National Geographic Pluto's surface simulations with SkyWorks Digital

Well known space illustrator Dana Barry's SkyWorks Digital asked Home Run Pictures to help with simulated surface views of the planetoid Pluto... for a National Geographic magazine article on the NASA New Horizons nine year mission to flyby Pluto. Represented are three accepted theories about what the surface of Pluto may look like... each determined by the planetoid's expected cold environment where, at its furthest distance from the Sun in its orbit, gets so cold, the atmosphere can become solid and fall as a snowstorm.

Home Run Pictures' animator Glen Johnson used Eon's Vue software to create initial terrain based on input from NASA and SkyWorks Digital. Since the terrain needed to be of a very high resolution for the print imagery, Glen wrote a script that allowed him to export the terrain mesh into Autodesk Maya, but in a tiled fashion to get around the limitations of polygon density for the very large scene views. Dozens of tiles would be exported separately and then reassembled after import into Maya.

Using these initial mesh models as elements, Dana was then able to arrange, texture, paint the surface, and finish the illustrations to their desired representation of the expected look of the surface of Pluto. Since views of the far away planetoid have been limited, only after the NASA New Horizons spacecraft flys by will scientists know which, if any, concept is correct. The finished image above shows a concept expecting a tectonic surface.

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