Cornell grad Dan Maas creates Deep Impact animations for NASA

Press Release From: Cornell University
Posted: Thursday, June 23, 2005

Dan Maas '02 created HDTV animation to show a conceptualized view of Deep Impact's upcoming July 4 collision with comet Tempel 1.

By Lauren Gold

ITHACA, N.Y. -- No one really knows what will happen when a probe from NASA's Deep Impact spacecraft collides with the comet Tempel 1 in the early morning hours of July 4. But if anyone can picture the spacecraft's journey from its Cape Canaveral launch in January to its possibly brilliant demise, it is Cornell University alumnus Dan Maas '02.

Thanks to meticulous research and hours of conversations with mission engineers and scientists, Maas can envision every detail -- from the precise structure of the spacecraft to the celestial bodies its cameras will capture along the way.

Maas' creativity and skill have resulted in two Deep Impact animations for NASA and its Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The animations -- one short and one long -- are available at

Maas, founder of Maas Digital in Ithaca, was hired to create the computerized animations on the strength of the widely heralded videos he developed for NASA's Mars rover missions. But Deep Impact came with a new set of challenges, he said.

"Aside from the launch it was quite different," Maas said. "On Mars, you're dealing with a terrestrial landscape setting. Deep Impact spends 99 percent of its life just floating out there in interplanetary space. It's hard to give a good sense of motion because the distances are so great."

He solved the problem by shifting camera angles and speeding up the timeline. But aside from the quicker pace, the animation is true to the mission.

Maas, who entered Cornell at 16, has been making films and animations since elementary school. At Cornell he was a College Scholar, which allowed him to set his own curriculum, and he took courses mainly in math, physics and theater arts. He launched Digital Cinema -- the precursor to Maas Digital -- at 16 and interned with an animation studio in Los Angeles at 17. But his animation techniques are mostly self-taught. About half of Maas' work is now for NASA. The other half is for aerospace companies.

As far as what actually will happen in the moments after Deep Impact's probe barrels into Tempel 1 on July Fourth ... chances are, Maas will be watching the NASA images at the Space Sciences Building with the same sense of anticipation as the mission planners.

"I'm a space nut. I have been since I was very young," he said. "I will try my best to be there."

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