In Saturn's Rings is a large format movie about Saturn made exclusively from real photographs taken by spacecraft. Director Stephen van Vuuren used more than a million photographs and numerous film techniques to create the effect of flying through space around Saturn and among its rings. CGI and 3-D modeling were not used in any capacity to create the realistic feel van Vuuren wanted for the viewer's experience. Most of the photos were taken by the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft, which was launched in 1997 and arrived at Saturn in 2004.
The film is expected to be completed by the end of 2013 and released in early 2014. A 45-minute version and 20-minute version will each be released in four formats:
- Native unmodified fulldome with true fulldome camera field-of-view.
- Dome-optimized master for digital and 15/70.
- Flat-screen, 1.33-ratio, 4K giant screen version digital and 15/70.
- Digital cinema 4K/2K in flat aspect ratio.
Sparked by Cassini's arrival at Saturn in 2004 and the media's lack of coverage, van Vuuren produced two art films about space exploration. Photos from space missions — including images of Saturn taken by Cassini — were included. But van Vuuren was not satisfied with the results so he did not release them.
While listening to the Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber one day in 2006, van Vuuren conceived the idea of creating moving images of Saturn using a pan and scan 3-D effect he had seen in a 2002 documentary called The Kid Stays in the Picture. The technique involves creating a 3-D perspective using still photographs. (The Adagio for Strings would later become part of the soundtrack for In Saturn's Rings.)
Van Vuuren wanted viewers to feel as if they were flying through space. His biggest challenge was how to do this without having to rely on traditional computer-generated images. Although The Kid in the Picture effect had opened the door to inventive ways of manipulating photographs, van Vuuren did not find it robust enough to tackle Saturn's rings. He experimented with dozens of other techniques both old and new, including the "Bullet Time" effect (e.g. as seen in The Matrix films), which employs multiple still cameras to create variable speeds of motion.