Interstellar – where special effects meet astrophysics

What does a black hole or a wormhole look like? These are the questions former Caltech astrophysicist Kip Thorne tried to answer while working as a consultant on the new Hollywood space travel blockbuster, Interstellar, due to open in the US on Friday.

The filmmakers say the spectacular results are based on Thorne's maths, and not on a designer's imagination.

Paul Franklin, from the special effects company Double Negative, asked Thorne to generate equations that would guide his special effects software. As reported in Wired magazine:

Thorne sent his answers to Franklin in the form of heavily researched memos. Pages long, deeply sourced, and covered in equations, they were more like scientific journal articles than anything else. Franklin's team wrote new rendering software based on these equations and spun up a wormhole. The result was extraordinary. It was like a crystal ball reflecting the universe, a spherical hole in spacetime. “Science fiction always wants to dress things up, like it's never happy with the ordinary universe,” he says. “What we were getting out of the software was compelling straight off.”

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