View Full Version : mars animation from MAAS Digital

01 January 2004, 10:39 PM
i dont know why i didn't see any links to this site from any of the Mars forums or posts, but this animation was on the documentary of the Mars rover project. it's clearly much better watching it on television, but here is the direct link:

if this was posted earlier, my apologies, but i didn't see it anywhere....

01 January 2004, 10:51 PM
Yeah it was posted in an earlier thread but hey it was tangled in a Spirit landing thread and never had one of its own. Someone had asked what software David and Maas Digital used for it. I responded that it was probably done with LW and his own pluggins/apps. But was not really sure. Does anybody have a more reliable answer to that then me?

01 January 2004, 07:47 AM
Aurora Yeah I think that is case. You can look at the photo here ( on the top right. It was a frame from the mars film and the plugin that it is demonstrating is for lightwave only. That's not to say that any other packages were not used along with it, but it seems at least to have been rendered in Lightwave. That film had really nice use of particles.

01 January 2004, 08:36 AM
Fantastic Animation!
I've seen bits and pieces in local news broadcasts, and too notice.
Nice to see the animation in it's entirety.

Its really quite amazing to think that all that is really actually happening out there.

01 January 2004, 08:34 PM
you should get the huge mpeg-2 bitorrent version

01 January 2004, 09:02 PM
Hi guys! Glad you are enjoying my animation :)

I put up a technical info page here:

The short answer is Lightwave, with a few custom additions. (StarPro, floating-point compositing, and a handful of RenderMan elements).

If there are other threads about this, let me know, I don't visit cgtalk too often. I'd be happy to answer questions.

The BitTorrent is going rather slow at the moment, but it should go faster over time. I just added a 50KB/sec seed.

01 January 2004, 09:28 PM
I remember that animation from the SIGGRAPH Electronic Theater.

01 January 2004, 10:08 PM
Dan thanks for the detailed explanation.

It’s got to feel good to see your work receiving so much attention and air time. I’m in Toulouse, France now and they’ve played it a few times on the news here. At one of the times it aired I was in a room with some Frenchies and everyone went dead silent watching it. One guy in the room who works for CNES (the French NASA equivalent) perhaps felt a sense of competition and mumbled something about the wine being better in France. I digress… your animation is fantastic. I especially enjoyed your attention to the small details in the animation, modeling and rendering—especially the air bags flapping a bit in the wind after deployment. How did you do that? It looked very convincing. The rover animation is nice too. Some people in the room I mentioned earlier let a bit of an “ohhh…” out during the rock inspection part.


01 January 2004, 10:49 PM
Thanks quid. It's been an honor to work with the space program and get such wide exposure.

The airbags are hand-animated to bounce around a little bit. But I think you are referring to the airbag covers, which flap around in the wind. Those have a fractal noise displacement map to cause them to flutter. (fractal noise displacement is really primitive but it can look almost as good as true soft-body simulations :)

The rover animation rig was really too simple. Since I was using Lightwve 5.6 there was no (good) IK, I animated the suspension by hand with FK (ouch). For future work I'm hoping to automate the motion of the wheels and suspension so that the rover could drive over rough terrain. (the MER rovers can actually drive through much more difficult terrain than is shown in the video)

01 January 2004, 11:43 PM
Really nice animation. If I'm not mistaken, I believe I was the first to highlight it here, but it was well in advance of the landing on Mars (end of last August) so it didn't generate too much interest at the time.
>>Thread link ( <<

01 January 2004, 08:53 AM

Your animation is awesome. :thumbsup:
It is by far the best animation I've seen from NASA. I have watched the streaming version, downloaded the bit torrent version and have seen parts of it on every network in the US.

For all those Lightwave naysayers Dan proves it really is the artist not the tools. Although I sure wish they would hurry with LW8. :bounce:

Congratulations again Dan you deserve it. :beer:

I hope they pay you a royalty every time it is shown on TV. :buttrock:


01 January 2004, 10:14 AM
Dan, Eeeek! You animated the suspension by hand. That had to hurt. I forgot to mention this in my last post, but I thought that the particles that are generated when the lander enters the Martian atmosphere are especially nice. Oh and thanks for the airbag explanation, I would have wrongly thought it was a soft body simulation with a cloth simulation. It looks great though.

01 January 2004, 02:35 PM
First sorry for calling you David, Dan. Not really sure were I got the David from. I'm now even more impressed with it knowing you did it using LW5.6! One big question you stated earlier
For future work I'm hoping to automate the motion of the wheels and suspension so that the rover could drive over rough terrain. (the MER rovers can actually drive through much more difficult terrain than is shown in the video)
Does this implie you are going to be doing more MER animation work for something like a National Geographic special or something?!? Heres hoping!
OK maybe another question you stated that you translated and exported the LWS over to PRman. So was the camera moves done in LW before the export or done straight in PRman. My fav part of the animation was the complexity and brilliant use of the camera in those shots. Any chance of alittle description of your thought process in developing it?

01 January 2004, 03:42 PM
Wow! What a remarkable video and a rare tour de force.. Simply impressive as hell. I'd like to hear about the xfer from LW to PRMan.

Great work, Dan!!

01 January 2004, 02:35 AM
I did a bunch of additional animation for a PBS NOVA special "Mars Dead or Alive." You can watch it on-line here:
There is also a link to buy the show on VHS or DVD.

I will almost certainly be doing more animation of the rovers in the future.

I developed the camera moves based on how a real camera crew might shoot the scenes. e.g. the final descent to Mars was designed as if the camera was on a helicopter following the lander down to the surface.

I rendered a few elements in RenderMan (PRMan) to take advantage of its superior motion blur and anti-aliasing. The distant views of Mars and the airbag bouncing sequence were PRMan elements. I animated the shots in Lightwave and then exported the camera and object motions to text files using a custom LScript. Then I brought those into another custom program for assigning shaders and exporting RIB for rendering.

The NOVA show includes a lot more RenderMan elements (basically anything not including the rover or parachutes is PRMan). This I did with a combination of custom RIB generation plus Maya with Pixar's MTOR.

01 January 2004, 05:15 PM
Awesome animation. The first time I saw it, I fell in love with it. It mixes the two things I love the most, cg animation and space. I've been trying to get the hi-res from the bittorrent link for a few days now, but noone else is downloading :/
Again, great work!

01 January 2004, 06:54 PM
VERY nice. The clips they have been showing on CNN are incredible, and it was nice to see the whole piece in it's entirety.

Congratulations on a beautiful piece, and all the exposure. You've earned it!

01 January 2004, 08:03 PM
Thanks. Energy, are you behind a firewall? The BitTorrent tracker shows 32 complete or downloading users right now ( It takes a few minutes to start downloading, but it should definitely work. However some firewalls block BitTorrent from connecting.

01 January 2004, 08:27 PM
Good call. I thought I had all the firewall settings straightened out, but I neglected to update my router's nat when I changed local ips a few weeks ago.

Now I'm getting good speed and uploading too. Thanks!

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