Roving Mars animation

Posted by Daniel Pendick
on Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Do you want a little help appreciating the utter inherent coolness of the Mars Exploration Rover missions? Check out the video created by up-and-coming digital artist Daniel Maas.

The 9-minute video, accurate to the smallest detail, depicts the launch, landing, and surface meanderings of a rover. Two of the robotic buggies, Spirit and Opportunity, remain alive and well on Mars.

My favorite sequence is the rover's bouncy air-bag landing, after which the rover's triangular carrier opens like a blooming flower to reveal its cargo, safe and sound after the 7-month journey and violent landing. It's a classic NASA "I can't believe we actually pulled that off" moment and a great example of how powerfully animation communicates the drama of planetary exploration.

Another wonderful sequence shows us the rover coming to life amidst what feels, to the viewer, like the loneliest spot in the universe. The rover is enveloped by darkness after a martian sunset, the wind howling over the arid plains. Sublime.

Maas started work on the video while still an undergraduate at Cornell University, from which he graduated in 2001. He worked on it, part-time, for 5 years. He's a self-taught young scientific animator whom, judging from the rover video, undoubtedly has a great career ahead of him.

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