Making of the “spinning house” sequence in Twister (1996)

Earlier this year filmmaker Stu Maschwitz posted on Twitter a series of messages recounting the work he did, as a then junior visual effects artist, on the scene of the house crashing on the road in the 1996 summer blockbuster, Twister. He later copied them to his website: go read it there.

The story comes with a fair amount of detail, hacks and tricks to make the best of the technical limitations of the time, and gives an idea of the amount of work such a scene in a prominent Hollywood film entails.

Metal materials study

Texture artist Jarrod Hasenjager posted a page of various metal materials study: aluminum, brass, bronze, chrome, copper, gold, iron, lead and steel, and rusted steel and iron. According to the description, the renders are done in Houdini, and the look is driven by artistic taste and personal experience rather than from physical values.

Coordinate mapping between sphere, disc and square

This paper, published by Martin Lambers in the Journal of Computer Graphics Techniques, compares different mappings between sphere and disc, and between disc and square. It is worth noting that the source code is available on the publication page.

Mappings between Sphere, Disc, and Square.

Abstract:
A variety of mappings between a sphere and a disc and between a disc and a square, as well as combinations of both, are used in computer graphics applications, resulting in mappings between spheres and squares. Many options exist for each type of mapping; to pick the right methods for a given application requires knowledge about the nature and magnitude of mapping distortions.

This paper provides an overview of forward and inverse mappings between a unit sphere, a unit disc, and a unit square. Quality measurements relevant for computer graphics applications are derived from tools used in the field of map projection, and a comparative analysis of the mapping methods is given.

Users don’t read error messages

My CHI professor used to repeat that users didn’t read error messages, and that you should avoid them when possible. Think about it: how often do you close error messages without even reading whatever is written? And when you do read them, how often do you find them both clear and relevant?

I was recently shown this picture (source unknown unfortunately; adapted from these ones) of a slide that captures perfectly the problem with most error dialogs.

Every error message

Every error message.

Christopher McKay – Life beyond the Earth

So that’s my job in a sense: search other worlds for alien life.

So when I’m on a long plane flight, like coming over here, and the guy sitting next to me says: “So what do you do?”. Chatty fellow. I say: “Well I search other worlds for alien life.”. And then, he leaves me alone for the rest of the flight, I can get some sleep. It’s a great job description, I like it.

This excerpt is part of the introduction of the following lecture by NASA scientist Dr. Christopher McKay, on the search of life beyond Earth. He talks about Mars exploration, a potential mission to Enceladus, the challenges of field research in such environment, how to detect life (without accidentally destroying it in the attempt), how to avoid contamination and what would be some practical consequences to finding life. It’s a great insight into the current state of the field, delivered with an entertaining tone.