From spatial data to Titan

June 4th, 2018 | Innovation

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Do you know that by 2084, vacations to Saturn will be more popular than trips to Mars? If you don’t, then you must have totally forgotten about Verhoeven’s Total Recall from 1990, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as Douglas Quaid, actually a secret agent travelling through space to find his memories back.

In this adaptation of the Philip K. Dick novel, travel through the Solar System is a relatively simple affair: people travel via spacecraft at high speeds, and getting from Earth to Mars is as simple as that!  And going on a cruise to Saturn is no different, and reputed beautiful.

And what if, instead of waiting for 2084 to enjoy spatial journeys, you could discover far distant spatial places as of today? That’s the great experience we’re offering today with the Last call for Titan VR World.

Genesis of a spatial journey


Titan, lune de Saturne, telle que vue sur Google Maps

Here is Titan. More than 1.35 billion of km away from the Earth gravitates the largest moon of Saturn, second largest in the solar system after Ganymede of Jupiter. Titan is larger than Mercury and 3/4 the size of Mars. In 1997 was launched the Cassini-Huygens space mission, aiming to unveil some of Titan’s secrets. Fourteen years ago, the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft marked history, with the first landing ever accomplished in the outer Solar system, reaching Titan's surface and its foggy atmosphere, rich in methane and nitrogen. Since then, the Cassini flybys and the Huygens descent has sent precise data of its environment: Titan is the only other body than Earth in the solar system that has stable liquid on its surface. Being the only moon with a dense atmosphere, Titan is the only planetary body capable of human habitation. However, shrouded by its dense atmosphere, the real face of Titan’s surface, as we would see it, remained a mystery.


A scientific challenge

The potential of Titan for habitability is at the core of the 2018 documentary Last Call for Titan. The movie, directed by Frédéric Ramade and co-written with Jonathan Tavel, invites us to (re)-discover the Cassini-Huygens mission through a realistic journey to Titan. The great challenge of the movie was to create a lifelike representation of this outer Solar system place, without any precise image.

The team call for the OPTIS expertise, specialized in the creation of physics-based, reliable VR content. OPTIS is able to generate accurate physics-based simulations of what a person can see on Earth, so doing the same for Titan could be possible with the right data! How did the OPTIS team manage to simulate what humans would see on Titan? The optical experts of the company needed to know the behavior of light on Titan and its interactions within the environment. Thanks to OPTIS’ cutting-edge technology and to data provided by Erich Karkoschka and Lyn Doose from the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory of the University of Arizona, principal investigator of the DISR instrument aboard Huygens, the team managed to turn precious Titanean data into an image. A world first!


From data...


... to the visualization

OPTIS generated various visualizations of the Titan’s ground and atmosphere, under several light conditions, so that the movie makers had a strong basis to create realistic synthetic imaging.

For example, the simulation with the probe (on the right) helped the post production team to integrate their objects in the Titan’s landscape: the scientific base, the jeep or the zeppelin (on the left)

A great success

On September 15th, a special event was organized at the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie in Paris:  Cassini-Huygens: Le Grand Final. This event allowed people to attend to the live scuttling of Cassini before the preview of the documentary Last Call for Titan. The movie met a great success during the preview at La Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie, which was quite surprising for a scientific documentary. Produced by AGAT Films & Company and coproduced by OPTIS and NHK, the movie has a longer French edit, A la conquête de Titan, and a Japanese edit. These French and Japanese versions also benefitted from a warm welcoming for a scientific documentary. Indeed, both on French and Japanese channels, the movie broke records, as we counted:

•           110 000 replays in 8 days in France

•           1.3 million people who watched the documentary on NHK, their best audience of the year

Catch up here if you haven’t seen it!


Last call for Titan! All aboard!

The Grand Final event was also the opportunity to show an exclusive technical prowess developed by OPTIS: the VR experience of Titan! Participants enjoyed an immersion on Titan as if they were really on this moon, thanks to Virtual Reality.  

It’s your turn! No tickets or spacecrafts involved: just grab your phone and set foot on Titan now!

Check out this immersive video and, like Douglas Quaid, enjoy your time into space.*

Plans for the future?

What can we expect from such an experience? Many more projects! And not only the simulation of other planets, like Venus, or the use of these simulations to educative ends, but also the use of Virtual Reality to help training astronauts and colonists while they are on Earth or on their way to Mars. Moreover, in the future, we will soon be able to do some real-time renderings and allow the point of view to be moved, for an even more immersive experience: walking on Titan will become a virtual reality!

About the movie

Last call for Titan, a film by Jonathan Tavel et Frédéric Ramade
Directed by Frédéric Ramade
Production: Blanche Guichou / AGAT Films & Cie
Coproduction: OPTIS & NHK
With the participation of France 5
With the support of the CNC (Centre National de la Cinématographie) and Procirep/Angoa


*You need Google cardboards or Homido mini to fully live the experience.

The visualization is also compatible with CAVEs, Powerwall, VR headsets, etc.


Photographic credits : 

1 - Google Inc.

2 - NASA

3 - OPTIS 

4 & 5 - AGAT Films & Company