Black hole simulation created for Interstellar was so good it's helping real scientists

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Feb 18, 2015

Aside from the sheer ambition and weirdness of it all, one of the things that really set Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi epic Interstellar apart was its unique visual style. Well, apparently those special effects could help real scientists map real black holes.

One of the most iconic visuals from the 2014 film is the one above, which shows Gargantua, aka the gorgeous black hole at the center of the film’s story. The black hole showcased in the movie is one of the most distinctive ever put to film, conceived with a spherical design that’s meant to show the light being sucked into it.

The design and effects were developed thanks to a collaboration between the film’s VFX team and theoretical physicist Kip Thorne, due to the fact that earlier effects models they were trying to use would flicker when beefed up to IMAX resolution. So they created a new simulation model dubbed the Double Negative Gravitational Renderer (DNGR), and now the calculations that made it happen have been published in a scientific journal — and scientists say it could help astrophysicists map real black holes (or other celestial objects) in the future.

Put simply: The algorithms bundled light together, instead of focusing on separate rays of light, and that’s what eventually led to the absolutely stunning visuals that made it on screen. But the movie visual apparently wasn’t the most accurate model they came up with. Though many scientists agree that design is probably closer to what a real black hole would look like up close than what’s typically shown in movies, the image below was eventually developed and believed to be a more accurate representation.

Not surprisingly, the more accurate model (recently revealed in a paper in Classical and Quantum Gravity) proved less symmetrical, mostly due to the fact that the rotational forces would likely toss matter off one side of the hole. The color of the light in the visual spectrum for someone nearby also changes, and though it’s still stunning, it’s not as pretty as the one used in the film. So Nolan went with the earlier version because (basically) it looked cooler. Fair enough.

Check out that more detailed design below and let us know what you think:

(Via New Scientist, The Verge, Classical and Quantum Gravity)