Speaking of Hubble...

Hubble in Hollywood

August 2, 2012 by Frank Summers
"Hubble 3D" Director Toni Myers (left) and Dr. Frank Summers at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. CREDIT: AMPAS

"Hubble 3D" director Toni Myers (left) and Dr. Frank Summers at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS). CREDIT: AMPAS

On July 10, 2012, I got to say those famous words of Oscar recipients: “I would like to thank the Academy …” Of course, my thanks were not for an award, but rather for being invited to participate in a panel discussion at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Hollywood. In the theater where they announce the nominees for the Academy awards, and flanked by giant golden statuettes, we held a public presentation on NASA and the movies called “Capturing the Final Frontier.”

A series of four panels discussed the NASA involvement in two documentary films and two feature films. I discussed our work on the IMAX film “Hubble 3D” along with the director Toni Myers. The other movies showcased were “Roving Mars,” “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” and “Mission to Mars.” Panelists included producers, directors, visual effects artists, and NASA officials. I was the sole astrophysicist, and I think the Academy folks were pleasantly surprised that I could speak with passion and some eloquence about an artistic topic.

We spoke in front of a sold-out, enthusiastic crowd, and the evening went extremely well. The audience was treated to some great clips of astronomical and space sequences as well as behind-the-scenes looks into how they were made. Many panelists emphasized that the use of real data from NASA missions is crucial to lend authenticity, even if the story is pure fiction.

That point underscored for me the great value of the public domain. NASA missions are paid for with public dollars, and the fruits of those missions are available to all. Here at HubbleSite, you will find every pixel of the highest resolution available for our press release images. The Hubble archive is publicly accessible, as are those of other NASA space telescopes, space missions, and manned spaceflight. Action films don’t need to accurately re-create a site on the Moon, but with the copious Apollo images, they can and do.

Looking back, I suppose I should have been more nervous in front of that prestigious crowd. But I so much enjoy discussing our scientific visualization work, I didn’t really think about the august setting. Actually, the most unusual part of the event occurred right at the beginning. Upon arrival, I and the other participants were ushered in front of an Academy-logo adorned backdrop while several paparazzi-like cameras flashed for a minute or two. The next day, I found photos of myself on one of those gossip- and glamour-type web sites. That experience was definitely more than a bit surreal for an astrophysicist.