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Faced with a mandate to find less expensive ways to explore space following a series of massive budget cuts, NASA has hired pioneering visual effects studio ILM to animate upcoming Mars exploration efforts rather than actually build rockets and send astronauts to the Red Planet.
ILM was considered a long shot for the job, as NASA had been engaged in negotiations with Disney’s Feature Animation and Imagineering groups for over six months. However, contract talks recently broke off after John Carter crash landed at the box office. ILM jumped in and conclude a deal in a matter of days, besting competing bids by Sony Imageworks and Weta Digital.
According to Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, the leading Republican on the Senate science committee which oversees NASA, “Astronauts used to be rock stars. They were national heroes. Now, unless you’re talking ‘Housewives of Cape Canaveral,’ nobody gives a shit about real space exploration any more. It’s a crying shame. Optimus Prime flying around destroying cities, Iron Man shooting missiles out of his ass, that’s what the public wants to see. Not a bunch of MIT braniacs popping boners over a handful of Martian rock samples.”
"We're moving quickly with ILM to develop scripts and storyboards for future Mars exploration missions," said Sergio Tralfamadore, former space shuttle mechanic and current assistant director for NASA’s Virtual Production Studio at the agency's headquarters in Washington DC. "We hope to multi-cast the first of several Mars mission transmedia properties in time for Christmas 2012. Our first mobile app comes out the end of August. A Facebook game is slated for late September. Additionally, a yet untitled feature-length movie starring Johnny Depp, Russell Brand and Dakota Fanning is set for summer 2013. With a clear strategy and a great previs team in place, we’re moving forward as prudently as possible."
Visual effects supervisor Pierre Roblichon noted that recent advances in performance capture, 3D full body scanning and image based lighting, in addition to 35 years spent creating some of the world’s most stunning space exploration visual effects, make ILM the perfect partner to bring NASA’s new mission to life. He explained, “Our sophisticated and cost-effective international production pipeline can deliver NASA with the consistent quality they expect at a price that fits within their budget constraints. Pairing real astrophysicists with our team of CG artists makes perfect sense. Why actually go to Mars, which requires expensive hardware, training and support, when you can simulate the adventure in a much more realistic and cost-effective manner.”
Tralfamadore went on to say, “People are idiots. We realized the public’s understanding of space exploration was so hopelessly skewed and fucked up, it no longer made sense to bother planning real missions. When three quarters of the population wonders why NASA doesn’t just have Superman fly our astronauts to Mars on his back, it really makes you wonder why the hell we should even bother trying any more. So, we’re bringing in ILM, they’ll animate all sorts of awesome space adventures, we’ll throw clips up on YouTube, people will go nuts and we can start going home every day at 6 again.”
Many of the industry’s largest vfx and animation studios responded to NASA’s public call for submissions of new Martian exploration ideas and strategies. NASA leaders started moving away from aeronautical engineering solutions and leaning more towards computer graphics-based solutions after realizing the bulk of public submissions called for building a secret team of superheroes and friendly mutants that can harness the power of inter-galactic wormholes to protect Earth against the coming war with evil robot space zombies. With no viable next-gen rocket technology in development and estimates by scientists that sending astronauts to Mars is 10 years and $250 billion dollars away, NASA heads realized that the promise of a generation of people looking at the stars had been replaced by a generation of people looking at Jersey Shore. True space exploration was effectively dead, they concluded. Capturing the hearts and minds of future space junkies might only take some 3D software and a bit of rendering.
Image courtesy of NASA/nasaimages.org