“Spirit and Opportunity: Animating NASA’s Mission to Mars”

  • ©Daniel (Dan) Maas




    Spirit and Opportunity: Animating NASA’s Mission to Mars



    NASA has long employed computer animation to explain its space missions to the public. While most NASA animations succeed in portraying the scientific and technical aspects of a mission, less attention to storytelling and visual realism prevents them from connecting with the audience as powerfully as modern science fiction films.
    We set out to create a dramatically compelling visualization of the Mars Exploration Rover mission [Crisp et al. 2003] that would still meet the very high standards of scientific accuracy demanded by NASA. Our greatest challenge was developing an exciting story within the constraints of technical realism. At the same time, we sought a level of visual fidelity that would make the audience feel as if they really were traveling along with one of the rovers.
    We completed a ten-minute launch-to-landing animation before the mission left the ground, then followed up with additional animation of the rovers in their actual environments on Mars.


    CRISP, J. A., ADLER, M., MATIJEVIC, J. R., SQUYRES, S. W., ARVIDSON, R. E., AND KASS, D. M. 2003. Mars Exploration Rover mission. Journal of Geophysical Research (Planets) (Oct.), 2–1.
    DEEN, R. G., AND LORRE, J. J. 2005. Seeing in Three Dimensions: Correlation and Triangulation of Mars Exploration Rover Imagery. Submitted to the 2005 IEEE International Conference on Systems, Man, and Cybernetics, Waikoloa, HI.
    LANDIS, H., 2002. Global illumination in production. ACM SIG- GRAPH 2002 Course #16 Notes, July.

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