26
Mar
09

my god, it full of (the wrong) stars!

bsg-stars

 

A few days ago, in the comments section, I revealed that the CGI stars as seen in that backgrounds of Battlestar Galactica  were, for the most part, random.  They are an accurate representation of what stars look like from Earth, but they were randomly placed.  This greatly shocked and disappointed a small legion of fans who had been analyzing these backgrounds for clues; by screen-capturing images of the stars and overlaying constellations, they had been hoping to pinpoint the exact location of The Fleet and how close they were to Earth.  The revelation that all their time had essentially been wasted because the visual effects team hadn’t actually planted any clues left them very cross indeed…

  I ran across a few posts in various forums where this disappointment had grown to anger; some of these fans felt betrayed that we didn’t put as much thought into the starfields as they  did and actually chastised the FX crew for their “slap in the face to real science.”  I normally don’t let myself get caught up in online debates, but I felt compelled to respond to these accusation and have drafted an open letter to any and all of the astronomy buffs who feel they didn’t get their money’s worth from Battlestar Galactica:

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First of all, it really stings to hear you imply that the work I or any of my co-workers did was a “slap in the face” to real science. I personally cut my CGI teeth painstakingly animating Babylon Five’s  Starfuries to move with real physics and both Ron Thornton and myself were very proud to be bringing at least some “real science” to science fiction.

From B5 to BSG, much thought was put into making sure the visual effects were as real as the story would allow (I assume it’s a given to fans that poetic license in telling the story always comes before technical accuracy). In fact, hats of to BSG’s VFX supervisor Gary Hutzel for making sure we always moved the ships with zero-G dynamics and put in the RCS thrusters (sometimes it slipped by).

So much work and effort goes into creating FX on BSG’s scale for a weekly series, I hope you can understand that we all have to set our priorities – naturally, the ships on screen get top billing over the starfield backdrop. For the most part, we paid attention to the stars insomuch as to make sure they were visible and rendered properly.

There were occasions when I did manipulate the stars for artistic affect – sometimes, to imply that our characters were really “out there,” I made sure we saw more stars than usual, or I’d change the star pattern (or add a nebula) after a jump to show that they had gone a very long distance.

But the thought that people might analyze the stars in the hopes of finding clues simply never crossed anyone’s mind. With all the work that was going into making the ships look right, all I can ask is forgiveness in not spending extra time thinking about how people might be framegrabbing and studying the backdrops.

As I stated earlier, during last season I noticed that people had been recognizing Orion’s Belt, so at that point we made a conscious effort to at least rotate the stars so the same exact backdrop didn’t keep appearing (when you start up LightWave (our 3D software), it has the camera facing a default direction – unless we have a very good reason not to, all our animations start off facing that direction. So, when the Starpro plugin generates its stars, we would always get the same view unless we purposely went the extra step of manually rotating the stars. Which we did!).

At this point it was too late to go back and think about “realistic” star placement based on the fleet’s location. With so much work to do, can you blame us? Some have said “there is plenty of software that can easily do this…” Ok, let’s look at the process that would have been involved here:

- Figure out where the fleet actually is in the storyline

- Find a program that would generate a starfield from this location (potentially anywhere in the Milky Way galaxy)

- Figure out some way to translate that map to LightWave (something that would have required extensive R&D)

- Make sure every animator is religiously following the procedure

- Explain to the producers that all the FX shots are late because of the extra time needed to insure the stars were correctly placed

- Learn to love eating dog food when you get fired

And remember, all of the time and effort in doing this would be to satiate the viewers who might be analyzing the backgrounds.

It saddens me to think that any fan of the show would look down on the hard work of the VFX crew because we didn’t foresee this sort of microscopic analysis of our work. If I had to do it all over again, with the knowledge that a small minority of the audience would be paying that kind of attention, you know what? I actually would make an effort to see if we could “get it right,” because I’m a nerd. Right now I’ll tell you that taking even ten minutes to do this would be at the chagrin of most supervisors and producers, who would rightly argue that it’s a waste of time and money if it doesn’t impact the storytelling. But I’d try it anyway, and if I found an easy way to do it, sure, why not?

But if it took more than a few minutes of the schedule, it would be ixnay on the stars, eh. And that’s not out of any disrespect to the fans, it’s simply a matter of balancing priorities on a tight deadline.

Speaking of time, here I am, breaking the first rule of proper time management – don’t argue with people on the internet! But I took offense at the accusation that me and my brothers are anything less than dedicated and respectful to the fans.

Everyone associated with creating BSG has nothing but love and respect for the show, each other and everyone who helped make the series what it is – and that includes every single person who watched it.

We all did our best to make BSG the finest show on television, wanting nothing less than to deliver the moon and stars.

In this case, we got it half right ;-)

 

Regards,

Mojo (Battlestar Galactica Visual Effects artist)

 

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As a consolation prize, if you click on the image that leads this post, you’ll be treated to a hi-def wallpaper image of the “default” starfield from Battlestar Galactica, courtesy of the Lightwave plugin Starpro.

 

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[DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed on this page are those of MOJO and not necessarily those of  BSG In-House Visual Effects or its employees]

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52 Responses to “my god, it full of (the wrong) stars!”


  1. 1 Boris
    March 26, 2009 at 1:51 am

    “Figure out where the fleet actually is in the storyline”

    You couldn’t have done this, since the writers were pretty much making it up as they went along. The only realistic solution would’ve been to make the star patterns unrecognizable.

  2. 2 Lee
    March 26, 2009 at 2:05 am

    Well said!

    . . . Just to clarify, though, when Orion and other familar constellations started to be spotted in the background during various eps of season 4.0, that wasn’t a deliberate choice? Personally, I just assumed it was a nice little easter egg by your good selves; the notion that some might then start to try to plot the fleet’s position based on such background detail seems, well, loopy.

  3. 3 Daniel
    March 26, 2009 at 2:22 am

    I guess some people just loooove teh nitpicking. Never really put too much thought into the star-constellations on-screen except when you could see some beautiful nebular shots or when Orion jumped right into my eyes.

    I really do love the BSG VFX work.

  4. 4 Jason Regan
    March 26, 2009 at 2:36 am

    This is ludicrous – you shouldn’t be having to even think about a response to this. The kind of people that genuinely gripe about that kind of detail have way too much time on their hands – forget them, and allow me to add my voice to the many who say that everyone involved in this show have done an unbelievable job and should be immensely proud of their work over the last four or five years. It’s been a privilege to watch and I hope you all go on to do more amazing things.

  5. 5 ety3
    March 26, 2009 at 2:41 am

    Wow, really?

    I can understand someone anal-yzing the stars to death when they spotted Orion’s Belt. But the rest of the time when it’s just random? Gods, gimme a break.

    Mojo, *I* would rather you spent all of your time making the ships look right than plotting out a bunch of “Lost”-like clues in the stars that I would never notice in the first place.

    (Before I get flamed, I love “Lost.”)

  6. 6 Boris
    March 26, 2009 at 4:15 am

    I think the root cause of this misunderstanding is the use of real star patterns; if you’d just made them random from the start, there would’ve been no such issues. Some people think that if the star patterns are real, there must have been painstaking effort involved.

    This is why I always say that it’s important to understand how certain visual effects were made if one wants to analyze them in-universe.

  7. 7 Paul S
    March 26, 2009 at 5:11 am

    I’m sorry but it really requires one of those “get a life” responses!

    You guys shouldn’t be worrying about placement of stars, seriously do they want ones in there that can only be seen by radio telescopes as well? ;)

    Taking the time on details like the ships is far more important to everyone else in this universe than the placement of a few stars. I *love* the visual FX work on BSG it really is brilliant!

    Anyways, just my thoughts, you’re far more forgiving than me :)

  8. 8 Mark Jewiss
    March 26, 2009 at 7:40 am

    I can’t believe that you have taken so much flak for something like this! People have gotten angry because the exact location of a fictional fleet of space ships wasn’t given a precise course through our real solar system…? Sheesh, too much time on their hands!

    Let me just add my comments to say a great big THANK YOU to Mojo and all the other crew who worked on making one of my favourite shows of the last few years! I can honestly say that my life has been more fun for having watched the show, and a big part of making the show fun was the VFX. But the position of the stars held no influence over my enjoyment and what I got out of it.

    (Following up from the post the other day about the finale, and Mojo mentioned B5 here which is what reminded me, that Cylon base certainly looked like a Shadow ship from certain angles to me ;))

    MJ.

  9. 9 centurion005
    March 26, 2009 at 8:00 am

    How did you do the galaxy in crossroads? Was it a special plugin like starpro or was it all in lightwave with no plugins? Anyway I was doing some renders myself of a b5 shadow ship. I got it looking a lot like the colony.The only thing that was good in B5 was the CGI by the way.Did you work on DS9 or any star trek to?

    RDM was one of the producers of DS9.The angels are a lot like the prophets from DS9.There aslo in some ways like the Q.Mabey in the plan we will find out that the beings of light(angels) are at war with the lords of kobol(demons) and were just using the human/cylon war to benefit there own needs. Sorta like the B5 ending.Will we ever see the ship of lights in either the plan or Caprica? I guess there wont be a SOL because the angels dont need ships. What about the IL units though, you know a lucifer?

  10. 10 Stefan
    March 26, 2009 at 8:39 am

    Kudos Mojo!

    Now since the topic of minutiae has come up – any way for you to share with us an inventory of the rag-tag fleet ships and just how many easter egg ships you and your brothers (as you put it) snuck in there? The Kodiak in the last episode for example. Now there’s something that people spend hours on, analyzing screencaps, that might make for an awesome blog post. :)

    -Stefan-

  11. 11 sting2063
    March 26, 2009 at 8:42 am

    I think the biggest problem was Orion’s belt just because it stands out so much. Had it not been for that, I doubt anyone would have noticed. Hell even with it I didn’t even notice till the finale.

    The moon did look good though

  12. 12 Battlestar Ninja
    March 26, 2009 at 8:51 am

    In the immortal words of William Shatner:

    “I’d just like to say… GET A LIFE, will you people? I mean, for crying out loud, it’s just a TV show!”

  13. 13 centurion005
    March 26, 2009 at 9:12 am

    Upon further examination of the colony the shape of it looks like a wider version of the phoenix in the colonial seal more than a shadow ship.Was that deliberately done on purpose?

  14. 14 doubleofive
    March 26, 2009 at 9:31 am

    Sorry to hear people critiqued your star placement. I can understand where they might be coming from, but I understand more how impossible it would be for you to fulfill that fantasy. And who knows what star patterns outside of our solar system really look like?

    And is it wrong that I’m really excited to have an HD image of a starfield?

  15. March 26, 2009 at 9:32 am

    I have to admire someone who would try to figure out the position of the fleet from a starfield background. But I have to wonder that they didn’t seem to consider that it might be (nay, is most likely to be) random. Plus ten for effort, but minus several million for good thinking.

  16. March 26, 2009 at 9:49 am

    FFS! I can’t BELIEVE people were actually doing this! And then to berate the FX crew for it, it beggars belief!

    Mojo, your reply was far more than idiots like that deserve. Mine would have consisted of two words. I think yo can guess which two… ;-)

  17. March 26, 2009 at 9:54 am

    For the record. I clicked on the picture…then had to go clean my screen. I couldn’t tell what was stars and what was dust.

  18. March 26, 2009 at 10:13 am

    I’m not an astronomer, but if I was, I’d like to think I’d cotton on pretty quickly if every single space shot in the show was using a view of the constellations from Earth.

  19. 19 Andy
    March 26, 2009 at 11:21 am

    I can’t believe that there are people out there that will nitpick on things like the star placement, the Starpro plugin also needs time and effort to get the settings right to create such a realistic backgrounds, the default settings do not give you this. I for one am in awe of the work that you all did on the show, and look forward to seeing more of your work.

  20. 20 Izmunuti
    March 26, 2009 at 12:18 pm

    Hey, did you know that people complained to James Cameron about the stars representing an inaccurate timeframe in Titanic, so he fixed it for the DVD release?

  21. 21 Dexceus
    March 26, 2009 at 12:43 pm

    People bitching because an extra treat wasn’t added to a first rate meal? Fanboy entitlement strikes again.

  22. 22 darthmojo
    March 26, 2009 at 3:33 pm

    Some of you have made valid points, and what I was remiss in stating is my “open letter” is that I *do* applaud the efforts of these fans and admire their dedication. Yes, it’s easy to shout “get a life,” but be honest with yourself – if YOU were an astronomy buff and you noticed Orion’s Belt on the screen, you’d start to get curious… and given the dangerous combination of curiosity and passion that bubble within most fans, YOU would probably feel compelled to take a screen grab of the starfield and see if you could find constellations… and when you DID, you’d think you might have found a clue!

    So let’s not point fingers, because I think we can all easily understand what led Mr. Hall and his cohorts to follow the “trail.”

    And as some of you stated, yes, Orion is so obvious we could have taken care to avoid seeing it so often. But to be honest, we just never noticed! We were focused on the foregrounds. That being said, as soon as I learned that people were spotting Orion way too often, I took steps to fix that.

    In any case, I think it’s admirable that people were so enthusiastic about the show that they went this far. Even though it ended up being a wild goose chase, I’m sure it was fun for those invovled and a bunch of people probably learned something about astronomy along the way.

    And there ain’t nothing wrong with that!

  23. 23 centurion005
    March 26, 2009 at 4:44 pm

    I believe these lines sum up what the people are annoyed with the amateur astronomers are basically trying to say.

    No reason to get excited
    The thief he kindly spoke
    There are many here among us
    Who feel that life is but a joke
    But you and I weve been through that
    And this is not our fate
    So let us not talk falsely now
    The hours getting late

  24. March 26, 2009 at 5:05 pm

    This is nothing compared to the Star Trek Cake fiasco of May 25th, 2008 when internet news sites mis-interpreted a fan’s joke against a cake rendition of the original Star Trek series Enterprise Bridge simply because Scotty was in Chekov’s position.

    Few days later, Trekmovie.com posted a response stating that this was just a joke and not a die-hard fan’s obsession to detail. While this did bring back credibility to both the Cake makers and the use who posted the joke, Scotty’s career as a navigator unfortunately never recovered. :(

    – Jeyl

  25. 25 Buckaroohawk
    March 26, 2009 at 7:44 pm

    You’re right, Mojo, at least partly. The compulsion to seek out clues, any clues, in a story tapestry as dense as that on BSG is laudible. Heck, showrunners hinge the entire success of a series on being able to “hook” an audience and keep them there. Sci-fi fans are notorious at sniffing out out any little tidbit or apparently mundane line of dialog that might actually hold true significance. I’m guilty of it myself, so I can’t fault others for it.

    What is not so laudible are those same fans becoming angry with the VFX team because something they thought was significant turned out not to be. It most certainly isn’t your fault if you (unintentionally) gave these fans an inch and they took (a few million) miles. You owe them no apology. You were concentrating on getting the job done. If you had to pick apart every rendered frame to check for an image or object that some fan somewhere might accidentally think held some meaning…well, you wouldn’t get very much done, that’s for sure.

    Those fans have no one to blame for their wasted time and effort than themselves. Anyway, if they were watching so closely, how come none of them came to the conclusion that the starfields were not significant at all? They were starting with a conclusion, then trying to find eveidence to fit it, and that’s not very scientific if you ask me.

    Sorry to hear that their entirely unfounded accusations stung you. Rest assured, though, that there are many other fans who deeply appreciate what you and the rest of the VFX team did for BSG and we’re not the least bit upset that the answer was not in the stars after all. :-)

  26. 26 Colonial Warrior
    March 26, 2009 at 11:09 pm

    Well I’ll admit I look for stuff sometimes not star constellations mind you but quirky stuff like the Serenity doing a flyby early on BSG stuff like that. So yea I can see where the folks that are into a particular area of interest would have their curiosity piqued by something along those lines.
    There was one thing that I did miss from the original series that I would have loved to have found tucked away somewhere within BSG and that was the different alien races that they encountered you all remember the Ovians, the Borays and my personal favorite the Borellian Nomen. It would have been nice to see them IMHO.
    So was your fix to the stars to simply reorient the camera in Lightwave, using random points to poly’s, Or use one of the other StarPro databases?. There’s another plug-in that’s worth checking out called Imitate Galaxy. The original page is in Japanese so I used google to translate the page here..

    http://translate.google.com/translate?prev=hp&hl=en&js=n&u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.wagglydog.com%2Flw%2Figalaxy%2F&sl=ja&tl=en

    Looks like it might be fun to play with at any rate.

  27. March 27, 2009 at 6:20 am

    Blimey, that’s a bit harsh to say “a slap in the face for science”.

    The fans-on-the-Interwebs thing’s terribly dangerous though, isn’t it? I seem to recall there being a big ding-dong when Michael Garibaldi’s eyes flashed red for a frame back in the Babylon 5 days. Plot-driven sci-fi, who’s have it?

    (Me. For breakfast, lunch and dinner if I could).

  28. 28 centurion005
    March 27, 2009 at 8:18 am

    Colonial Warrior. The Nomen were human.The lived in deserts from one of the 12 colonies. They were like a cross between mongolians and arab nomen. With a bit of klingon style blood hunts.Since this BSG is 150,000 years in the past then I feel it is a prequel to the old BSG.The following is a rather long account of how both BSGs can be one and the same.

    So heres what happens after this BSG. The centurions go back to kobol. There they evolve yet again into “human” models. A few centurions leave kobol to go colonize some other planet. Kobol starts to dry up. On the planet were the centurions went it was already inhabited by a humanoid lizard species. Those lizards learned face and outnumbered the cylons. They fought a war with them and the centurions were destroyed.Meanwhile back on kobol the new 12 tribes are formed a leave to recolonize the same 12 planets that the first colonials did.So the 12 colonies are formed. Soon they start exploring there local space and discover the lizard “cylons”.The reptiles try to recreate the centurions they destroyed in order to have as foot soldiers to fight a war with the “humans”.So of course the centurions rebel against the reptiles and continue on fighting the humans.Then they all find earth in 1980 and give us a head start in robotics. Then the earth cybrids create skynet wich rebels against them and then it creates its own human models who are sent back in time and one becomes the governor of California.There you have it.

  29. March 27, 2009 at 12:30 pm

    I think sting2063 is right on. My friends and I who generally watched BSG together—or at least discussed it later :)—never paid any attention to the stars. I’d say we were pretty faithful fans, but that’s just beyond the realm of practicality. But we all—independently—noticed Orion in “The Ties that Bind” (I had to look that episode’s name up ;).

    So I’d say it wasn’t just that people were nitpicky. :)

  30. March 27, 2009 at 12:37 pm

    The fact that you took this time to write an explanation is commendable, but also wasted. These kind of people are ridiculous and incredibly lame to get upset over that.

    I wouldn’t even have bothered to write that much. If anything, it would have been short and to the point:

    “Frak off and go back to your mother’s basement.”

  31. 31 Melchior
    March 27, 2009 at 12:45 pm

    I was thrown off entirely by the “Daniel” mention and a lot of glaringly obvious allusions to him being Starbuck’s father, but none of that had anything to do with the ending. It didn’t bother me too much, if at all, really.

    This type of whining comes strictly from a subset of people who simply can not turn their brains off and enjoy a story.

  32. 32 The Lobby Lurker
    March 27, 2009 at 10:04 pm

    All I can say is, “What the FRAK???”

    You and the team have nothing to apologize for to the obsessive-compulsive whiners that over-analyze (or in some cases over-ANALize) every tiny speck of minutiae in a show. I thought this kind of silly behavior stopped at Trek and Wars especially after the brilliant “Get a Life” skit, but I’m sure we’ll also see J.J. Abrams mercilessly savaged for making mistakes, as well.

    A decision was made to put in a point of reference that would lend some recognizable credibility to the plot- i.e. Orion’s belt showed that they were, in fact, approaching Earth in some manner. With so much on your and the entire production staff’s plates, only a true dolt who needs to get out of the house and maybe interact with a member of the opposite sex, (or any human, for that matter, who is not on the Interwebz) would waste all that time and effort to over-analyze a FRAKKING T.V. SHOW!!!!

    My suggestion to those twits is to grow up, grow a pair, and get a better hobby.

    /rant and apologies to any nerds/dweebs/dorks/geeks/screw-heads/or “fans” I might have deigned to insult by calling you out for infantile behavior.

  33. March 28, 2009 at 5:54 am

    The Lobby Lurker, if you think Abrams is getting savaged now, wait ’til Trek comes out. There seem to be a large number of folk who’ve made their minds up in advance that they will hate it, and derive great pleasure from announcing this wheresoever they find any discussion of the film.

    Sad, really. I’ve been a sci-fi fan all my life, and I’m just hoping it’s an enjoyable movie.

  34. 34 Matt Boardman
    March 28, 2009 at 9:20 am

    Mojo! Very well written reply and excellent job being paitent with those who may have a little more time on their hands than others. I think that responses like these are necessary from time to time because it’s important to put things in perspective from time to time, and you got to protect your posse!

    The BSG VFX team was top notch and I am contiunally impressed with the work that you guys did! I would argue that it’s among the best Sci-Fi VFX ever done!

  35. 35 centurion005
    March 28, 2009 at 3:37 pm

    Final comment from me for now. The people who are upset about inaccurate stars well thats just there evil Cylon side coming out and trying to find flaws with humanity so they can find an excuse to destroy you.Thats all.

  36. 36 Colonial Warrior
    March 28, 2009 at 5:12 pm

    LoL
    They are nitpickers and they have a plan omg..

  37. March 29, 2009 at 9:08 am

    I have a theory… call me a conspiracy nut whatever,
    I think…
    these nitpickers… have been hired, by the now freed Rebel Centurions, to ensure you guys tell the story as accurately as possible.

    The question is.., where have they gone too these past 150,000 years?

  38. March 29, 2009 at 9:31 am

    Mojo,

    You have handled this situation with class by not only coming to the rightful defense of the work your team has put into this series, but by doing this in a manner that also shows respect to those who are attempting to draw blame to you and your team. You’re right that reading such comments one can easily draw the natural conclusion that a reality-perspective is in order here.

    But when art is done right – be it a painting, a sculpture, a music composition, or a dramatic work – it opens itself to being interpreted and viewed through different lenses according to what the viewer themselves hold most important. As I’ve seen in the BSG reviews I wrote for my blog, some of the ideas I present resonate with some readers while others disagree and wish to see it in another light. In your case, it’s clear that for these viewers the astronomical features your team created mattered. So be it. However, the inaccuracies they’ve discovered do not take anything away from either the body of work your team has created, nor from the series as a whole.

    It is often noted that art is only truly successful if it stirs a reaction in the viewer of said work. What the reaction is doesn’t matter since that’s more reflective of what the viewer brings to the viewing. From that vantage point, I’d say once again that you and your team have much to feel proud of because your work has stirred such reactions, such passions as only a true work of art could.

    As such, I offer you congratulations and I hope you’re enjoying the lemonade you made from the lemons that were proffered.

  39. 39 darthmojo
    March 29, 2009 at 4:47 pm

    Yes, I do agree the best art almost can be judged by the reaction it provokes. Of course, some people go to extremes ONLY to get a strong reaction out of people, which I think is not the same thing, but overall I do prefer when art provokes a variety of reations.

    I was responsible for the first three Star Trek “Ships of the Line” calendars, and the second one, in which I purposely tried something different, generated very heated debate. Some loved it, some hated it, but ultimatley I think it might have been the most successful for that reason. Sure, it’s nice to have everyone be in love with your work, but part of me will always feel that unless someone out there thinks you’re crap, you’re doing something wrong.

    I’ll always be happier with 51% of people loving my work, if you know what I mean.

    Debate is good.

  40. March 30, 2009 at 5:26 am

    I came here looking for a Get a Life comment, and will not leave emptyhanded.

    Mojo, the moment I saw the RC thrusters, back in the miniseries, I said out loud: “Wow! they do respect my intelligence”. Since then BSG FX are better and better, adding lots to the story, bringing to the screen the best spacebattles since ever, and if people waste their time nitpicking starfields, I’m sorry, but they’re looking at the wrong thing.

    BSG gave us the Adama Maneuver, how can I ask for more than that?

  41. 41 mcooney
    March 30, 2009 at 7:23 pm

    I can be kinda nitpicky when i do stars. Strangely my only problem sort of is the stars are colorless. I believe those star pro and other plugins usualy make realisic colored stars, and i know that stars come in red giant white yellow dwarf and blue supergiant colors. True realiscicaly they wouldnt show up in a film or HD camera, and colored stars probabaly wouldnt fit the harder desaturated pallette of battlestar.

    I think it’s just some tradition though dating back to the pinhole stars of pre CGI that they are always white, i mean even seeing lots of other 3d spaceship art, i almost never ever see anything but white or monochrome blue stars. I think Babylon 5 was the only exception.

  42. April 7, 2009 at 12:53 am

    Great post Mojo.

    I tried telling folks who were invested in their star background theories, that it wasn’t going to lead anywhere. But, as you said in a comment above, perhaps they have increased interest in astronomy. (Everyone in L.A. should visit Griffith Park Observatory, for sure.)

    The important work everyone should have been paying attention to was the work you guys did in the foreground. And based on the monumental work on the finale’s FX, I think you all will be clearing space on the mantle for another well deserved Emmy.

  43. April 7, 2009 at 10:46 am

    I do think there is something to apologize for here, though it is a bit more subtle.

    Normally I would indeed not have expected the post team to be paying a lot of attention to the star patterns. However, a few things happened, some by accident, some by error, that led many to believe you were paying attention to them, and that triggered people to look harder for clues.

    If you had used Earth stars all the time, then everybody would have quickly said, “Oh, they are just using stock software, nothing to see here, move along.” It was the switching from random stars to Earth stars that said, “That looks deliberate!” Random stars all along (except in the final episode scene at real Earth) would have been easy to do and caused no consternation.

    In addition, the use of random stars at 13th colony Earth seemed especially deliberate. Ah, this is not the true Earth it (correctly) told people — until the real Earth stars showed up in lots of places.

    Finally, perhaps due to bad luck, Orion appeared front and center in a few scenes. Orion is the 2nd most easily identified constellation, and in fact it was so prominent that it was unlikely to be by chance. Not impossible, though. So this was just some bad luck.

    You didn’t know this, but to people who do know their astronomy, and there are more than a few out there, this was a big flashing light.

    However, I think the actual mistake was this. Just as when Ron Moore discovered people were reading way too much into “Daniel,” you should have asked him to clarify, “people are reading way too much into the star backgrounds.” This would have been a great courtesy to fans. In fact, we would have been annoyed but generally forgiving if a warning like this had gone out after people started noticing them.

    Those who know their astronomy (and this is a minority) know that the real Earth star patterns do not appear except at Earth, and they are quite distorted even at most of the nearest stars. Random star patterns would have been fine, though calculated patterns would have been cool (there are many packages that do that.) Everybody would have accepted the vagaries of time and budget constraints on this question. That minority also knows the stars change over 150,000 years, so strictly the real patterns should not ever have appeared.

    But again, I’m not demanding you know that, or spend the time or money on special software. Rather, the lesson I hope this teaches is that fans will pay attention to everything, and spread what they learn on the internet, and as such, if you make the inaccuracies that time and budget demand, you should use the same internet to let people know if they are making too much of something. You would not have needed to do this if the accident had not landed Orion so squarely in view.

  44. 44 Mike
    April 9, 2009 at 2:43 am

    The problem arises when any fiction enters the areas of interest or expertise of the audience, regardless of the context. If your thing is fishing, when you see your characters on screen with a fishing rod, you expect them to be holding it correctly, any error stands out like a sore thumb.

    The zodiac issue was confounded by the inclusion of the recognisable constellations in the Tomb of Athena. They became part of the plot. We were told that the real stars were out there to be found and that they were important, you can’t blame the astronomers in the audience for getting excited when they started to appear. This was a high quality show, with realistic physics and an eye for detail, why wouldn’t the sky have meaning? Some of thetant flak may be excessive, but I certainly understand where the disapointment stems from.

    Tracking the constellations must have been a labour of love for some fans and probably brought a great deal of pleasure while it lasted. There’s no crime in that, and I’d suggest that those yelling ‘GET A LIFE!’ on a sci-fi blog take a moment to assess what makes their own life so much more meaningful. Imagine the utter trash we might have on TV in a world without the nitpickers constantly demanding more from their entertainment, they should be applauded for their efforts, not ridiculed.

  45. 45 Pace
    April 11, 2009 at 2:18 pm

    To me much of the problem lies in the fact that the constellations were important to the show! That whole Tomb of Athena bit, they were looking for certain star patterns. Gaeta even said (in a rather misleading way) that the visible star patterns matched on the ‘original’ Earth.

  46. 46 Brandon
    April 14, 2009 at 7:27 pm

    [This turned into something way bigger than I intended for it originally...sorry everyone, but I think there's some cool astronomy content along the way!]

    As a professional astronomer and teacher, I was bugged a little by the uniformity of colors of the stars. Meh. Whatever. I never saw it as all that important of a teachable opportunity in the context of the show, so I dig the little argument about color contrast with the ships in the Fleet. That said, I would still like to know what sort of discussion took place among the writers/FX team about putting Orion in there at all, since it’s probably the most easily recognizable constellation. (I remember smiling about seeing the Big Dipper in there a few times too. :P )

    I was also a little grumbly, after the reveal at the end of the series, that Orion kept showing up *at all*, since the apparent positions of nearby stars can move quite a significant amount in 150,000 years. In the local Galaxy, the velocity dispersion of stars is about 30 km/sec (also, roughly the speed that Earth orbits the Sun!), so over 150,000 years, stars will drift relative to one another by roughly 15 light years. Stars are usually a couple of light years apart, on average, so only the most nearby stars would move significantly, say, up to about 100-ish light years distant.

    The cool thing is that all of the brightest stars in Orion are extremely luminous giant stars, and are all quite distant, so *would not have appeared to move much*. In fact, of the “recognizable” stars, the most nearby, Bellatrix (gamma Ori, the right/west shoulder), is still at about 250 LY, but given the fact that in this guesstimate we could be moving mostly toward or away from it just as easily as anything else, it might not appear to move at all. At the risk of taking this one step too far, I did just run the numbers on Wikipedia real fast and, given the current proper motion of Bellatrix on the sky, it would have moved less than one degree in the “New Earth” sky in the last 150 kyr.

    Now, I don’t mean to be over-analyzey and nit-picky about it in the context of the story, but I just think it’s pretty rad that Orion was still Orion back then! :) [And re-reading some of the above comments, Orion would still look quite a bit like Orion from a pretty big region of space, as well!]

    After being satisfied about that now, several weeks on, the biggest astrophysically cringe-worthy moment for me was when Adama mentioned about New Earth being “one million light years away” from their original homeworlds. Now, I’ve appreciated the lack of treknobabble throughout the majority of the show just as much as any of the rest of you, and I’ve always had burning questions about the Fleet’s jump-able radius, etc., but it leaves me a little puzzled about the word choice here…

    Was Adama meaning to use hyperbole to make the point, or was he actually making a statement of fact? I’d lean totally toward the hyperbole argument *except* for the fact that he said “one million” instead of simply “a million”, which would imply that he was being a bit more quantitative about his statement. However, there are some good arguments against this. (Now for some more analytical astronomy content!!) Our Galaxy is roughly 100,000 LY across. Presumably, the Fleet has been staying within the Galaxy this whole time (I never noticed them in a star field which would suggest otherwise) so they couldn’t have actually been “one million light years away” from Caprica.

    Well, now you might reasonably say “okay, so what if their light-year is different than ours? If the Caprican year is shorter than the (New) Earth year, then perhaps they can still say that the Galaxy is 1 MLY across?” I say that’s very unlikely. For this to work, the Caprican/Colonial year would have to be at *least* 10 times shorter than our year. Shorter than that, and it means you get to put more than 1 MLY across the Galaxy. Here’s the kicker, though: for the Caprican year to be much shorter, it would have to orbit it’s host star much closer than Earth orbits the Sun. In fact, in our limiting case that the Caprican year has to be at least 10 times shorter than our own, it would have to be no longer than 365/10 ~ 36 Earth days long! That’s pretty short, but, remember that Mercury orbits the Sun in 88 days. For this to work out, Caprica would have to orbit it’s host star even closer than Mercury, making it totally uninhabitable if their star was anything like our Sun, which by all reasonable estimations, it is. The habitable zone of a less massive star would be closer in, but then the speedy planet would need to orbit even more near to the star because of the lower stellar mass to get the same short year, and the star would be really red anyway. More massive stars are similarly out of the question.

    Since in all likelihood, the Caprican year is quite similar to our Earth year, my best guess is that we should read Adama as being hyperbolic about the actual distances here, even if I personally don’t like the choice of “one” over “a”. So was is sloppiness on the part of the writers? Olmos’ reading of the line (i.e., it was a different line on paper)? Perhaps. But I say that you can cut them all some slack since, in any case, it’s not really inconsistent with anything if you read Adama’s line as hyperbole in the first place — which you should, given the tone of the rest of this lovely scene!

    Out of curiosity, I had read some of those posts on star positions over the last season and, not to put down the authors’ enthusiasm, but I thought that often they were really reaching. And now look what I’ve gone and done! Shame on me. “It’s the characters, stupid!” (But that’s still what I’m saying anyway, so…no shame.)

  47. 47 Scott
    April 15, 2009 at 12:32 pm

    Longtime lurker, first time poster. I can forgive a lot on a show that deals with sentient robots and nymphomaniac skinjobs and invisible angels and demons. But I can agree with some who might take some issue with the star patterns. If they had been truly random, and there were no visible patterns as the RTF approached Earth, it would be far easier to dismiss any criticisms with statements like “it’s just the software”. But the producers of the show have gone to so many lengths to make so many other things correct (no sound in space, zero-g manuevering, etc), that it shouldn’t have been surprising at all when someone called you out on the constellations (esp, as others noted, after they rose to prominence in the Tomb of Athena sequence).

    Let me stress I have been impressed from the very beginning on the quality of the FX on this show. The ship models always seemed flawless to me, and even shots where you had the CGI Centurions on screen with human actors, I was always convinced there was a true interaction there (unlike say Jar Jar with Ewan McGregor and Liam Neeson, which was the least of the issues there, but I digress).

    Again, it’s only because there was so much care given to the details of the show that we expected the constellations to mean something. Otherwise, an excellent job, and if the same company is doing the FX for Caprica, then I certainly know the visuals on that show will be to par.

  48. May 5, 2009 at 7:07 pm

    Mojo,

    I want to take this opportunity to thank you and the amazing CGI/FX team at Battlestar for the wonderfully consistent work on BSG, despite the hectic schedules and the fast turn-around time that you guys need to meet when working on a television budget. (I do have issues with the CGI for “Daybreak,” but I won’t go into that. I understand that the special effects were finished a day before the episode aired, so I understand it.)

    While I understand the astronomy or science buffs for being a bit miffed over the so-called “starfield clues,” they need to understand that the sole purpose of a television show is to entertain and, from a financial standpoint, make cubits for the network. (I believe the field you are in is referred to as the “entertainment business,” and as a business there are investments and the expectation is that there is a return on said investments in the form of recouping the initial investment and, ultimately, profit.) If these fans wanted real hard science fiction, then they could go to the library and look into the works of Carl Sagan, Issac Asimov or other golden age SF writers to read. Further, they could simply watch the Discovery, History Channel and other educational shows.) The fact that you guys and gals cared enough to be consistent under hectic television schedules and other stresses shows your true dedication and passion for the art of making a television show.

    The sad part about these fans (which are less than 0.01% of us, but yet are the most vocal) is that they have demonstrated a complete lack of understanding about what the people in the entertainment trenches of television production go through. I do not for one minute believe that this disrespect is intentional, but rather out of sheer ignorance and, borne from that, misunderstanding. I really wish the fans could go through what I experienced up in Vancouver when prepping for the first BSG auction before the production wrapped after “The Plan” and “Face of the Enemy,” as then they would have had their eyes opened to what actually goes on behind the scenes. Even my personal minimal exposure to this process has nurtured a greater respect for what EVERYONE in the production staff goes through just to make the show happen! Color me “biased,” but at least my opinion is informed.

    I’ve always maintained that there are very few fans who (dangerously) read far too much into things in the show, whether it be the way something is said, or into the minute details in the background. And while it’s easy to say that “people will always nitpick at everything and so you must account for that,” it needs to be understood and accepted that you guys cannot account for these things. The conditions that, again, you’ve laid out in your blog post demonstrate that this is impossible. You will never please all the nitpickers, and it isn’t worth your time to do so.

    So, yes, the constellations in the Tomb of Athena were a scientific mistake as Grazier admitted and, yes, Gaeta’s comment about them matching in Earth 1’s orbit were also a mistake… however, BSG is an “elseworld” and should be treated as such. After all, the Cylons don’t exist, there’s no William Adama, there’s no “other Earth” and it is all a work of fiction that miraculously lasted longer than its original source material. So what’s to say that the constellations seen in the Tomb of Athena WEREN’T the constellations over the Kobollian Cylons’ homeworld? Hmm…

    Regardless, you all have done well for yourselves. Sure there were mistakes, but as BSG is a mirror of the human condition, this is to be expected… and, in a perverse sort of way, cherished and respected.

    To those of us who complain and belabor things ad nauseum (and, honestly, to no point)… Be thankful that we received four seasons, two movies, webisodes and a spin-off. It could be worse. You could be watching Galactica 1980 for four seasons as we could have a spin-off with just the descendants of the “Super Scouts” jumping for joy as they throw seeds into trenches made by lasers as they sing a space scout chantey.

    So say we all and thanks for all the fish.

  49. June 1, 2009 at 12:15 am

    hey! soundfx??? ..there is no sound in space!! ..I’m totally let down now!! I believed you guys were being scientific!! :) …seriously how sad some people must be to have nothing better to do than just sit and pick out problems that just are’nt there!

  50. February 2, 2010 at 11:39 pm

    Your blog is so informative … ..I just bookmarked you….keep up the good work!!!!

    Hey, I found your blog in a new directory of blogs. I dont know how your blog came up, must have been a typo, anyway cool blog, I bookmarked you. :)

    -Robert Shumake Paul Nicoletti

  51. March 15, 2010 at 1:30 pm

    I would have never thought that there are people out there that would try and the exact location of a Fleet on a Movie…..Lol!
    I mean it’s fiction at the end of the day.
    I loved the Series by the way!

    buyout music

  52. February 15, 2011 at 9:45 pm

    Guys….Constellations are only recognizable as such form our earths point of view in our galaxy.
    If someone were say a third of the way across the galaxy and heading our way they would see nothing that looks remotely like our well known constellations. Just sayin’.


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