Interstellar is the first Hollywood movie to attempt depicting a black hole as it would actually be seen by somebody nearby.
For this, Double Negative Visual Effects, in collaboration with physicist Kip Thorne, developed a code called Double Negative Gravitational Renderer (DNGR) to solve the equations for ray-bundle (light-beam) propagation through the curved spacetime of a spinning (Kerr) black hole, and to render IMAX-quality, rapidly changing images.
Ray-bundle techniques were crucial for achieving IMAX-quality smoothness without flickering; and they differ from physicists' image-generation techniques (which generally rely on individual light rays rather than ray bundles), and also differ from techniques previously used in the film industry's CGI community.
The paper published in the journal Classical and Quantum Gravity (http://dx.doi.org/10.1088/0264-9381/32/6/065001) has four purposes:
(i) to describe DNGR for physicists and CGI practitioners, who may find interesting and useful some of our unconventional techniques.
(ii) To present the equations we use, when the camera is in arbitrary motion at an arbitrary location near a Kerr black hole, for mapping light sources to camera images via elliptical ray bundles.
(iii) To describe new insights, from DNGR, into gravitational lensing when the camera is near the spinning black hole, rather than far away as in almost all prior studies; we focus on the shapes, sizes and influence of caustics and critical curves, the creation and annihilation of stellar images, the pattern of multiple images, and the influence of almost-trapped light rays, and we find similar results to the more familiar case of a camera far from the hole.
(iv) To describe how the images of the black hole Gargantua and its accretion disk, in the movie Interstellar, were generated with DNGR - including, especially, the influences of (a) color changes due to doppler and gravitational frequency shifts, (b) intensity changes due to the frequency shifts, (c) simulated camera lens flare, and (d) decisions that the film makers made about these influences and about the Gargantua's spin, with the goal of producing images understandable for a mass audience.
There are no new astrophysical insights in this accretion-disk section of the paper, but disk novices may find it pedagogically interesting, and movie buffs may find its discussions of Interstellar interesting.
Credit: Oliver James et al. / Classical and Quantum Gravity.