Director Toni Myers is no stranger to IMAX films. She’s written, produced, and edited several and has directed three, including Space Station 3D, Hubble 3D, and the brand-new A Beautiful Planet 3D. Notice a theme? Her newest film presents a breathtaking view of Earth from the International Space Station and features magnificent footage of our planet and the effects humanity has had on it over time.
A Beautiful Planet 3D was made in cooperation with NASA, and all of the footage was conceived and shot by astronauts aboard the ISS. The film opens today on IMAX screens around the country, so check here for cities and locations.
The film presents a view of Earth that is beautiful–yes–but also inspiring, humbling, and just downright breathtaking. For the first time on an IMAX space production, the crew used 4k digital cameras to capture daily life aboard the ISS and the stunning imagery of Earth from space. The choice to use digital cameras instead of the traditional film camera was made, in part, out of necessity as the space trucks used to transport the cameras and film negatives have been retired by NASA. The 4k cameras that were used were transported into space aboard a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft.
However, it was a fortunate necessity since the digital cameras weigh considerably less than film and have a much longer record time. One film reel typically weighs 10 pounds and has only about three minutes of record time, whereas a single data pack–which is comparable in size to an iPhone–accommodates roughly 30 minutes of record time.
Another key importance of the digital cameras was their ability to record nighttime images–something that we haven’t seen on any previous IMAX films. “We would not have the nighttime scenes without the digital dynamic range,” Myers said. “What the digital capture did was totally open up that night world to us, with stars, cities at night, lightning, and other phenomena that you see at night like Aurora.”
Last week–on Earth Day, no less–I had the opportunity to attend the premiere of the film at Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. I also had the chance to meet and chat with Toni Myers and astronaut cinematographers Commander Barry “Butch” Wilmore, Commander Terry Virts, and Flight Engineer Dr. Kjell Lindgren, along with NASA Deputy Administrator Dr. Dava Newman and several other STEM superheroes.
I asked Myers how anxious she gets, as a director, when she just sends cameras to space and doesn’t really know what she’s going to get back. “Not anxious at all because the four crews that we trained–they’re such incredible learners, they’re so smart, they absolutely brought a lot of passion to the project, and I knew they would be really perfect directors. And they were!”
Indeed, the spectacular footage that’s in this new film is simply astonishing. For astronauts who, by their own admission, didn’t know much about photography before getting trained for this project, it really is incredible.
It’s not often you get the ear of so many amazing astronauts, so I asked Dr. Kjell Lindgren what advice he has for young people who dream of one day exploring space or traveling to Mars. “First and foremost for any kid, my advice is to read. Read, read, read. I describe my journey to space as being paved with books. And it’s so important to me that it’s the foundation of my patch, and it opens up new worlds and opportunities for kids. It gives you a better vocabulary, and it helps you identify your interests, so that’s really foundational. If you’re interested in being part of the human space flight program–interested in being an astronaut or a scientist–the STEM disciplines are the language of spaceflight, so kids need to be fluent in that.”
When I was a kid, I wanted to be an astronaut. That never worked out for me, but I’ve now had the privilege of meeting several astronauts, including Buzz Aldrin, and I have to tell you: these people are true heroes. Every single one of them is an absolute delight. They do the unthinkable, risk everything, expand the frontiers of human knowledge, and yet remain so incredibly humble. And not a single one of them has lost any of the childlike wonder that makes so many kids want to pursue that path in the first place.