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James Cameron To Develop 3-D Camera For Mars Rover 143

Posted by timothy
from the don't-you-mean-james-cameraman dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "Computerworld reports that movie director James Cameron, of Avatar and Titanic fame, is working with Malin Space Science Systems Inc. to build an updated 3-D camera that will be installed on the Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity if completed in time, to be the machine's 'science-imaging workhorse,' says Michael Malin, who is working on the camera team. Malin delivered two cameras to be installed on the rover's main mast; however NASA has provided Malin with funding to work with Cameron to build alternatives to these two cameras. 'The fixed focal length [cameras] we just delivered will do almost all of the science we originally proposed. But they cannot provide a wide field of view with comparable eye stereo,' he says. 'With the zoom [cameras], we'll be able to take cinematic video sequences in 3-D on the surface of Mars.'"
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James Cameron To Develop 3-D Camera For Mars Rover

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  • Re:Why? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by rm999 (775449) on Saturday May 01, 2010 @12:32AM (#32053698)

    Maybe they are employing him in a high level role. After all, he probably knows who is the best at this kinds of stuff. Also, I believe he worked closely with the optical engineers on the camera equipment for Avatar.

    While the cynic in me initially believed this was a pure PR move, I actually think he may be a good choice for something like this.

  • Re:Why? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 01, 2010 @01:02AM (#32053856)

    Stereoscopic imaging is pretty simple technology...why would you employ a film director, rather than an optical engineer to do it?

    Having worked on several stereo films (including Avatar) I can tell you that it isn't simple at all. Building something that takes stereo photos and developing an automated machine that can take effective photos with proper interocular and all that jazz are two very different things. You can hand a camera to an experienced photographer and then to your sister and get two VERY different photos. With your sister, you'd be lucky if she didn't chop off the head. With the photographer, besides setting all the settings correctly, he'd also find the most effective angle/lighting to take the photo at.

    It's also worth mentioning that Jim has had a lot of experience not only behind the camera, but also with using machines to capture imagery in very hostile enviornments. (see Ghosts of the Abyss and Aliens of the Deep.)

    Really it makes perfect sense why they'd want his input, it just helps to know more about who he is and how simple stereo photograph aint. ;)

  • Re:Why? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by bennomatic (691188) on Saturday May 01, 2010 @01:15AM (#32053932) Homepage

    he knows absolutely NOTHING about how to DESIGN them

    Are you sure about this? I can't contradict you, but when you've done as many movies under as many conditions as JC has, you probably have had to do some modifications to cameras that might actually make you an expert in the hardware.

    If you ever saw the making of The Abyss, they did some pretty crazy stuff, and I'll bet he had a hand in modifying the cameras to do what he wanted.

  • Re:Why? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 01, 2010 @01:22AM (#32053986)

    For the publicity. NASA is in serious need of some.

    Yeah, remember that one time in the 90s they shot a senator into space [space-tourism.ws]? It was to "study the effects of space on the elderly". They seriously said that. In public. And reporters played along with it like it was serious research.

    That was the day NASA lost my support.

  • by Required Snark (1702878) on Saturday May 01, 2010 @02:03AM (#32054172)
    I have also worked in the film business and worked on 3D projects, and it is still an art, not a science. There are a lot of trade-offs involved, and experience is a big factor in making the right choices.

    Besides this, Cameron has already worked with scientists. Between Titanic and Avatar he got involved in other deep sea filming projects. He's been with oceanographers and worked with remotely operated vehicles. Kind of like a rover on Mars.

    The way he makes films uses 'pre-visualization', where virtual environments are built before the film is shot, allowing many problems to be solved before being on the set. This is what they do when planning spacecraft operations. This is why there are all those flyby simulations that they show before the actual data comes back. In addition, the current Mars rover planning uses a virtual environment for generating path planning before the commands are sent to the real rover. Just like pre-viz in movies.

    I would say that Cameron is a real asset for NASA. It's not like he is inserting himself where he is not wanted. I think he can make a positive contribution.

  • by DarkStarZumaBeach (668886) on Saturday May 01, 2010 @10:14PM (#32060632) Homepage

    Jim Cameron optioned Kim Stanley Robinson's trilogy "RED MARS", "BLUE MARS", and "GREEN MARS" many years ago. Everyone kind of thought Jim might have given the project up. This probably means it is now full-on after the Pandora sequels.

    Placing better 3D cameras on Rover "Curiosity" provides Jim's production company with early access to footage that can be better matched to in-studio green screen sets, especially because the height of the deployed rover camera mast is approximately the average height of a human.

    Now there is an interesting problem here: If Jim's company wins exclusive first-use access to the new NASA 3D Mars Rover footage for commercial exploitation in a motion picture, the NASA Rover budget would look to the EU and the FIAPF to be an unfair government subsidy trade advantage towards the production of a US motion picture, and they may then issue trade sanctions to protect the EU movie production business from US productions.

    To avoid this, Jim might consider incorporating the trilogy's production company on MARS, so that trade sanctions would need to be legally filed at the office to be located at Utopia Planitia, or wherever "Curiousity" first lands on Mars. The other obvious advantage of this legal move is in preventing unwarranted tax levies and tariffs on box-office revenues reported to Mars, since there are no existing interplanetary trade laws, yet.

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