In the movie 'Interstellar' they have used pretty good real time animations with large details. I guess they may have used global illumination rendering.

There are basic software packages to make animations like Cinema4D (used in 2012), Autodesk 3ds Max, Maya and others. And renderers like V-ray or Maxwell (probably, I'm not sure used in Gravity) So my question is: which are the software packages that used in Interstellar for modelling, animating and rendering purposes?

  • Or possibly it’s unclear what you’re asking. Which special effects are you talking about? There’s an interesting article on Insterstellar’s black hole effects in Wired. As a physicist, you’ve probably read it, and it doesn’t specifically discuss the software (although it kind of suggests they wrote their own?). Commented Apr 8, 2015 at 11:06
  • @Paul D. Waite There are basic softwares to make animations like, Cinema4D (used in 2012), Autodesk 3ds Max, Maya etc. And renderer like, V-ray, Maxwell (probably, I'm not sure used in Gravity) So my question is that which are the softwares that used in Interstellar. Should I edit the question with that informations? And I didn't read that article yet.
    – VacuuM
    Commented Apr 8, 2015 at 11:16
  • telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/film-news/11274246/…
    – Valorum
    Commented Apr 8, 2015 at 11:34
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    @VikramadityaMondal: right, but I wasn’t asking about softwares. I was asking which special effects in the movie you’re talking about. The black hole? The spaceships? The floating ice thingies on Matt Damon’s planet? It may well be clear to someone familiar with special effects and animation software what you’re taking about already. Commented Apr 8, 2015 at 11:40
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    A potential difficulty with this question (and ones like it) is that these days, the effects for movies are not usually done by a single fx house. They're farmed out to multiple, and the final work is compiled at the end. Each contracted company can use whatever they like, so there may not be a true single answer.
    – phantom42
    Commented Apr 8, 2015 at 11:42

3 Answers 3


If you're asking about the black hole and wormhole scenes, Kip Thorne and the others who worked on the renderings published a pair of papers on how they did it:

Gravitational Lensing by Spinning Black Holes in Astrophysics, and in the Movie Interstellar

Visualizing Interstellar's Wormhole

As mentioned in the first paper, they designed their own software called DNGR (Double Negative Gravitational Renderer):

For this, our team at Double Negative Visual Effects, in collaboration with physicist Kip Thorne, developed a code called DNGR (Double Negative Gravitational Renderer) to solve the equations for ray-bundle (light-beam) propagation through the curved spacetime of a spinning (Kerr) black hole, and to render IMAX-quality, rapidly changing images. Our ray-bundle techniques were crucial for achieving IMAX-quality smoothness without flickering; and they differ from physicists’ image-generation techniques (which generally rely on individual light rays rather than ray bundles), and also differ from techniques previously used in the film industry’s CGI community.

And on p. 3-4 they write:

A primary goal of today’s state-of-the-art, astrophysical ray-tracing codes (e.g., the Chan, Psaltis and O ̈zel’s massively parallel, GPU-based code GRay [28]) is very fast throughput, measured, e.g., in integration steps per second; the spatial smoothness of images has been only a secondary concern. For our Interstellar work, by contrast, a primary goal is smoothness of the images, so flickering is minimised when objects move rapidly across an IMAX screen; fast throughput has been only a secondary concern. With these different primary goals, in our own code, called DNGR, we have been driven to employ a different set of visualization techniques from those of the astrophysics community—techniques based on propagation of ray bundles (light beams) instead of discrete light rays, and on carefully designed spatial filtering to smooth the overlaps of neighbouring beams; see Section 2 and Appendix A.

So, you can read the rest of the paper, especially Section 2 and Appendix A, for a lot more detail on how the software worked.

If you're asking about CG in other parts of the movie, Christopher Nolan tried to use physical models rather than CG as much as possible, he even claims "we made the decision early on not to do any green screens on the film" in this video. The ships were mostly done with physical models as discussed here (though 'digital models' are also mentioned, for example in the depressurization scene with debris), and this article says the robots were physical models in most scenes, only CG when shown running. Phantom42's answer has some info on what packages they used when they did have to use CG in scenes other than the black hole and wormhole.


Double Negative was the primary effects house used for Interstellar.

As Richard notes, Double Negative's currently available job listings seems to indicate a fair usage of Maya as their main software package. This, alone, does not necessarily mean that they used Maya during production of Interstellar.

However, this writeup about the films nominated for the best visual effects Oscar this past year states that all of the nominees had something in common: They were all done with Autodesk Maya.

Indeed, the visual effects and animation teams on all 10 films considered for this year’s Oscar nomination, and all five that received nominations this morning, used Maya, a powerful, customizable tool that enables deeply complex processes like character animation to look seamless and realistic on the silver screen.

Maya would have likely been used for the bulk of the modeling, rigging and animation. As this Wired article mentions, a new proprietary renderer was created for the film. Based on the job listings, Nuke was likely used for compositing the effects and live footage.

  • The writeup says all the movies "used Maya", but that doesn't mean all the CG effects sequences in Interstellar used Maya, just some. If Vikramaditya Mondal intended to ask about the sequences involving the black hole and wormhole which show the realistic effects of curved spacetime, I think the papers I posted suggested these were done entirely with the DNGR software they designed.
    – Hypnosifl
    Commented Apr 8, 2015 at 12:27
  • Based on everything in the articles I've read, DNGR is a RENDERER, not a full animation package.
    – phantom42
    Commented Apr 8, 2015 at 12:28
  • What do you mean by "animation" in this context? That normally refers to animating some 3D models of objects, but there were no objects to animate in these scenes AFAIK, both a wormhole and a black hole are empty curved spacetimes, and all we saw was the effect these curved spacetimes had on the light from the background stars/nebulae (which were just 2D images) and the accretion disk (which section 4.1 of the first paper I posted, along with appendix A.6, seems to indicate was generated within DNGR).
    – Hypnosifl
    Commented Apr 8, 2015 at 12:32
  • Visual Effects goes far beyond just astronomical phenomena. Things like dust blowing, the tesseract, parts of ships/robots (yes, even when a physical model/prop is used), and small details are often done in animation software.
    – phantom42
    Commented Apr 8, 2015 at 12:46

This article states that the software used to render that the wormhole and black hole were designed in house by the lead VFX company;

"And then we – the team at Double Negative – turned that into a new piece of software. We wrote a thing called the Double Negative General Relativity Renderer. A renderer is a piece of software which takes all the mathematics from the computer and turns them into pictures on a screen."

And a 30 second look at their recruitment page would suggest that their primary focus is on Maya.

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    A renderer is only part of the process, and does not fully answer the question.
    – phantom42
    Commented Apr 8, 2015 at 11:43
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    @phantom42 - Partial answers need love too.
    – Valorum
    Commented Apr 8, 2015 at 11:46
  • @phantom42 - Can you clarify what you mean by "only part of the process?" What would be the other part? Are you talking about the phrase "takes all the mathematics from the computer"? I think the article's author was speaking loosely, as far as I can tell from the papers their DNGR software did both the mathematical calculations of light bundle paths in curved spacetime, and the next step of turning that into an image made of pixels.
    – Hypnosifl
    Commented Apr 8, 2015 at 11:56
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    RENDERERS are not used to create models, place lights, place effects, or shaders, or do main animations. I don't know how much clearer I can be.
    – phantom42
    Commented Apr 8, 2015 at 12:43
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    As much as I understand, renderer is also important to get details. The same modelling redered in different renderers may give radically different details.And I have asked for the softs used in both modelling and rendering.
    – VacuuM
    Commented Apr 8, 2015 at 13:02

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