Building Interstellar’s Black Hole

Special Lecture at Trinity College Dublin

Two years on since Interstellar won the Academy Award for Best Achievement in Visual Effects, comes the announcement of a course module available to engineering students at Trinity College Dublin, inspired by techniques used in the ground-breaking film.

On Thursday 16th March, Oliver James, Chief Scientist at Double Negative, will deliver a special lecture at Trinity College Dublin in collaboration with the universities’ Professor Anil Kokaram. The lecture, Building Interstellar’s Black Hole, describes Oliver’s work on the film and how engineering, physics, mathematics and art were combined to produce some of the most physically-accurate images of a spinning black hole ever created.

Oliver James, DNEG Chief Scientist

The techniques used in this work are similar to those taught in Professor Kokaram’s Numerical Methods course for students of Engineering, with the pair collaborating on the structure of a new module for the course inspired by this connection.

The most rewarding aspect of my involvement in Interstellar is using the link between the movie and science to inspire students. The module we’re creating strengthens this link by putting the same methods we used on Interstellar straight into the engineering course at Trinity“, said Double Negative’s Chief Scientist, Oliver James.

Interstellar was the first Hollywood movie to attempt an accurate depiction of a black hole. To achieve this, Oliver James collaborated with Professor Kip Thorne and led a team of software developers to create a new way of visualising gravitational lensing. The work contributed to Interstellar winning the Academy Award for Best Achievement in Visual Effects in 2015, and led to the publication of two scientific papers.

Speaking about the new course, Professor Anil Kokaram said: “Since the mid-90s computational engineering ideas have found their way increasingly into movies because they allow artists to simulate fantastical worlds in some believable fashion. Interstellar is a good example. What we have been doing is to strip back much of the specific physics of the problem to expose aspects for a very simple case (of a non-spinning black hole and a fixed camera). Students are more easily able to see the connection between their coursework and the actual real world application of making visual effects. These kinds of connections are vital for inspiring students to take up the STEM disciplines and we hope the course will be better for its inclusion.

About Oliver James

Oliver James, Chief Scientist at Double Negative, joined the Research & Development team at The Computer Film Company (CFC) in 1995. Oliver spent a total of five years at CFC before moving on to Warner Bros.’ ESC Entertainment in 2001, and The Moving Picture Company in 2003. In 2004 he joined Double Negative where he has been developing high-end technology to realize some of the most demanding visual effects in film. Film credits include: Event Horizon, Sexy Beast, The Matrix Reloaded & Revolutions, Batman Begins, Harry Potter, Quantum of Solace, Inception and Interstellar.

About Anil Kokaram

Professor Anil Kokaram is Head of Discipline, Electronic and Electrical Engineering Department in Trinity College Dublin. Much of Anil’s work has involved image and video restoration. He has published over 200 papers in the area of video processing, and a book entitled “Motion Picture Restoration”. Professor Kokaram won the Scientific and Technical Academy Award in 2007 for his work on motion estimation. In 2011 Google acquired GreenParrotPictures, a company he founded to build video processing tools for the consumer industry.

About Trinity College Dublin

Trinity College Dublin is recognised internationally as Ireland’s leading university. The university offers world-class teaching and scholarship in all major academic disciplines across the arts, humanities, engineering, science, social and health sciences. More than 17,000 students benefit from an education that is inspired by current research and taught by academics at the frontiers of their disciplines. A Trinity education encourages the development of critical skills and is adaptive to the needs of current and future students and graduates.




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