In Saturn’s Rings (part I)

This past weekend, I spent my time documenting Stephen van Vuuren promoting his film In Saturn’s Rings (formerly known as Outside In) at Astronomy Days in Raleigh, North Carolina. For those that don’t know, In Saturn’s Rings is a film made by still photos from NASA space missions. It is being made specifically for IMAX theaters and dome theaters.

I have been a long time supporter of the film since he first told me about his idea in 2007. I have seen it transformed from many script revisions to what it is today. I’ve seen Stephen persevere through many pitfalls. I’ve seen the motherboard failures, hard drive failures and lightning storms fry computers. He’s also shown the patience to wait for new software to be developed and improved upon and for new photos to come in. I’ve also watched him develop new techniques to get his image on to the IMAX screen.

So to be there from the beginning and watch all the hard work pay off for a special weekend was nice. In Saturn’s Rings got a huge response at North Carolina’s Museum of Natural Science’s special event Astronomy Days. Both screenings were at standing room only capacity. On Sunday, we had to turn away as many as fifty people. The booth outside was visited by people of all races, ages, religions and genders. Everyone seems to love space exploration!

People lined up to see In Saturn's Rings.
People lined up to see In Saturn’s Rings.
People lined outside the booth.
People lined outside the booth.
Kids love it!
Kids love it!
Packed audience watching In Saturn's Rings
Packed audience watching In Saturn’s Rings

I did some interviews with fans after the screenings and what seems to get people excited the most is that these are real photographs and not CGI. All the images in the film will be actual images taken in space. Below is a short clip Stephen posted a year ago. If interested, please click the link above and check it out. He’s still looking for supporters and volunteers.

In Saturn’s Rings 5.6k Saturn Cassini Photographic Animation – Expanded, Improved from Stephen van Vuuren on Vimeo.

Later, I’ll be posting more footage and interviews from Astronomy Days.

Satanta, Kansas

This past April, I drove from North Carolina to Kansas to pick up my mother and move her to Michigan to take care of my father. It would have been exciting if my father’s health wasn’t so poor, because my mother hated living in Kansas. It’s a desolate place where there isn’t much to do. My mom doesn’t have many hobbies, but she likes to play bingo and the nearest place to play was a half an hour away and she had to rely on friends to take her because she had no car.

I’ve been there numerous times to visit her over the past decade, but I hated going. Really, there’s nothing to do. There’s maybe two stores in town – a grocery store and a pizza store – and only the pizza store had VHS tapes to rent. Yes, VHS. And some DVDs, but their selection was very small and I’d mostly seen everything they had to offer. And most of the time, the store was closed – either seasonally or in transition of ownership; I didn’t care to know why, I wasn’t staying.

But there’s a weird thing about towns like this – they’re ripe for photo and video opportunities. I could shoot thousands of fantastic things out there if I had the time. Of course, you have to be careful; there are many people there that grow weed or make meth and they don’t like it when photographers start taking photos of their homes – as I learned. If I didn’t have a business card on me showing my website, I may have been in trouble.

Below are some photos I took while I was there in April and a short video I made to remember the town by. Most likely, since my mom moved, I’ll never be going back.

Trailer #4
Trailer #4
Shine Ministries
Shine Ministries
Satanta Coop
Satanta Coop
Hay, hay, hay
Hay, hay, hay
Grain feeders
Grain feeders


Favorites from 2012

I told myself I wouldn’t do the movie/music reviews anymore (I used to on an old blog), because there are so many people out there doing that already (I recommend James Berardinelli), but I get asked a lot because I’m in the industry. So I thought I would just post a list of the best movies/music I saw/listened to this year. And these titles aren’t limited to release date, but what I actually discovered this year.

Favorite Movies/TV (in no order):

The Best:

Silver Linings Playbook
Wake in Fright
The Man From Nowhere
Battlestar Galactica
Fullmetal Alchemist

Very Good:

21 Jump Street
The Cabin in the Woods
The Amazing Spider-Man
The Avengers
Premium Rush
Django Unchained

Favorite Performances:

Jack Black in Bernie
Matthew McConaughey in Magic Mike
Bérénice Marlohe in Skyfall

Favorite Albums:

Silversun Pickups: Neck of the Woods
Lana Del Rey: Born to Die
The Lumineers: The Lumineers
fun.: Some Nights
Ellie Goulding: Halcyon
Beach House: Bloom
Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra: Theatre is Evil
Youth Lagoon: The Year of Hibernation

Favorite Songs*:

Diamonds by Rihanna
Angels by The xx
Heartbreak on the 101 by Band Of Horses
Too Close by Alex Clare
Paper Moon #5 by Jeremy Messersmith
Same Love by Ryan Macklemore and Ryan Lewis

If you think I’ve missed something this year, please comment. If I’m flat wrong, please tell me why. Remember, art is subjective.

*I left off songs from my favorite albums. There’s so many great songs on those, this list would have went on forever.

End of 2012

Towards the end of the year, you often run into people you haven’t seen in a while at holiday parties and events and the obligatory question always comes up, “what have you been up to this year?” I never know how to answer that question. I rarely think about what I’ve done, but always what I’m going to do next. But this year, I started thinking about that question and decided it would be cool to answer it with a video. So I ran through my files and started pulling little clips of what I shot and put it together.

Wedding Video

This past September, two of my closest friends got married and I was able to attend the wedding. I brought my camera to take some photos, but when I noticed she had two photographers there, I decided to capture some video. It ended up being a good thing because apparently, in this age with everyone having a video camera via phone on them, I was the only one that took any video. They were very grateful.

It took me several months to edit it together. I didn’t plan on shooting video, so I didn’t have a tripod or anything to stabilize my camera with and it took me a long time to find the right song. This is actually my second video that didn’t come together until I finally found the right song.

Fruitcake for Santa

I recently made a short film for a local film festival here in Greensboro, North Carolina called the Fruitcake Film Festival. My friend Mickey approached me and said we hadn’t done a claymation in a while and he was right, so we decided to do it for the festival.

The festival does have several restrictions: all videos have to be either 10 seconds, 30 seconds or 60 seconds (not including credits), they all have to be family friendly and have a holiday theme.

I came up with a couple of ideas and this was the one Mickey and I liked the best. I called my talented friend Marie Stone van Vuuren to help us, because she’s been wanting to work with me on a claymation for a long time. She then incorporated her friend Sheila Duell to help and the four of us got to work.

Of all the short films I’ve done up to this point, I feel like this was the least amount of work I put in. It’s nice when you have a talented crew. I just told them what I was looking for and that was it. Marie built, selected and placed almost everything you see in the video. Sheila painted the wall to make it look like a real wall instead of the cardboard it actually was, and she hung the paintings and Mickey did what he does best: animate. I just came over, built the Santa Claus, lit the scene and shot it.

Here are some stills of production:

Room-2This is the room before it’s lit.

RoomAfter lighting. I wanted it to feel like midnight and lit by the moonlight.

FingersMickey fixing Santa’s hat.

SantaMickey swapping eye balls to make Santa look like he’s blinking. Oh yeah, Marie made the beard. I don’t think I could’ve done one that well.

And the final result:

Page 77.

Here is the cameo of Wolf. Obviously, I need to rethink the role. There should be more to him.

(Page 77)

Jimmy is going over the books when his cell phone rings.


Hey, Jimmy, it’s Wolf.

What did you find out?

Wolf pulls out his pocket-sized notepad with his notes scribbled across.

Okay, Your suspicions are correct. Saul is operating a counterfeit money operation. However, I don’t know how he cleans the money. He’s not depositing it.

I have an idea. Anything else?

Yes. Recently, he bought an eighty-three thousand dollar ring and paid cash for it. Clean cash. As far as wire taps or anything like that, I found nothing.

Thanks, Wolf.

You’re welcome. Will there be anything else?

No, thanks.

Wolf hangs up.