Cosmic Voyage Nominated for 
Academy Award

Cosmic Voyage, one of the first IMAX films to use supercomputing simulations and the first IMAX film ever to use four minutes of research-quality scientific visualization, has been nominated for an Academy Award© in the Documentary (short subject) category. The four-minute segment, which begins shortly after the big bang, shows the expansion of the universe, the gravitational collapse of structure and the formation of galaxies, and the collision of two spiral galaxies.

Cosmic Voyage's supercomputer simulation visualizations were the result of a collaborative effort made within the scientific and film communities across the nation. Those involved in the project include scientific visualization (computer graphics) experts at NCSA and the University of Illinois, Grand Challenge Cosmology Consortium (GC3) scientists, two movie production companies. The film segments used numerous high-performance computers at multiple centers, including the San Diego Supercomputer Center. The film is a production of the Smithsonian Institute, Motorola Foundation, the National Science Foundation, and Cosmic Voyage Inc.

At the heart of the collaboration is Donna Cox, UIUC professor of art and design and principal investigator of NCSA's Renaissance Experimental Laboratory. Cox acted as the associate producer for scientific visualization for Cosmic Voyage and as art director for the four-minute simulation segment. "Cosmic Voyage has been a great collaboration among artists, scientists, and technologists. It tells a magnificent story about our place in the grand scale of the Universe," said Cox.

Cox and Robert Patterson, visualization and virtual environment designer at NCSA, designed the aesthetics of the visualization using some 30 interface parameters, including color and transparency. To create the camera moves through the simulations, Cox worked with Patterson, the choreographer of the sequence, and Marcus Thiebaux, the virtual environment research programmer at UIC's Electronic Visualization Laboratory, to create a voice-driven CAVE application called the Virtual Director, a virtual reality method for directing the computer graphics camera for real- time playback or animation recording. "Virtual Director allowed us to easily navigate through 3D data, searching for the most interesting and revealing angles," notes Patterson.

Erik Wesselak, a former NCSA programmer, wrote an interface between the simulation data and a custom particle renderer -- the Star Renderer -- developed by Pixar Senior Scientist Loren Carpenter. Also involved in the production of the simulations for the film were Mike Norman, NCSA research scientist, a member of the Smithsonian Scientific Advisory Board; Greg Bryan, NCSA post-doctoral student, who helped Pixar with the algorithms to represent the expansion of the universe; and Barry Sanders, NCSA, who managed over 100 gigabytes of data.

Oscars© will be awarded on March 24.