Lastly, the idea I wanted to research into was the atmospheric re-entry effects. There’s a great satisfaction while playing Kerbal Space Program to de-orbit spacecraft and watch them heat up and fall apart as they enter. In reality, things work pretty much the same, anything going fast entering the Earth’s atmosphere won’t stand a chance without shielding.
I recently followed NASA as they launched their new Orion spacecraft into orbit to test the high speed re-entry as it entered the atmosphere. This was the first time I’d seen the re-entry process filmed from inside the spacecraft and broadcast live (minus a small blackout due to plasma). The re-entry effects are fiery but not your traditional fire, a very high intensity concentration of flames.
A big movie from 2013 was Gravity, probably the best interpretation of realistic (well as close as you can get) spaceflight. In the movie [Spoiler] astronaut Sandra Bullock finds herself in the de-orbiting Tiangong Space Station. The space station goes through several stages as it falls, first from shaking to breaking apart, air streaks and finally fully breaking apart and immense heat.
While probably not realistically accurate (although still highly accurate), cinematically it did the job as intended, creating a very dramatic finale to the movie.
I may also want to consider the break up of asteroids, there are lots of amateur footage of asteroids falling to Earth, notably a meteor that exploded over Russia in 2013.
Along the lines of asteroids and comets, we got the best views of a comet in 2014 with Rosetta’s visit to 67P/Churyumov-Gerisamenko. Some of the pictures it has returned have been fascinating and as the comets gets closer to the sun we can see the gas and dust outflows become much more active. Although these are stills, it’d be interesting to explore generating these effects in Maya, emulating it realistically while also exaggerating it for artistic effect, giving the viewer a feel of what it may be like on the comet.