By Sarah Wood

This week is the 100th anniversary of Titanic’s maiden voyage and her sinking.

While there will be endless documentaries on our television, new books (one even written by one of our own CSIRO staff member and best selling Titanic author Daniel Klistorner) and the release of James Cameron’s ‘Titanic’ in 3D, something about Titanic just captures people.

It had me thinking about one of our most successful CSIRO YouTube videos You’re on the Titanic when it sinks

At one point this video had over 900,000 views before we moved it over to our official CSIRO channel in 2009.  It now has over 486,000 giving it a total of around 1.3 million views, which when you think about it is pretty impressive really.

While the video might seem pretty primitive compared to James Cameron’s Hollywood blockbuster (hey we weren’t working with the same budget) back in 2005 it demonstrated how we’d taken science out of the lab and placed it in the hands of animators.

The software developed by CSIRO to model the water and the martini, uses chaos theory and other mathematical algorithms in a technique called Smoothed Particle Hydrodynamics (SPH). This method models millions of tiny water particles in a fluid – similar to the way 100s and 1000s seem to flow if you poured them out of a jar.

CSIRO scientists were using the SPH technique to model the fluid and particle processes in big industrial machines when they realised that the software they created could help animators realistically represent fluids in movies.

When animators create water and waves for big budget films like Titanic or Pirates of the Caribbean, the process can take months and hours of meticulous tweaking of wire meshes -the structure over which animators tell the water to flow.

But CSIRO’s methods were much faster and extremely accurate enabling animators to easily and economically create special effects such as bubbles, eddies, spray, smoke and even fire!

So CSIRO created a plug-in for MAYA, the software of choice for high-end 3D animators to allow them access to this technology.

To create this Titanic video our fluid modelling scientists worked with production company Complete Post to test out the plug-in. They also had other leading film companies test the software such Animal Logic and Weta Digital in New Zealand who worked on animations for Avatar, Lord of the Rings, Planet of the Apes and TinTin.

While we’ve moved on from Titanic, we’re now modelling other disasters such as tsunamis, dam breaks, floods, mudslides and storm surges and our methods have certainly come a long way!

“In recent years, the huge increase in computer power and speed, along with advances in algorithm development, have allowed mathematical modellers like us to make big strides in our research,” says Mahesh Prakash of CSIRO’s computational modelling team.

Faster and more powerful supercomputers are making it possible to model millions even billions of particles making our videos look far more cinematic! We also have a full time graphics artist on staff that makes our fluid modelling videos look amazing and we’ve even gone 3D to display our videos in all their glory!

If you’ll be in Sydney for the CeBIT IT trade fair from 22-24 May come see our latest videos in 3D on the CSIRO stand.

Check out some of our more recent videos here:

Modelling Dam breaks and Tsunamis and other geophysical events