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The Academy Blasts Off with NASA Animation Event

Groundbreaking science and cinematic ingenuity combined for spectacular results in the Samuel Goldwyn Theater on Tuesday night, July 10, 2012, for "Capturing the Final Frontier: NASA Animation and the Movies." Host Frank Marshall brought both filmmakers and science experts to the stage, and with the help of meticulously constructed visualization sequences and feature film clips, took the sold-out crowd on a dazzling virtual voyage through time and space.

Bill Kroyer, co-chair of the Academy's Science and Technology Council and Academy governor representing the Short Films and Feature Animation Branch, welcomed the audience and introduced Marshall, a five-time Oscar-nominated producer whose credits include such films as "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "The Sixth Sense" and "The Bourne Legacy." First up was Eric De Jong, a planetary scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory whose presentation of other worlds in our solar system included a breathtaking depiction of the size and force of our sun.

The Marshall-produced IMAX film "Roving Mars" from 2006 provided one of the documentary highlights, as did "Hubble 3D" from 2010. Two other members of the "Roving Mars" team joined Marshall onstage: self-described lifelong "space and movie" fan Dan Maas, the film's art and technical lead, and consultant Dave Lavery, NASA's program executive for solar system exploration. They explained how scientific data provides both inspiration and verisimilitude in their computer animations. The "Hubble 3D" representatives included the film's writer-director-producer Toni Myers, and co-writer and Space Telescope Science Institute astrophysicist Frank Summers, who presented images of the deepest visual exposure of the universe ever recorded.

The program moved from documentaries to narrative filmmaking as the audience also slipped on their 3D glasses for the moon landing sequence from the Oscar-nominated "Transformers: Dark of the Moon." ILM's Scott Farrar, one of the Oscar-nominated visual effects supervisors on the film, talked about the production's NASA collaboration, including the spectacular space shuttle sequence that was filmed with a real shuttle at NASA's Kennedy Space Center. Lisa Malone, the center's director of public affairs, and Bert Ulrich, NASA's multimedia liaison, also discussed how NASA's collaboration with Michael Bay and his crew led to the spectacular "alternate" version of the Moon landing that was dramatized in the third Transformers epic.

Lavery returned to the stage with "Mission to Mars" producer Tom Jacobson and former NASA public affairs multimedia manager Bobbie Faye Ferguson, who described their efforts to depict a theoretical expedition to the Red Planet to the screen as credibly as possible. "Feasible fiction" was a key term here, as the group demonstrated how NASA and Hollywood can together take audiences on science-based journeys beyond their imagination.

As a final treat, Lavery and De Jong offered a virtual sneak peek at the Mars rover Curiosity landing. The historic event is scheduled to take place in the not-too-distant future: on August 5, 2012, at 10:30 p.m. Pacific Time.

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