In a new behind-the-scenes look at COSMOS: A Spacetime Odyssey, the show’s creators and visual effects team breaks down one of the series’ most impressive visual sequences: the Ship of the Imagination’s journey into a black hole.
First postulated to exist by John Michell, an obscure 18th-century British scientist, black holes form when giant stars exhaust their nuclear fuel. Unable to stay hot enough to resist the inward pull of their own gravity, the stars collapse into darkness, leaving only their massive forces of gravity behind.
On the Ship of the Imagination, Neil deGrasse Tyson takes viewers on a journey across the boundary that separates a black hole from the rest of the universe, called the event horizon. The gravity around black holes siphons the dead star’s atmosphere, creating a fast-moving spiral around its edge.
But what happens when you ride the spiraling gas past the event horizon into this undiscovered space? COSMOS brings to life the fantastical journey into a black hole with eye-popping graphics.
Scientists don’t exactly know what happens inside a black hole, but the talented VFX artists of COSMOS brought to life scientific theories of black holes’ spectacular appearances. As Neil explains in the episode, space-time is warped by the extreme gravity of black holes, stretching time as we know it to its limit.
The COSMOS VFX team worked to emulate this perilous environment of black holes by creating the impression that Neil was traveling across space and time, manipulating video shot in the studio into 2-D and 3-D to give it an otherworldly appearance of motion.
Surviving the journey into a black hole could transport space travelers another place and time in our universe altogether. As the Ship of the Imagination approaches the black hole, the visuals team raises the intensity to a fever pitch, bringing the Ship closer and closer to the precipice before ending the sequence in a dramatic blackout.
Learn more about the VFX team’s process in the video below.
Can’t get enough of COSMOS? Go behind the scenes with executive producers Ann Druyan and Set MacFarlane with the COSMOS Special Edition of USA TODAY, available for purchase here.
Don’t miss the next episode of COSMOS: A Spacetime Odyssey on Monday at 9P.