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  • Writer's pictureStephen van Vuuren

When Will It Be Done - Part 10

Updated: Aug 30, 2018


And so, like any pioneering journey of firsts, we know we are getting close to our goal, but are just not sure exactly how long it will take. Sure, the next time we will know exactly. I would love to think someone else will attempt to make another multi-plane photo-animation like our film.

The home stretch is a much simpler, more enjoyable process as the film finally comes together, as the opening section planes are all arranged and ready to render.

Well, maybe not “simpler,” as filmmaking is always a complex, difficult process, but compared to the daunting challenges of getting multi-plane photo-animation to work at giant-screen resolution, or figuring how to build a photographic universe for the opening section, it will be simpler.

Photographs from space are the true incredible journey of the human experience, allowing us to go from the beginning of time to the surface of alien moons. In Saturn’s Rings was started with the guiding principle that audiences respond completely differently to real photographs than they do to computer-generated images. The online clips and test footage screenings over the past few years have proven this time and time again.

It is the reason supporters and volunteers have dedicated themselves and committed to working on the film over such a long time, with little to show. We shared a passion that these photographs need to be seen and only the giant screen can present them with their true sense of scale, with galaxies, planets, and moons completely filling your field of view.


This is a question I get nearly every time I make a public presentation on the film. The answer is both simple and not so simple.

Yes and no.

If I knew at back in 2004, or even in 2007, what I know today of what effort and resources the film would require, I would have passed on the project, as so many others have. Quite frankly, it’s a lifetime’s worth of work, without the prospect of making money, while taking almost every penny you own and more than a decade out of your life for a 40 minute movie.

But if I knew then what I know now about the impact the film has already had on everyone it has touched and what it will look like — absolutely yes.

I can’t speak to how good or important In Saturn’s Rings will be. But I do know it is the most impactful, life-changing and profound project of my life. I spent 9 months looking all day, every day, at over five million galaxies as just one part of this journey. Two key volunteers on the film have been in part inspired to change their lives and careers by working on the content of the film: one went from being a Web designer to acclaimed painter, the other from pharma lab geek to JPL Titan scientist.

And volunteers, backers, and fans constantly report on how spending time with photographs from space has changed them forever as people. So I have no doubt that this film has been more than worth it before it’s ever done. It truly is a journey, and not a destination.

Barring a UFO invasion, giant asteroid strike, or other calamity that kills me, my computers, and the key volunteers, the premiere of In Saturn’s Rings will happen. But that is just another step on the journey that is In Saturn’s Rings.

OKAY – 10 PARTS BUT WHEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!?????!!!!!!!!!???

In the course of this 10 part blog post, the major event has happened. We have started the final assembly of the film and know pretty much with a 60 day window how long it will take to make the film.

We will be making a major public announcement with a video clip of the SDSS assembly we’ve talked so much here – but for those faithful who’ve been reading these posts, you will hear it here first. The film will now incorporate Cassini’s Grande Finale – I wish we could say we planned it that way – but in fact it’s a coincidence as it happens to line up perfectly with final rendering assembly of the film.

  • Most of the film will be rendered with rough sound mix by the time of the Grande Finale (end of September next year). The final version of the film will be tested and final feedback in early 2018 and rolled out to theaters thereafter.

  • The full-dome version will come 6 months after – unless we raise some corporate money or get a major donation to hire someone to start work next year in parallel.

So – yes, it took 12,000+ words and like the film a long way to get a short result – but now you know when.

Stayed tuned for more posts!


Technical summary (for the geeks)

  • The film will has about 7.5 million photographs from telescopes, time-lapse sources, spacecraft, and historical sources that have been manually touched by image processors on the film.

  • Roughly 50 million possible photographs have been considered over the course of the film as potential sources but rejected due to content, resolution, or suitability for a cohesive journey.

  • To date, over 30 computers have been used for the film, up to 21 at one time, with 19 currently in my basement and two at image processors.

  • Approximately 1 terabyte of RAM, 150 processing cores, and almost two-thirds of a petabyte of computing resources have been used.

  • The film will contain imagery from Cassini-Huygens, Solar Dynamics Observatory, Sloan Digital Sky Survey, European Southern Observatory, Voyagers 1 and 2, Vikings 1 and 2, Dawn, New Horizons, Rosetta, Venus Express, Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, Hubble Space Telescope, Spitzer, HiRES, Apollos 8, 10, 11, 12, and 17, International Space Station, and several Space Shuttle missions, plus more than 25 Earth-based astro-photographers. Additionally, over 100 historical and public domain image archives and Google image searches have been sourced for additional photographs.

  • Over 1,000 individual donors have contributed nearly $265,000 over ten years to support the film. No corporation or organization has donated cash to the film, except for a $750 grant from the Arts Council of Greensboro, NC.

  • Over 100 volunteers from more than 25 countries have worked on the film.

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