On Tuesday, our team of writers and editors, project directors and press people finally met artist Michael Benson face-to-face. We've been working with him for the last two years on an uber-ambitious space imaging exhibition called Beyond: Visions of Planetary Landscapes (If you follow our blog, I've gushed about this one on previous occasions.)
It was the first time I had an opportunity to get to the bottom of his story, both personally and professionally. With a background in photography and film-making, this self-proclaimed 2001: A Space Odyssey aficionado is a fascinating guy with big plans for the future. Here's what he had to say:
Q. How did you go from making politically minded films like Predictions of Fire (1996) to collaging together images taken by the space probes?
A. There were delays on one of my other films, and I started as a kind of hobby in the mid 1990s. Those, of course, were the days before search engines like Google, but somehow I managed to find NASA's Planetary Photojournal. The website included lots of partially completed images that were taken by Galileo, and new images were coming through all the time.
Q. What's your goal in creating the images?
A. I try to imagine what these things would look like to a human being if we could somehow hover above the surfaces. We see full views, not pieces. These images give a more complete representation than anything that we've seen before. In fact, the image of the Mars dust storm and the photo of Europa above Jupiter were made up of hundreds of individual frames that I pieced together, giving incredibly comprehensive and sweeping views.
Q. Take a long time?
A. Yes, months and months. Six months in the case of the Jupiter view. I just kept adding more and more frames.
Q. Where does the color come in?
A. Getting the color "right" requires help from scientists. I've worked closely with Dr. Paul Geissler, literally a rocket scientist, to render these pictures into what we believe is true color. But it's not an arbitrary process.
Q. Having spent years on Beyond, what's next for you?
A. I've started thinking about a companion book (to Beyond: Visions of the Interplanetary Probes) called something like "Far Out." It will pick up where this book leaves off, moving out of the solar system and into deep space, looking at nebulae, galaxies, and deep-space phenomena.
The team is especially interested when they hear about this next endeavor as project director Devra Wexler chimes in with a more fitting title for this next book. It should be called "Beyond Beyond," she grins.
Have another minute? Check out the Beyond photoalbum in the left column.