A Beautiful Video Trip to Saturn

By Alexis C. Madrigal

Filmmaker Chris Abbas has created a gorgeous and warm art piece that captures the loneliness of space using the raw images from NASA's Cassini Mission to Saturn

NASA's Cassini Mission to Saturn has produced stunning imagery for years: all those rings! all those planets! The stark black and white of the photos seems to capture the loneliness and beauty of space in a way that escapes the flashier color Hubble imagery, in part because I think we recognize the emptiness that surrounds Saturn as the same emptiness that surrounds our own green and blue planet. The Blue Marble is the implicit countershot.

But there's also sheer aesthetic pleasure in these white lines and arcs and circles. And it's from there that Chris Abbas took his cue in in creating the gorgeous video above, which he posted to Vimeo earlier this week titled simply, "Cassini Mission." We got in touch with him to ask how he turned raw material like the images below into the polished work above. Here's an edited version of what he told us:

A little over 2 weeks ago I discovered the immense repository of data and imagery collected by the Cassini team on the Solstice mission website. The imagery contained within appeared to be in sequential order and I was immediately curious to see Cassini's photographs in motion. I did a quick test with 100 or so images and was extremely pleased with the result. I felt this was something I needed to explore.

Over the course of the following week I downloaded thousands of images from NASA which was a rather tedious process. Throughout the labor of retrieving the imagery however I was completely awestruck at the quality and clarity of the objects I was saw...

The nature of the raw imagery is interesting; interspersed between the erratic, often chaotic frame sequences are long, majestic moments of graceful ring revolutions or slowly turning moons. This juxtaposition of erratic and graceful movements was something I wanted to play with and it was the criteria for my shot selection. It's always an extremely difficult process when all your source imagery is beautiful to begin with. Thanks, Cassini. Thanks.

I rotated between Final Cut Pro and Adobe After Effects as my weapons of choice throughout the edit process. Quite some time was spent tracking and stabilizing shots as well as re-ordering sequences to reduce some instances of flickering.

For the sound design, I used recordings of radio emissions from Saturn converted into audio and faded clips appropriately as the camera traveled to and from objects. Headphones definitely help.

Finally, I did a subtle color correct in After Effects to introduce a little warmth to the images. That's essentially my whole process!

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This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2011/06/a-beautiful-video-trip-to-saturn/239884/