Friday, January 07, 2011

carolyn in wonderland: a little video about big things

It's early March, 2007, and planetary scientist Carolyn Porco has just opened the TED conference—a high-profile gathering of the world's brightest thinkers, movers, and shakers—with a bang. Her stirring presentation on the exploits of Cassini-Huygens, a space mission that's been investigating Saturn and its cornucopia of moons since July of 2004, is so inspiring that it goes on to become one of the top-voted talks on all of It is, as they say, fantabulous.

Zoom ahead two and a half years to the waning days of 2009. I'm sitting at my desk, furiously scanning Google for a decent photograph of computer pioneer Ada Lovelace for a short piece I'm writing about her life. Before long, I stumble upon an image that makes me smile from ear-to-ear; it's a portrait of a small LEGO person with garments and hair just as Lady Lovelace would have worn them back in 1850. Almost immediately, my synapses start firing. How cool would it be to make minifigs (as these characters are known in the Legophile vernacular) of current well-known scientists and science popularizers? My first thought is to do one of Carolyn, whom I've been getting to know over the previous months. But I envision mini plastic versions of a number of other scientists and personalities as well . . . and thus, an idea is hatched.

Carolyn's minifig, the prototype for what will become an ever-growing collection of "LEGO scitweeps," is finished a few weeks later. But my creative juices are just getting started, and I find myself longing for a greater challenge: a stop-motion movie. I've never done one of these before and wouldn't even know where to begin. Yet it soon becomes my mission to recreate, in as much detail as possible, Carolyn's 2007 TED talk.

Many hours, quite a few moons (including one total eclipse!), and somewhere around 2,500 photographs later, my project is finally complete. The more vigilant among you might notice a few minor goofs (ahemupsidedownshorelineahem). But otherwise, I’m proud to say that this stop-action replica holds pretty true to the original, even down to the faces in the audience! So if you're as excited as I am about planetary exploration, I hope you'll set aside 18 minutes of your day and allow Carolyn's yellow Doppelgänger to, as she so eloquently enchants, take you on a journey . . . And why not check out these behind-the-scenes pics, while you're at it?


  1. you're brilliant.

    i've embedded and linked back on my blog.

  2. Anonymous11:52 AM

    This is brilliant :)


  3. Awesome. I loved that you matched shot for shot. And I've stop-motion-animated lego myself (in my youth when I had time for such things...and with a tape camera and using VCR-to-VCR for editing), so I totally get the tedious nature of what you've done. Congratulations, especially on choosing such a fine topic.

  4. Wow. This is amazing. I just found your blog and I love it!

  5. LEGO is such a good fit because the same sense of wonder and exploration that it inspires is what is so obviously present in Carolyn (and so many of us).


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