"Tornado Encounter " for the NASA "Force Five" extreme weather planetarium show


One of the most visually dramatic special effects sequences that Home Run Pictures has ever been asked to create, the tornado encounter scenes for the NASA "Force Five" planetarium show were also one of the most technically difficult to produce. With the fulldome projection system's requirement that the scenes be totally immersive... allowing the audience to look all around, front, left, right and behind... there were few shortcuts available to the animators and technical directors to accomplish what the sequence needed.

With the transition to a 64bit animation and rendering pipeline occuring at the studio, the timing was right to allow for some of the most complex and technically intensive scenes to be created. Autodesk Maya's Fluid Effects and nDynamics were emploted to generate a working simulation of the twister that touches ground near an unsuspecting couple out for an afternoon ride. Employing a "hair" technique, we were able to steer the twisting mass of fluids on a path we choreographed for each of the scenes in the three minute sequence.

The thunderstorm clouds and the dust and debris stirred up by the twister were created in multiple layers using Maya's Fluid Effects and nParticle tools. In some cases, since we were working in the 180 x 360 degree field of view of the fulldome format, layers could not be rendered separately for post compositing, so the unlimited memory advantages of working in 64bit proved a necessary answer to render and finish the scenes.

The final climatic scene of the twister hitting a farm house relied on staggered groups of simulated dynamic forces passing through the model that was broken up into thousands of smaller elements. Motion created by the dynamic forces was then cached as normal animation translation/rotation curves so the animator could then manually tweak the motion as desired. Other elements were painstakenly animated by hand to allow further creative control over the cloud of things flying around.

This dramatic fulldome sequence for "Force Five " will initially premier at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, Burke Baker Planetarium and then will be available for licensed distribution as part of the Immersive Earth Project, through a grant funded by NASA.

Click here to watch a Quicktime movie of the Tornado Encounter

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