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Where is America’s New Space Center?

Founded in 1961, Johnson Space Center in Houston was a hub of aerospace activity in the 1960s and 70s. The facility trained the astronauts who first walked on the moon and helped develop the Space Shuttle program. Then Kennedy Space Center at Florida’s Cape Canaveral came online in 1962 and became the epicenter of space exploration during the 80s and 90s. So where is America’s next spaceport?


Virgin Galactic is betting heavily on the future of space tourism with the sleek SpaceShip Two passenger ship. It can reach sub-orbit space. 

The Mojave Air & Space Port sits in the middle of the California desert and it’s already attracting new legions of ambitious young rocketeers and space scientists.

If you want to see where the future takes flight, this is it, approximately 100 miles northeast of Los Angeles. The Mojave Air & Space Port compound is a former military base that occupies some 3,300 acres and is home to about 100 aircraft hangars. The flat desert terrain provides a great location for the 2-mile-long runway. And there’s lots of room for blasting rockets off into the wild blue yonder.

Look around and you’ll find not only genius scientists but inventors and space engineers of every type. At one end of the spectrum, small groups of rocketeers launching their first DIY experiments. At the other end, well-financed corporations planning how to make space travel (including space tourism) and the further exploration of space into profit-making enterprises that could also help unlock the mysteries of the universe.

NASA’s New Business Model
The Mojave Air & Space Port is a new idea for a tougher economic age. The business of space exploration has changed dramatically lately with NASA’s decision to end America’s space shuttle program. In essence, NASA has been cutting away some of its more expensive programs as a means of making America’s space agency financially leaner and more sound. The space shuttle and its operation was intensive and costly. Although NASA is still sponsoring unmanned explorations (such as the Mars Rover project, and its probe to Venus), the days of U.S. space shuttles transporting cargo and people into space—at least for now—are over.


The Mojave Air & Space Port plays home to deep-pocketed corporations as well as small, passionate groups of DIY rocketeers.

The Mojave Air & Space Port fills that gap by providing a location where all types of corporations and individuals can work on their various space-oriented projects. The concept for the space port was originated by Virgin corporation president, Richard Branson. Branson, a thrill-seeker himself, was attracted to the idea, as were other corporate heads (such as Microsoft’s Paul Allen).

See Outer Space (And Be Back for Dinner)
Each company based at the Mojave Air & Space Port has a stake of some kind in space travel. Branson’s company, for example, plans to be the first to fly space tourists into low-levels of outer space via space shuttle-like craft. These passengers would take off from landing strips on the desert floor and embark on short, multi-hour excursions to the nearest edge of outer space. The ultimate in sight-seeing—a quick trip out of this world and then back down to earth in time for dinner.


Virgin Galactic recently acquired The Spaceship Company (here unveiling a new hangar at the Mojave Air & Space Port), showing its intention of shaping the space-tourism marketplace.

Other companies are busily tinkering with exploration and cargo-transport projects, in hopes of winning contracts with NASA itself. As the agency embraces its new business model, that means that (like many corporations these days) NASA will be outsourcing some of its activities to private space contractors.

Boldly Going to Space Camp 
While the Space Shuttle program may have ended, it’s the dawn of a new age in space exploration. For kids interested in space exploration, space camp is the place to start. At Digital Media Academy’s tech camp, kids learn science and engineering in a fun and creative way. Blasting off water rockets and learning how things work can turn your curious child into an aeronautics engineer. After all, it’s the new generation of discoverers that will lead us into tomorrow…and deeper into the far reaches of space.

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posted by Phill Powell in News Blog,Science & Engineering and have No Comments

Charlie Brown, Snoopy to Star in New 3D CGI Movie

For nearly 65 years children of all ages have treasured the lovable gang featured in the “Peanuts” comic strip. Now, Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus, Woodstock, Lucy, and the rest of the gang are headed to the big screen, thanks to 20th Century Fox Animation.


The gang from one of the world’s most beloved comic strips.

In Development
Blue Sky Studios announced the film through a “Peanuts” Movie Press Release. Details are still being released; so far we know the project will be directed by Steve Martino (“Ice Age: Continental Drift,” “Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who!”) and he will shoot from a script by Charles M. Schulz Creative Associates.

The film will mark the first time the “Peanuts” gang will be showcased in a full-length film as 3D characters. Craig Schulz, the son of the late Charles M. Schulz, is President of Charles M. Schulz Creative Associates and working with 20th Century Fox on the movie. “We have been working on this project for years,” he said. “We finally felt the time was right and the technology is where we need it to be to create this film. I am thrilled we will be partnering with Blue Sky/Fox to create a ‘Peanuts’ movie.”


When the comic strip first appeared (the early 1950s), the characters—and their problems—were much simpler.

“Peanuts” and Its Impact
It may be difficult for today’s youth to understand just how much impact “Peanuts” once had on American pop culture. At its peak, “Peanuts” was everywhere.

At one time the comic strip was read by 355 million daily readers (in 75 countries). Then there are the classic holiday television specials—especially 1965’s “A Charlie Brown Christmas” (soon to be celebrating its own 50th anniversary) and 1966’s “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.” Both TV specials became enduring classics and today seeing them is considered a rite of passage and a “must see” each holiday season.


 In theory, the starring character in “Peanuts” is everyman Charlie Brown…

Add to that, the popular “Peanuts” Broadway musicals, ice-skating shows and all types of “Peanuts” merchandise, like toys, calendars, books…and “Peanuts” became a billion-dollar marketing empire way before anyone had ever heard of Spongebob Squarepants…and this was back in the days when a billion was a truly astronomical amount of money.

The 65th Anniversary of “Peanuts”
The 2015 “Peanuts” project will mark the 65th anniversary of the debut of the “Peanuts” comic strip and the 50th anniversary of the landmark television special, “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” The first movie, “A Boy Named Charlie Brown,” was a major 1969 success and caught the massive wave of popularity that surrounded “Peanuts” during the 1960s and 1970s. The movie franchise carried on with varying success during three sequels: “Snoopy Come Home” (1972), “Race For Your Life, Charlie Brown” (1977) and “Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (And Don’t Come Back!!!” (1980).


…in reality, however, the star of “Peanuts” has always been Charlie’s pet dog, Snoopy, here assuming the role of a WWI fighter ace atop his airplane (cough)–uh, doghouse.

The gently humorous vision that cartoonist Charles Schulz created has lived on well beyond his death, and shows no signs of going away any time soon. He continues to inspire a new generation of cartoonists and animators and anyone else who wants to learn how draw cartoons.

“Peanuts” remains popular. The comic strip ran without interruption for almost 50 full years, from Oct. 2, 1950 until Feb. 13, 2000. One college professor called that fifty-year run “arguably the longest story ever told by one human being.”


Strip creator Charles M. Schulz turned his gentle humor and simple characters into a vast marketing empire worth more than a billion dollars.

Inspiring the Artist in You
Today, the world of cartooning and animation is light years ahead of what Charles M. Schulz may have envisioned. Kids and teens that want to learn animation or cartooning can attend animation camp, and with tools like Maya and Toon Boom Studio, making a cartoon or learning to become an animator has never been easier.

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posted by Phill Powell in Digital Filmmaking,Digital Photography,News Blog and have No Comments

The Greatest Movie & Movie Maker Ever

Hitchcock. The name is the stuff of Hollywood legends…and he remains one of the most intriguing personalities in Hollywood history.


Known as the Master of Suspense, Hitchcock was the Steven Spielberg of his day. Can you tell which is the real Hitchcock? Hint, he’s the one in black and white. Sir Anthony Hopkins (on the left) plays Hitchcock in the 2012 film of the same name.  

By the mid-1950s, Alfred Hitchcock was already acknowledged by Tinsel Town as a master of suspense and had created some of the best movies ever made.

Films like Notorious, Rear Window, and Suspicion put the director well above his peers of the day. The director also popularized the term “MacGuffin” and the technique. Recently the filmmaker returned to theaters, this time in the biopic Hitchcock, and while the movie hasn’t exactly set the box office on fire, it has gotten Hollywood talking about (another) Oscar nomination for Sir Anthony Hopkins and his co-star Helen Mirren.

So what’s the attraction to this old school filmmaker?

A Star on Both Sides of the Camera
Through his 1950s TV show Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Hitchcock made himself a star. The tubby and bald Hitchcock (always dressed in a formal dark suit and tie, like a mortician) had a dry and wicked sense of humor.

He spoke in a thick British accent, and gracefully introduced each of the short thrillers his program showcased. He was unlike anything else American TV audiences had ever seen, and the show made him famous as a television host, completely independent of his fame as a director.


Film audiences already knew a Hitchcock in part from cameos in each of his suspense movies. TV audiences learned quickly the director could also be outrageously funny.

By the late 1950s Hitchcock was solidly established as one of Hollywood’s most dependable money-makers. So it may come as a shock to learn that Paramount Studios had virtually no faith in Hitchcock’s next project—an adaptation of a book about murder and madness in a rundown motel. In fact, it made no sense to any studio execs why the Robert Bloch novel shocker titled Psycho  was such a labor of love for Hitchcock.

That’s the story behind the new Hitchcock—the tension between “Hitch” and the studio honchos as Hitchcock tries to get his cinematic classic made. What will the master director risk in order to gamble on making a modern masterpiece? And how will the public react to such a risky piece of filmmaking?

How Psycho Broke the Mold
Psycho was revolutionary for Hollywood filmmaking on many levels. Here are a few ways Hitchcock challenged the format of the day:

  • The female is lead is killed off only a half hour into the film.
  • The movie boldly showed a bathroom shower scene (very daring for 1960) and the murder there.
  • It was a big-studio feature that chose black-and-white photography at a time when nearly all Hollywood films had switched to color.

 
Two years before Psycho Hitchcock made another future classic, the psychological drama Vertigo. The film, about a former police detective obsessed with the image of his late wife, has been championed by today’s most respected directors, including Martin Scorsese, who presided over a careful 1996 restoration of the original film. The film is probably best known for its dramatic use of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge as a setting for some of the movie’s key scenes.

The Greatest Movie…Ever?
Recently the respected British film magazine “Sight & Sound” announced the results of its 2012 poll of film directors and critics. Since 1952, and in each decade following, the magazine has conducted the poll, which asks film folks to list the greatest films ever made. Critic Roger Ebert has called it “by far the most respected of the countless polls of great movies—the only one most serious movie people take seriously.”


Hitchcock’s 1958 Vertigo was recently named the best all-time motion picture.

This year’s poll created a sensation when the long-established top film of all time, Orson Welles’ masterpiece Citizen Kane, was dethroned by a Hitchcock film—and it was not Psycho (which many fans consider his most powerful work). Instead, the film that was most universally admired in the “Sight & Sound” poll was 1958’s Vertigo, starring Hitchcock-favorite James Stewart and Kim Novak.

A Living Legacy
Alfred Hitchcock received a Lifetime Achievement Oscar, but never won a Best Director Oscar, nor did any of his films ever win “Best Picture.” No matter; for anyone interested in learning movie making and film production, Hitchcock remains an important and inspirational figure. The 57 films he made over the course of his 54-year career are treasured as some of Hollywood’s finest and most enduring creations.

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posted by Phill Powell in News Blog and have No Comments