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Space Junk 3D Interview: Director Melissa Butts


© 2011. All rights reserved. Space Junk 3D, LLC. Courtesy of Calvin Hall Photograpy.

Written by: BMZ Staff
Date: December 9, 2011

Director Melissa Butts talks with BMZ on her latest film SPACE JUNK 3D.


Category: Interviews

Award-winning director/producer Melissa Butts will release her next film SPACE JUNK 3D to IMAX, Giant Screen and specialty theaters January 2012. The film explores the ever-growing problem of space debris surrounding Earth's orbit.

Thanks for taking the time to talk with us.  First I'd like to ask about your filmmaking background.  How did you first get started and what led you into Giant Screen filmmaking?
It was by accident really. I was looking for work outside of making commercials.  I went to our local science museum and asked what was going to be a global story coming out that year and the answer was a mission to mars.  It turns out there were 3D cameras on board the rovers that successfully landed on the red planet and after a year of shooting the doc in HD - the museum that I had consulted asked us to make a 3D digital version.  That was about 10 years ago! I've been hooked ever since, especially after our 2nd film, 3D SUN was filmed out in 15/70 for the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

How did the idea for SPACE JUNK originate?
The Producer and Managing Partner of Melrae Pictures, Kim Rowe, put a magazine article on my desk and said this would make a great Giant Screen film! She was right!

It seems all of sudden satellites are dropping from the sky.  Why now?
What's really come home for me is that space faring nations have been launching satellites into space for 50 years now with little plans to de-orbit them.  Thousands have been launched and only about a 1000 are operational.  Time has caught up to us and we are now seeing the consequences of those actions - couple that with how deeply dependent we are on space.  Most people aren't aware or don't think about all the technology that is afforded to us because of satellites in space - satellite tv, cell phone, weather, military communications and the list goes on.

The film offers some interesting solutions to space junk.  I particularly found the recycling center in space to be quite ambitious.  Which do you feel is viable and could realistically be implemented?
In the late 1970s 2 predictions came out of NASA - one called what is now referred to as the Kessler Syndrome - which this film is about and features Don Kessler, a retired NASA scientist- who predicted that in 30 years we would be reaching a tipping point of orbital debris in space - the other was a self sufficient city in space called the Torus Space Colony.  It was to be a giant wheel house powered by solar energy and mining resources in space.  It was predicted to be built in the year 2000.  2 predictions - one came true the other did not, but it's not to say it couldn't happen. It's just a matter of time and resources. 

NASA has said it needs to remove 5 tons of space junk a year for the next 100 years starting by 2020.  Currently there are no viable solutions. Solutions are just on the drawing board now.

A large portion of the film contains digital animation.  Can you tell us a little about how it was achieved?
I have to give credit to Luke Ployhar of Afterglow Studios - he did a remarkable job, because not only is the animation in the film beautiful - it's awesome 3D. We used animated and fixed rigs and we rendered separate layers which gave us lots of control in both composition and the stereo effect.  We also rendered in 4K, which is a must for the Giant Screen.  We also previsualizied some of our shots with Mark Coleran -he's created a lot of great looks for Hollywood features such as Borne Identity. He's amazing and I think gives a look that will surprise a lot of Giant Screen audiences.

Your previous film, 3D Sun, also dealt with space.  What is it about this topic that continues to keep your interest? LOL, I think the real question is why films for science museums, especially since I was an average student in science class and didn't pursue it after high school.  People are fascinating to me and careers in space science are often not celebrated. I guess this is my way of giving back, bringing those characters to a larger than life appeal.

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