Bohemian Grey Visualizes NASA Expedition
January 4, 2012

Bohemian Grey Visualizes NASA Expedition

Bohemian Grey, a leader in the creation and production of animation, visualization and visual effects for film, television, educational and government projects, has produced a short animated film depicting the planned exploits of NASA's newest robotic explorer, the Mars Science Laboratory’s “Curiosity” Rover.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)--which is managed by The California Institute of Technology in Pasadena for NASA)--launch this new rover, slated to explore Mars, recently. The animation produced by Bohemian Grey depicts choice aspects of this mission. Both a four-minute narrated version (LINK) and an 11-minute version without narration ( LINK) are currently available for viewing by the public. In the narrated version, viewers can take a behind-the-scenes look at the assembly of the unprecedented craft, which features scientific advancements never before included within such an inter-planetary vehicle. 

The longer piece depicts “Curiosity’s” flight path, landing and planned exploratory activities, once on the surface of Mars. Using ToonBoom’s Storyboard Pro, the artists generated storyboards and animatics. When it came time to create these out-of-this-world scenes, the team used NewTek’s LightWave 9.5 and 10.1 to model and animate the NASA/JPL Rover. To achieve the unique look of the Rover’s suspension, the crew used Vehicle Rigger, a LightWave plug-in from Johan Walen For sculpting and painting the Mars terrain, the artists used 3D-Coat from Andrew Shpagin. On the hardware side, they used PCs with 16GB of RAM running Windows 64-bit OS.

A total of five artists worked on this project over an eight-month period—three of them were dedicated to the project from beginning to end, while two did so part-time. Two people served as dedicated animators/modelers, while another was the dedicated modeler for the Rover. A part-timer worked on the rigging for the Rover, and the other part-timer did the texture painting. According to one of the artists, Bohemian Grey was asked to create an entertaining short film that would share what JPL does with the general public--in this case specifically, the Mars Science Laboratory, also known as Curiosity. This sort of project has great PR value for NASA/JPL. 

From the onset, the team designed the animation with reusability in mind: Bohemian Grey created the segments so they could be used and reused in the news, documentaries and educational media. One of the crew’s biggest hurdles was making sure that the Rover model and animation was as accurate and as true to the real mission as possible. To this end, the imagery was scrutinized by JPL mission experts, and many changes where made both to the animation and the models over the course of the project.

From a technical standpoint, though, one of the biggest issues came from the nature of the of Mars environment itself. In the animation, there is lots of wide-open terrain. And there are quite a few shots that transition from very wide and far away, to showing pebbles on the ground. For this the artists did multiple passes and some creative compositing.

“We are tremendously excited to be a part of this historic event. Helping NASA and the public to visualize ‘Curiosity’s’ trek was the type of animation project our company truly excels in both conceptualizing and producing,” says Kevin K. Lane, president of Bohemian Grey.