Visualization has become an important part of the scientific
enterprise. From deep-space astrophysics to molecular
biology, scientists are gaining added insight by examining
Nature not only with theoretical and experimental tools, but
also by means of computer-assisted animation and simulation.

Whether in research labs, daily classrooms, or primetime
TV, we rely increasingly on pictures to provide insight and
understanding impossible through written words and talks
alone. Our children, especially, live in a visual society, and
if films like these help visual learners to appreciate science,
then all the better.

These movies capture, in high-resolution, broadcast-quality
video, the origins of galaxies, stars, planets, and life-forms.
Each movie runs for 12 minutes and renders the epic story of
cosmic evolution, from big bang to humankind—in effect the
temporal equivalent of the classic movie, “Powers of Ten.”
Both movies include trade-offs in scale, color, and timing
needed to achieve a reasonable balance among:

  • accuracy of science
  • aesthetics of art
  • pedagogy of learning

Arrow of Time” Arrow of Time” DVD minibook

This movie is a 12-minute, computer-generated,
entirely animated tour of the Universe, from big
bang to humankind. With the Universe taken to
be 12 billion years old and treating time linearly,
1 minute of screen time equals 1 billion years
of cosmic time.

  • radiation reigns in the early cosmos for <1 minute into the movie
  • matter prevails in galaxies, stars and planets for most of the movie
  • life emerges ~9 minutes into the movie, diversifying within the last minute
  • humans appear in the very last second of the movie.

Arrow of Time

Cosmic Origins”

This 12-minute movie mixes computer animation
with archival and original videography, from
cosmic origin to the present time. Treating look-
back time logarithmically, we compress the
early Universe in order to emphasize the later
role of life, humanity, and culture.

  • the early Universe lasts for mere seconds of the movie
  • the solar system forms within the first 2 minutes of the movie
  • life originates ~3 minutes into the movie, diversifying thereafter
  • humans appear throughout the last third of the movie.

Cosmic Origins

Animations for both movies were created in the Science
Visualization Lab of the Wright Center at Tufts University.
Silicon graphics Indigo, Extreme, and Octane workstations
were operated in parallel, each with 32-bit microprocessors
using Alias, Waveform, and Maya modeling software.
Rendering was done on Abekas digital disks, output to
Betacam-SP tape, using NTSC, PAL and Secam formats.

Archival film footage is used with permission from WGBH/
Nova (PBS) and from the British Broadcasting Corp (BBC).

See the Credits page of this web site for further details.

Original film footage of biology/fossil subjects was shot at
the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University
and of anthropological/archeological artifacts at the Peabody
Museum at Yale University.

“The Arrow of Time” was produced in the studios of SkyWorks
Digital in Los Angeles. ©2007 Berry/Chaisson

“Cosmic Origins” was produced by the Palfreman Film group
in Lowell, Massachusetts. ©2001 Foundation for the Future

A note on age of the Universe: Over the past several decades, since big-bang cosmology became the standard model of the Universe, our best estimate of the age of the Universe has fluctuated between 10 and 15 billion years. As new instruments are built, better data acquired, and greater insight gained, that age has been refined nowadays to be within the interval 12-14 billion years and will likely continue changing a little in upcoming years. In both these movies, the age of the Universe is taken for convenience (and for analogy to an analog clock) to be 12 billion years, but the contents of each movie can be expanded or contracted like an accordion to match whatever the true age turns out to be; both movies big picture, sweep of events, and sequence of episodes, will likely remain much as presented here. For example, for the above “Arrow of Time” movie, if the actual age of the Universe equals 13.8 billion years (our current best estimate), then each 1-minute of on-screen duration equals approximately 1.1 billion years of real-time duration.