In the prehistory of Pixar, before Toy Story, we did lots of things to make ends meet. One of the things I worked on (indeed, I think the very first thing that earned me a credit in a movie) was work on the Imax film Cosmic Voyage. This was a remake of the “Powers of 10” idea for the big screen, and Loren Carpenter, Don Schreiter and I worked to provide some short effects (maybe two minutes?) for the 34 minute film.
I wish I could say that I played a key role in the development, but that would be overstating it. Loren Carpenter really did the most innovative work, writing a special renderer that could produce pictures of these huge datasets of colliding galaxies. My recollections were that they involved around a million individual stars, and that rendering them with the ordinary technology of the day took something like eight hours per frame on the fairly wimpy (by today’s standards) SGI machines we had. Loren wrote a very nice renderer that produced antialiased and motion blurred images of stars over a large range of brightness values and rendered them in something close to eight minutes. Loren continues to be pretty darned good at making cool things run fast.
Don Schreiter was the guy you want to be part of any production: the guy who cuts through all the B.S. and just gets the job done. I had the pleasure of working closely with Don again during The Incredibles, and that hasn’t changed one bit.
The production wasn’t without it’s perks: we got to fly out to Washington D.C. and tour the Air and Space museum, and met many different scientists on our advisory boards, all luminaries in cosmology. Frankly, a lot of it was over my head. I recall we also got to eat at a very expensive restaurant ($1400 for four of us, and we didn’t even drink…) on Motorola’s tab.
Strangely enough, I never got a chance to view the final product in an Imax theater, although it is currently playing at the Chabot Science Center where I help teach telescope making most every Friday. But a couple of years ago, I managed to get a copy of the DVD. I watched it and thought, very cool, very cool, and waited for the end credits.
They misspelled my name.
Now, I’m very careful to check to make sure they get it right. I was nearly lulled into a false sense of security by them getting it right several times in a row. I caught the misspelling they had entered on Incredibles just a day before it was immutably cast into stone. That will teach me to take things for granted.