The Journey Home: An Interplanetary Guide to the Solar System in 3D
eResearch SA @ 3D Vislab, Physics Building, University of Adelaide
11:00am, Wed 23 Feb 2011
I don’t know what I was thinking: planning to see an 11am show the day after a late-night/early-morning comedy gig? Foolish, I thought, as I hid behind my sunglasses amongst a river of parents-and-children (in approximately equal measures) in an entirely too-bright corridor in the Physics building at my alma mater. I was dead on my feet.
The lack of foresight was amplified as I took my seat on the edge of the back row, giving the enthusiastic youngsters the opportunity to grab the prime front-and-centre seats. Of course, the kids sat there with their twelve-foot-tall Amazonian parents, leaving me constantly craning to view the big silver screen at the front of the Vislab. And, of course, the wider angle also played havoc with the 3D effect – the computer hardware that drives The Journey Home includes a neat polarised projector (that I guess must be similar to the one used by the 3xperimentia crew). So I now know that wearing polarised glasses over one’s normal glasses in a not-quite-dark-enough room on a sleep-deprived day is not the best basis for compensating for poor seating choices.
Anyway – The Journey Home is a guided tour through space, narrated by the chap who navigates through the computer-modelled universe from the computer at the back of the Vislab. The movement through space is really quite nice – free of the embellishment of special effects that one might expect at some sort of populist science fair – and the 3D (when I could sit still long enough to appreciate it) was quite subtle: again, functional, rather than flashy. And it’s a pretty reasonable tour of our Solar System, scooting past each of our neighbourhood planets in turn, before a quick trip to the nearest stars, and an inevitable look-how-insignificant-we-really-are summary.
The visuals are fine, and the tour itself entirely within the bounds of expectation; but the narration was chock-full of references to old sci-fi shows – 2001 and Space 1999 both contribute visual models and snippets of dialogue that were lost on the youngsters in the audience. Not that they necessarily would have heard the accompaniment; they all seemed to be far too busy chattering to their parents, explaining all the things that they assumed their parents didn’t understand. And, normally, that would have annoyed me no end; today, though, it was perfectly fine, and indeed enjoyable… because they were doing exactly what I did when I was an enthusiastic space-loving child.
Of course, I don’t think I would have asked the questions that dominated the Q&A session at the end of the journey – “how long could a dog live in space without air?” preceded the inevitable “why is it called ‘your anus’?” But that just added to the nostalgic charm of this event for me; seeing these kids that reminded me so much of myself, and hearing those questions that reminded me of things I’d heard from others in my formative sciencey outings, left me with warm fuzzy reminders of simpler times.