COSMOS MOVIE PRODUCTION BLOG 13:
BUILDING ‘The Goodman’ SATELLITE
A grainy shape appears at the edge of screen… The image sharpens. We see– A SATELLITE. Its shape undeniable; a pair of solar panelled “wings” clearly defined. The silhouette is hazy, distorted by Earth’s atmosphere.
Roy quickly leans in, the images of this satellite on screen reflecting in his glasses. He sits mesmerised watching it hang almost magically overhead. But the smile slowly fades from his face, his expression growing more solemn. Why? We can see it in his eyes– there’s more to this man. What does this satellite mean to him?
As suggested by the script excerpt above, a science satellite (nicknamed The Goodman) plays a pivotal role in COSMOS for reasons that will remain a secret… for now.
The Goodman is a fictional ‘Earth Observation’ satellite residing in Earth orbit at an altitude of approximately 2000km. This satellite traverses the Earth’s surface and completes a single orbit in about 130 minutes, and is observed by the characters in the story via a telescope connected to a computer monitor.
Being big fans of practical and physical effects (for both photographic and budgetary reasons!) we really want the actors to view and interact with a ‘real’ image of The Goodman on a monitor, rather than compositing this image in later in post-production.
Therefore we’ve had to create several visual effects shots ahead of shooting the film. The first step in creating the telescope image of The Goodman flyover is of course, designing and building our very own science satellite during pre-production.
This stunning time-lapse video was created by Knate Myers using photos taken by astronauts aboard the International Space Station, orbiting at 420km. Although this video has nothing to do with COSMOS it’s too beautiful to not be shared with you guys, and gives an idea of what The Goodman sees of the Earth. Please enjoy:
To create The Goodman, we first sketched a few rough designs on paper – it’s important for the story that this satellite has an immediately recognisable silhouette, so we fixed on a cool design for the solar panel array.
Although the smaller solar panel ‘wings’ are probably impractical from a scientific standpoint, we feel they give The Goodman a very dynamic “movie” aesthetic.
Once set on a design, Zander again turned to our trusty collaborator Blender where he built the pencil sketch into a 3D model.
Blender has already served COSMOS well in helping us Create A Teaser Trailer and The Concept Movie Poster. Building the actual model for The Goodman was relatively quick (and painless); as the satellite will only ever be viewed via the telescope it wasn’t necessary to have a highly detailed model. The basic structure is made up of simple shapes and its symmetrical form allowed mirroring modifiers to speed up the process.
Having a three dimensional version of the design allowed us to assess if any tweaks were needed.
Once we were happy with the design, Zander textured the model and rendered out a quick fly-around to see how the textures would interact with some hard sunlight. The result can be seen below:
So now our Goodman is ready to fly! We have another blog coming up on how we’ve put this textured model to good use; sharing the early development of some of the films VFX shots – so stick around to find out more.
In the mean time, why not grab yourself a copy of Blender and try making a satellite of your own.