Black hole renderings vis a vis INTERSTELLAR and KIP THORNE

⇐ Back to Articles, Essays, and Other Writing

Black hole artwork by Greg Bear
Click for larger view

Way back in the 1970s, I bought and carefully read Misner, Thorne, and Wheeler’s monumental text book, GRAVITATION. The math was way beyond me in most instances, but I persisted and winkled out what I wanted to know about black holes and singularities and spacetime physics--and used what I learned to help guide me while I wrote The Venging and painted several portraits of black holes. The Venging was published in GALAXY Magazine (minus my own artwork) in June of 1975.

Later, in 1978, I took this painting of a black hole being approached by a spacecraft and carried it with me as I interviewed at Walt Disney Productions to see if I could get work on their movie SPACE PROBE ONE. I didn’t get a position on the film, which was later released as THE BLACK HOLE, but I did get to meet Disney exec Ron Miller and production designer John Mansbridge and hang out in the office of Peter Ellenshaw Sr., where we discussed the shape of villainous robots, among other things. Meeting all those folks was a real privilege. Back then. Disney studios felt a lot like a family residence--I called once and Ron Miller himself answered the phone!

Now, preeminent singularity physicist Kip Thorne has used massive studio cinematic special effects processors to help him render a view of what a black hole would actually look like, according to current math, for the film INTERSTELLAR (http://www.wired.com/2014/10/astrophysics-interstellar-black-hole/). It’s interesting to compare this modern and spectacular rendering with my own take on gravitational lensing and  “starbows.” Turns out, as I later figured while re-reading GRAVITATION, that there is no prismatic effect as stellar images are distorted and bent around a black hole. All colors of light are treated equally.

Still, I think this is an effective rendering--and without the help of modern computers!

As a side note, while visiting Digital Productions in 1983, while they were producing THE LAST STARFIGHTER, I learned that Benoit Mendelbrot had been using their massive Cray 2s to help compute and visualize fractals.  And at the Tippett Shop in the early nineties, Phil Tippett told me that he estimated, from his animation of a walking T-Rex, that the beast was capable of comfortably moving at about eighteen miles an hour.

Science and Special Effects--hand in hand!

Greg Bear

All images & text are, of course, copyright and all rights reserved; may be downloaded and viewed for personal use only.