Astronauts as Filmmakers
The space shuttle could not accommodate a traditional film crew, so, in addition to their day jobs, the STS-125 astronauts did some moonlighting as camera operators.
To prepare, Myers and “Hubble 3D” director of photography James Neihouse put the astronauts through an eight-month course of basic cinematography, with the help of Dave Williams, of NASA contractor United Space Alliance.
Neihouse began working on IMAX space-themed films with 1982’s “Hail Columbia!” and estimates he has trained nearly 130 astronauts for 20 different shuttle flights over the past 7 20 years.
“Part of my job was showing them how to use an IMAX camera in spacehow to shoot, how to frame, how to take exposures, the whole nine yards,” he says.
There is no room for error with the IMAX 3D cargo bay camera, specially designed for space flight, because it holds only eight minutes of film. That might not seem like much, but in IMAX terms, he explains, “Eight minutes runs 5,000 feet, nearly a mile, and weighs 54 pounds. That’s the largest roll of film in the world and we’re really limited to the size and weight of what we can send into space.”
IMAX and NASA worked together on preparing and certifying the IMAX 3D camera for the journey. Packed into the cargo bay with a crane, its 700-pound bulk became part of the ship’s ballast. “The camera fits into its own pressurized container because it requires its own vacuum to pull the film onto the plate for an exposure,” says Myers. From there, it was controlled remotely from inside the shuttle’s flight deck by Gregory Johnson, elected as its primary operator. He decided when to shoot and with which of three lenses: a 30 millimeter very wide fish-eye, a 40mm or the close-up 60mm.
As the astronauts practiced for their EVAs, Myers and Neihouse monitored their training at the Johnson Space Center and also placed a replica of the camera into the pool, to help determine what activities it would see that would make good shots for the film. Since the Hubble repairs would be done in the area facing Atlantis’ payload bay, IMAX would have a front-row seat for the actionbut only if it was positioned correctly. Says Neihouse, “Eighteen months ahead of the flight we had to pick our spot for the camera, decide where it was going to be panned and how much it would be tilted.”
Complementing the main IMAX 3D camera, numerous high-definition digital cameras were positioned at spots inside and outside the shuttle to document the entire mission. Some were mounted on the spacewalking astronauts’ helmets, with images transmitted by radio frequency to the shuttle, recorded on board and forwarded to the ground. Handheld video cameras were used to conduct interviews and catch the personal interaction inside the flight deck. Any footage impossible to shoot with the IMAX camera was later converted into the format utilizing proprietary IMAX DMR (digital re-mastering) technology and then converted into 3D through IMAX’s live action 2D-to-3D technology.
Says astronaut Good, “There were cameras just hanging out by the windows and you could grab one and either take a picture of what was going on inside or look out the window and take a shot of the Earth going by, which was spectacular.”
To offer moviegoers the power of a launch up close, a remote-control IMAX 3D camera was also secured on the launch pad in a blast box drilled into the cement and covered with sand bags, 57 meters from the base of the solid rocket boosters. Says Myers, “That’s an in-your-face launch!” Director of photography Neihouse also staked out another key spot “high on the service structure, looking down at the shuttle’s nose,” she adds, and at the VIP sites and towers further away, for the long view. Capturing the audio of those thrilling seconds were what she laughingly calls “sacrificial microphones. They get fried, but you can extract the sound that leads up to the point of ignition just before they fry. Other microphones get that popcorn sound you hear when the shuttle is going up through maximum dynamic pressure. The sound possibilities are wonderful. It’s really fun to mix a good launch.”
Working with the astronauts, Myers developed “a kind of shopping list of scenes we would like to get, to budget those crucial eight minutes with extreme care. We tried to find key moments of the spacewalks. We spent a lot of time at the pool where they did their rehearsal runs underwater and isolated approximately 40 opportunities for shots.
Then we whittled those down to 15 or 16. It’s very difficult to judge when to press that button even if it only runs maybe 20 or 25 seconds at a time. You could press it and the spacewalker could decide, ‘Well, I’m not quite ready to do that thing,’ and you would have expended 10 seconds just finding out. So there was a lot of pressure on our astronaut photographer.”
Myers did not have a script, per se, but followed the daily schedule and reviewed the shot list with Pilot Johnson while at Mission Control during the 13-day mission. As certain shots were accomplished, some fell off the list and were replaced by other opportunities. She critiqued the footage immediately and returned comments by e-mail for the next round, sometimes a course-correction or direction on what to shoot next and a new priority list. Either she or Neihouse remained at Mission Control throughout the flight or were on call 24 hours a day.
Their biggest challenge was the rapidly changing light. At orbiting speed, Atlantis circled the Earth every 90 minutes, entering either a sunrise or sunset every 45 minutes. With 9 an EVA in progress and heading toward a crucial cinematic opportunity, Johnson would be poised to shoot, while, on the ground, Myers would be holding her breath; both of them counting the minutes before one of those sunsets or sunrises altered their light. The mission always took priority. The astronauts never staged or delayed anything to accommodate filming, which, Johnson concedes, was their second-biggest challenge.
“We had no control over the subjects. They weren’t acting; they were doing their work. We had to take what the filmmakers felt was their concept for what the scene should be, and what they wanted us to shoot, and just try to capture that as it happened.”
Myers has nothing but praise for Johnson and his fellow crew members, acknowledging that it was truly a group effort, for “all the people on the flight deck and outside coordinating to make a shot happen. We were very fortunate, and are grateful to all of them.” For the astronauts, their creative efforts helped to accomplish what they all wanted to share what they had seen from the vantage point of space with the rest of us.
“So many people dedicate their lives to making missions like this a success but only a few of us get to go up there and see Hubble with the night sky behind it and look back at Earth. It’s an amazing sight,” says Altman. Massimino adds, “No words can describe the beauty of what you’re seeing. If you were in heaven and could look down on our Earth, this is what the view would be. It’s like looking at paradise. It’s perfection.”
T Minus 10…9…8…7…
Having revealed some of the planning, effort and risk that goes into servicing the Hubble Space Telescope, “Hubble 3D” also offers a look at what makes it all worthwhile, in stunning 3D fly-throughs based on information the telescope has given us. Reaching toward the furthest points of the known universe, it allows audiences to embark on the virtual joyride of a lifetime. First stop: star clusters of the Orion Nebula.
“Hubble 3D” passes by bright star Sirius, nearest to the Earth at 50 trillion miles, and then beyond Orion’s Belt to enter a field of gaseous clouds and dust that shroud a nursery of dynamically emerging stars. Each star is a potential developing solar system, now struggling 10 to survive the million-mile-per-hour blasts of wind fueled by their combined energy.
Meanwhile, in another part of the nebula, a more advanced system is forming planets, in much the same way that our own solar system must have once begun. Myers notes, “It’s fortunate that stellar winds have blown a hole in those clouds, providing Hubble an excellent opportunity to record the goings-on inside. That’s how we were able to gather data on the birth of solar systems and the evolution of planets around them.”
Changing directions takes the journey through our own galaxy, the Milky Way, en route to neighboring Andromeda, two and a half million light years out, and beyond that the bustling hub of the Virgo Cluster, home to two thousand galaxies. Within Virgo, a galaxy ten times the size of the Milky Way harbors a massive black hole casting off a magnitude of highenergy radiation. The imaging team at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, led by astrophysicist Dr. Frank Summers, was instrumental in producing these threedimensional space flight simulations, along with providing scientific guidance and input into the 3D process. By combining Hubble’s raw data of the same object taken with different telescopic instruments, they were able to layer the images and give them depth and texture in a way that enables a realistic fly-through effect.
They integrated information about composition, ionization, temperatures, color, volatility and other specifics compiled through the years by teams of scientists, to provide a detailed and fluid model of wide portions of the cosmos. Summers and the production team also used the state-of-the-art computing facilities at the Advanced Visualization Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne, led by Dr. Donna Cox. This lab, a frequent contributor to film and television projects, is part of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) and helped to put Hubble’s images into motion for the film.
The teamwork required to prepare these images for the screen is part of the larger community of people Toni Myers calls “the Hubble family,” which includes herself and the IMAX filmmaking team. “Since well before its first launch, there were thousands of people involved in getting Hubble into the sky and keeping it there,” she says. “There are scientists, engineers, teachers and students who interpret its data and use its resources to do their jobs, and then share that with others. So many people around the world have either worked on Hubble in some way or rely upon it every day.” The STS-125 Mission is particularly significant in that it marks NASA’s last scheduled tune-up for the great telescope.
After more than 20 years of service, Hubble will be retiring sometime in the next several yearsin fact, one of the items Atlantis installed in May 2009 was a connector by which a robotic module will eventually guide it through de-orbit. In 2014, NASA is scheduled to launch Hubble’s successor, the James Webb Telescope, designed to examine the earliest portions of the universe by focusing on objects so old their light has shifted into the infrared range. The Webb Telescope will add to the vast stores of knowledge that Hubble has already gathered.
“The more we learn, the farther we reach with our minds and technology. With that comes a greater appreciation for the uniqueness of our own home. There is still so much for us to discover,” says DiCaprio. “The story of the Hubble Telescope is the story of human curiosity,” Myers reflects. “There is no way to cover everything it has achieved in a single film, but my hope is that ‘Hubble 3D’ will both entertain and inspire. I’d love for audiences to leave the IMAX theatre wanting to know more.”
ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS
TONI MYERS (Director / Producer) most recently served as a producer, editor and co-writer for director Howard Hall’s 2009 underwater IMAX® 3D adventure “Under the Sea 3D,” narrated by Jim Carrey. Prior to this, she teamed with Hall in the same capacity on the highly successful “Deep Sea 3D,” which won Best Large Format Film awards at the 14 prestigious WildScreen and Jackson Hole Natural History film festivals, and has grossed over $85 million. After attending the Ontario College of Art, Myers began her career as an assistant editor in Toronto, working on commercials, episodes of the CBC series “Telescope” and the groundbreaking feature “Nobody Waved Goodbye.”
This led to work on the successful and controversial CBC public affairs program “This Hour Has Seven Days,” and the dramatic series “Forest Rangers” and “Seaway.” In 1965, after moving to New York, Myers met Graeme Ferguson, later to become coinventor and co-founder of IMAX. Their early work together on Ferguson’s dramatic multiimage film “Polar Life” was a huge success at Montreal’s EXPO ’67 and proved the beginning of a partnership which continues today and includes more than 15 films.
Following the Expo, Myers moved to England to work on such projects as Allan King’s “Who Is” series about artists; BBC’s “Horizon”; music projects for the Beatles’ company, Apple; and individual features and videos for John Lennon and Yoko Ono. She also collaborated on a documentary feature commissioned by the band Santana. While in England, Myers was invited to return to Canada to edit Graeme Ferguson’s pioneering all-IMAX film, “North of Superior” to show at Ontario Place. It became an instant classic and still runs as a signature film.
Myers went on to edit films for the CBC’s experimental dramatic series “For the Record,” for directors Gilles Carle, Claude Jutra, and Francis Mankiewicz, and won the CBC’s Wilderness Award for her work on Jutra’s “Ada.” She also edited Gail Singer’s award-winning documentary for the National Film Board’s Studio D, “Stories from the North and South.” Myers’ long association with large format films includes multiple IMAX productions, including “Ocean,” “Snow Job,” “Hail Columbia!” and “Heart Land.” She was associate producer and supervising editor on “Rolling Stones: At the Max.”
A key member of the IMAX Space team, founded by Ferguson, Myers also wrote and edited the multiple award-winning space films “The Dream is Alive,” “Destiny in Space” and “Blue Planet,” which she also narrated. These were followed by “L-5: First City in Space” and “Mission to Mir,” which she also co-produced. Myers directed, produced and wrote the 2002 IMAX space film “Space Station 3D,” which has grossed over $100 million since its release, winning the Large Format Film Industry’s Best Film Award. 15 During their extensive history-making IMAX space films, Ferguson and Myers have trained over 120 astronauts and cosmonauts. In 2009, the astronauts of the STS-125 crew presented Myers with the Silver Snoopy Award in recognition of her excellence and achievements in bringing the space experience to IMAX audiences around the world.
JAMES NEIHOUSE (Director of Photography / Astronaut Crew Trainer), born and raised in Paris, Arkansas, is a graduate of the Brooks Institute of Photography. His career focus began moving toward large format motion picture production within months of graduation when he got the opportunity to work with IMAX® founder and coinventor Graeme Ferguson on the IMAX Dome® production “Ocean,” filming underwater off the coast of Southern California. Since then, Neihouse has continued to work with Ferguson on numerous IMAX projects, including all of the IMAX space films.
In 1980, less than four years after earning his degree, Neihouse was the first to fly into the newly created crater of Mount St. Helens as director of photography on “The Eruption of Mt. St. Helens,” the first IMAX film nominated for an Academy Award. ® Neihouse has worked on more than 35 large format films, including “Hail Columbia,” “The Dream Is Alive,” “Blue Planet,” “Destiny In Space,” “Mission To Mir,” “Space Station 3D,” “Pulse, A Stomp Odyssey,” “Rolling Stones: At The Max,” “NASCAR 3D, The IMAX Experience,” “Jane Goodall’s Wild Chimpanzees,” “India, Kingdom of the Tiger,” “Roving Mars,” “Michael Jordan to The Max,” “Bears,” “Race The Wind,” “The Great Barrier Reef,” “On The Wing,” “Alamo, The Price of Freedom,” “Skyward,” “Arkansas: Center of Attraction,” “Darwin on the Galapagos” and “Mexico.” He has also worked on many commercials, features and documentaries in other formats.
Neihouse’s work has taken him from the Artic Circle to the jungles of India, from South Pacific coral reefs to Sub-Saharan Africa and from the decks of The America’s Cup yachts to the cockpit of the Space Shuttle. In his work with NASA, he has trained more than 20 shuttle crews on the intricacies of IMAX filmmaking. Neihouse served as director of photography on “Ocean Oasis” for Summerhays Films.
Released in 2000, this natural history film about the Baja Peninsula and the Sea of Cortés won the Best Feature Film award at the 2001 Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival and a Panda Award, also known as the “Green Oscars,” in 2002, from the WildScreen Film Festival in 16 Bristol, England. Other recognition for his work includes the Silver Snoopy Award, given in April 2001 by the Expedition 1 crew of the International Space Station, for excellence in his field. He also received a NASA Group Excellency Award for his work during the preliminary construction missions of the International Space Station.
Additionally, Neihouse received the Giant Screen Cinema Association Award for Best Cinematography as co-director, director of photography and astronaut training manager for the 2002 IMAX® 3D film “Space Station 3D,” which was also voted Best Film by the association and named Best of Festival at the 2002 Large Format Cinema Association Festival.
GRAEME FERGUSON (Executive Producer), co-founder and past president of IMAX Corporation, has been an active filmmaker since the early 1950s. In 1967, his multiscreen film “Polar Life” was one of the hits of EXPO 67 in Montreal.
Building on that success, Ferguson and his partners invented the IMAX system, which, as of December 2009, has expanded to 430 IMAX theaters operating in more than 48 countries. Ferguson has also been one of the corporation’s principal filmmakers. He pioneered the IMAX space films, which include “Hail Columbia!,” “The Dream is Alive,” “Blue Planet” and “Destiny in Space.”
He was co-producer on “L5: First City in Space” and “Mission to MIR,” and consulting producer on “Space Station 3D.” These space films have been seen by nearly 100 million IMAX moviegoers, and led to Ferguson’s receiving the Silver Snoopy Award from the astronauts. Ferguson’s other IMAX films include “North of Superior,” “Man Belongs to the Earth,” “Snow Job,” “Ocean” and “Journey to the Planets.” He was a producer or executive producer on the IMAX 3D films “Into the Deep,” “Deep Sea” and “Under the Sea.” “North of Superior” won a Genie Award; “The Dream is Alive” and “Blue Planet” won La Geode and Maximum Image awards; and “Into the Deep” won a Maximum Image Award.
Ferguson was invested into the Order of Canada, and has received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Bradford and a Doctorate of Sacred Letters from Victoria University at the University of Toronto. His other honors include The Royal Canadian Academy of Arts Medal, The Canadian Government Environmental Achievement Award (for “Blue Planet”) and a Special Achievement Award from the Academy of Canadian Cinema 17 and Television. Ferguson has also received the IMAX Founders’ Award and been named an honorary lifetime member of the Canadian Society of Cinematographers.
JUDY CARROLL (Associate Producer) joins filmmakers Toni Myers and Graeme Ferguson on their fifth collaboration, “Hubble 3D.” Prior to this, Carroll collaborated with Ferguson and Myers on several other successful IMAX® space films, including “L5: First City in Space,” “Mission to Mir,” “Destiny in Space” and “Blue Planet.” Carroll also served as associate producer on the extremely successful 2002 IMAX®3D film, “Space Station 3D,” which was voted Best Film by the Giant Screen Cinema Association and named Best of Festival at the 2002 Large Format Cinema Association Festival. In addition to her work in IMAX space films, Carroll also has a rich history in IMAX underwater films.
In 1994, she worked with director and acclaimed wildlife documentarian Howard Hall and producer Graeme Ferguson on the very first IMAX 3D underwater film, “Into the Deep,” and served as associate producer on the award-winning 2006 “Deep Sea 3D,” narrated by Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet. Most recently, in 2009, Carroll served as line producer alongside Myers, Ferguson and Howard and Michele Hall on the IMAX 3D underwater adventure “Under the Sea 3D,” narrated by Jim Carrey. In addition to traditional documentaries, Carroll has also worked with IMAX producers Hugh Murray and Lorne Orleans on many of the IMAX DMR® films, including the first two Hollywood films to incorporate images converted from 2D to IMAX 3D: “Superman Returns” and “Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix.”
MICKY ERBE and MARIBETH SOLOMON (Composers), an award-winning team based in Toronto, have collaborated with a base of Toronto musicians for many years on international projects, and possess a great love for the world of music. They have worked on diverse projects including films, IMAX® features, telefilms, series, commissions and various CD/songwriting projects.
Erbe and Solomon are uniquely acquainted with the IMAX medium and its wonderful opportunities for a musical palette having scored many IMAX films prior to “Hubble 3D, including “North of Superior,” “Nomads of the Deep,” “Ocean,” “Hail, Columbia,” “The Dream is Alive,” “Blue Planet,” “Into the Deep,” “Destiny in Space,” “L5: First City in 18 Space,” “Mission to Mir” and “Space Station 3D.” Most recently, Erbe and Solomon scored the 2009 IMAX® 3D underwater adventure “Under the Sea 3D.” Erbe and Solomon were nominated for an Emmy Award for their music in “Earth: Final Conflict,” a Gene Roddenberry science fiction adventure series for which they received five Gemini Awards.
They have also received numerous awards for their work on a wide range of documentaries, features, mini-series and television movies, including “Women of Windsor,” “Friends at Last,” “The Shari Karney Story,” “John Woo’s Blackjack,” “To Save the Children” and “Milk and Honey.” Additionally, Erbe and Solomon have written songs and scores for animated projects such as “Babar” and “Care Bears.” Their work on television series scores include “Adderly,” “Nothing Too Good for a Cowboy,” “Streetlegal,” “Side Effects” and “Legendary Sin Cities.”
Their documentary feature scores include “Behind the Veil” and “The Struggle for Democracy” Series. They have written for artists such as Anne Murray, Natalie Cole and The Nylons, and Robby Coltrane sings their song in the new family feature “Gooby.” Their work with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, with their unique pop/symphonic project Sonic Bloom, has created orchestral arrangements for pop artists as varied as Esthero, Bare Naked Ladies, Ron Sexsmith and Jacksoul. Erbe has also created and produced seven albums for the Spitfire Band, and the pair has also written for diverse groups such as Canadian Brass and Bowfire. Erbe and Solomon are also creating an opera using Canadian music and world influences.
ABOUT THE ASTRONAUTS
COMMANDER SCOTT D. ALTMAN is a native of Illinois. A retired captain in the United States Navy, he has a BS in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering from the University of Illinois and an MS in Aeronautical Engineering from the Naval Postgraduate School. The former test pilot has logged over 5,000 flight hours in more than 40 types of aircraft. In 1995, Altman was selected as an astronaut candidate by NASA. His spaceflight experience includes serving as pilot on STS-90 in 1998 and STS-106 in 2000; and as Mission 19 Commander on STS-109 in 2002, the fourth Hubble Telescope servicing mission, and STS- 125. To date, Altman has logged more than 51 days in space.
PILOT GREGORY C. JOHNSON, of Washington, is a retired captain in the United States Navy and holds a BS in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Washington. A former test pilot, Johnson has logged more than 9,500 flying hours in 50 aircraft and performed over 500 carrier landings. In April 1990, Johnson was accepted as an aerospace engineer and research pilot for the NASA Johnson Space Center Aircraft Operations Division, Ellington Field, Texas. In 1998, he was selected as an astronaut candidate. After serving in various technical assignments within the astronaut office, he was selected for his first spaceflight as pilot on STS-125, and has logged almost 13 days in space.
MISSION SPECIALIST DR. JOHN M. GRUNSFELD, of Chicago, is a veteran of five space flights and has logged over 58 days in space, including 57 hours and 90 minutes in eight spacewalks. Grunsfeld has worked on several technical assignments within NASA since being selected as an astronaut candidate in 1992. During the George W. Bush Administration, he served as Chief Scientist detailed to NASA Headquarters, where he helped develop the President’s Vision for Space Exploration. Grunsfeld earned a BS in Physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and both an MS and a Doctorate in Physics from the University of Chicago.
MISSION SPECIALIST DR. MICHAEL J. MASSIMINO was selected as an astronaut candidate by NASA in May 1996. Massimino is a veteran of two spaceflights, STS- 109 in 2002 and STS-125. He has logged a total 571 hours and 47 minutes in space, including more than 30 hours in four spacewalks. Massimino received a BS in Industrial Engineering from Columbia University, an MS in Mechanical Engineering, an MS in Technology and Policy, a Degree of Mechanical Engineer and a Doctorate in Mechanical Engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
MISSION SPECIALIST DR. K. MEGAN McARTHUR, a Californian, received a BS in Aerospace Engineering from the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1993, and a Doctorate in Oceanography from the University of California, San Diego, in 2002. At Scripps Institution of Oceanography, McArthur served as Chief Scientist during at-sea data collection operations, and has planned and led diving operations during sea-floor instrument deployments and sediment-sample collections. In July 2000, McArthur was selected as a Mission Specialist by NASA, and assigned to various technical assignments within the astronaut office before being assigned to her first spaceflight, STS-125. With the completion of that mission, she has logged almost 13 days in space.
MISSION SPECIALIST DR. ANDREW J. FEUSTEL is a native of Michigan. He earned an AS from Oakland Community College; a BS in Solid and Earth Sciences and an MS in Geophysics from Purdue University; and a Doctorate in Geological Sciences, specializing in seismology, from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. In July 2000, Feustel was selected as a Mission Specialist by NASA. He was assigned various technical duties within the astronaut office before his first spaceflight, STS-125. During that mission, Feustel logged almost 13 days in space, including nearly 21 hours devoted to three spacewalks. MISSION
SPECIALIST MICHAEL T. GOOD is an Ohio native. A colonel in the United States Air Force, he received his BS and MS in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Notre Dame. He has logged over 2,650 hours in more than 30 different aircraft. Good entered the Astronaut Candidate program in 2000, and took part in his first spaceflight, serving as Mission Specialist 1, on STS-125. Upon completion of this mission, he logged almost 13 days in space, including 16 hours in two spacewalks.
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