pictures

Last updated 2024-06-18 21:40:37 UTC