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Animating Solar System Evolution from Real Physics Data

  1. May 18, 2013 #1
    I've recently been assigned a project by one of my professors to animate a solar system style disc using real data computed from a simulation of his, and I'm wondering what the best angle of approach for this project would be.

    I have some experience in Cinema4D animating things, and I'm fairly certain there are ways to import positions from, say, a text file and have the program animate the frames in between, but I've been out of the animating game for quite some time and I'm wondering if anyone could point me in the right direction for a project like this.

    I feel like there MAY be some options even in animating in After effects using a particle plug-in like particular to animate the different elements, but since I'm assuming his data set will have hundreds or thousands of bodies I'm not sure if it could handle such a thing.

    I understand this post seems kind of unconventional in this forum, but I wasn't sure where else to post.

    Thanks in advance,
  2. jcsd
  3. May 18, 2013 #2


    Staff: Mentor

    you could consider the Open Source Physics library. You'd be using Java to read your data and the OSP routines to animate and draw the system. there are many examples and its free. For development you would use either Eclipse or Netbeans. They provide a workspace for OSP that can be imported into Eclipse (but netbeans will import it as well).

    One example that may fit your needs is the galaxy app.


    another example is the OSP solar system app:


    You could also use the Processing.org tool to read your data and draw your animation. Its a popular tool for graphics artists (and beginners too) who want to use java code to paint an interactive picture. With some changes you could also run your code on an Android device although you'd need to bring over the profs files as well unless you can access them via the internet.

    Alternatively, for a fun project you could use Codea or Pythonista on the iPad to do your simulation. Both use the Processing model of a setup() method thats run once followed by a draw() that is called upto 60 times a second.
  4. May 19, 2013 #3

    Simon Bridge

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    If it is calculated from a simulation, then it is not "real" data.
    I suspect you are overthinking this. You've certainly got it backwards: work out the motion you want for the simulation first, then figure out which program to use. Don't let the software dictate the solution.

    You'll probably find a math script program (Octave, Matlab, Mathematica,...) is plenty for what you need.
  5. May 19, 2013 #4
    Thank you for the information, these programs look like they could be promising, however I'm wondering if they can also animate rotating gases (or at least large enough number of bodies that could be textured to look like gases) in protostellar systems since it seems like their intended use was for larger bodies such as planets.

    Sorry, the 'real' was unnecessary, however I am not in control of the simulation itself. The motion of the simulation is worked out first where another grad student is creating that model (probably in something like Matlab) and my job will be to take their work and try to animate it, and I didn't think Matlab or Mathematica would be aesthetically pleasing especially if one wants to incorporate, say, textures or something of that sort.

    However my professor hasn't really specified what kind of animation he is looking for, so IF I were to use Matlab or Mathematica, could I produce a video of the formation of a protostar with its accretion disc in all of its glory? I'm still relatively new to these programs so I haven't learned yet what their potential is in creating animations.
  6. May 19, 2013 #5

    Simon Bridge

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    ... which important if the assignment calls for something that is pretty to look at. Probably a good idea to make sure before you spend hours lovingly gracing your animation with detailed textures when all you needed was a lot of moving dots. Before you end up duplicating Eyes on the Solar System ;)

    I suspect that the data does not include surface textures for eg. ... should you be representing information in your animation that is not supplied in the data?

    I think you are still getting ahead of yourself - start with the nature of the animation, then find the software to do what you want. You don't know what sort of thing you need to do yet.

    The script software can provide elegant and clear animations in 3D - which can also include a user interface so parameters can be tweaked (like the camera angle for eg.) - suitable for a scientific display.

    The Free/Open source examples Jedishrfu supplied will help.
    Just take care: best practice is to know the task before you select the tools.
  7. May 19, 2013 #6
    This is a project I will be working on throughout the summer, so I'm not rushing anything I'm merely trying to gather as much general information I can so I know all my possibilities when I actually start the project. I happen to have a little bit of freedom on this project and since I have a background in design and animation I'd like to make it aesthetically pleasing, or at least propose the possibility of animating it in that way.

    And by that I don't mean to add data that isn't there, but if some of the dots are gases while others are dust grains etc. I'd like the freedom to texture them differently.

    Either way, the point is that I understand the fact that I need to know the specifics of the simulation first before I plan the animation, but I don't have the specifics as of today and I wanted to get a head start and figure out what possibilities there are.
  8. May 19, 2013 #7


    Staff: Mentor

    You may have to factor in the machine speed for a realtime animation experience as the more particles you try to change in any given frame will begin to slow things down. As an example, managing a 1000 particles may be okay but a 1,000,000 may not.
  9. May 19, 2013 #8
    Autodesk Maya or 3ds max for textured models and simulation. Scripting: particle collision and simulation, Explosions and heat simulations and fluid dynamics using rayfire plugin, Krakatoa, Sitni Sati FumeFX and Cebas ThinkingParticles. (Note: All plugins are based on simple independent algorithmics and doesn't constitute to real cosmic effect. For the sake of visual presentation only).


    You can do all the extra stuff on video editing programs like After effect/premiere flares and all the good/crazy/flashy goodies^^.

    Early formations: Pre-solar nebula-Formation of planets -

    Just to give you an idea of solar system planetary movements and positions

    Chemical distribution (texture creations and color)

    Brian Cox app
  10. May 27, 2013 #9
    Just to update, I have a bit more detail in the data I will obtain from the simulation. It will be a matrix representing cells within the simulation containing surface density, temperature, and scale height information.

    Currently the visualizations of the data are in 2D since the scale height information is not being used effectively, but I believe I can recreate an animation in 3D space using the scale height and a particle system who's density is linked to the surface density from the data.

    I think in theory I understand how to go about this, but I'm wondering if the previous suggestions such as krakatoa and the ray fire plugins will suffice in doing so. Can anyone expand on that?

    Thanks in advance!
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