Video Essay: Carl Sagan and the Pale Blue Dot




It’s Saturday. It’s raining. It’s also snowing off and on. It’s April 9th. If the weather were normal I would be out doing yard work. But not today.

Today I get to play.

Here is what I made:

Here is how I made it:

Occasionally I like to spontaneously spin up a project on a Saturday or Sunday morning.

I have a few rules:
  • The idea must be hatched in the morning
  • Content created during the day
  • Posted to Facebook and Youtube before dinner

I’m sure my self-imposed deadlines stem from many years in a newsroom. Some people break under a tight deadline, and some people do their best work. I have always tried to be the latter. Doing little projects like this keeps me in shape. It’s like working out with content.

This project began while I was slowly waking up on a Saturday morning. Coffee in bed and quality time with my iPhone playing with apps. Living Earth got my attention this morning. Its an excellent weather data visualization app. But the imagery was blowing my mind. The user can pinch and zoom on the planet and start the earth rotating with the swipe of a finger. And all the while it’s displaying close to real time weather data from weatherunderground.

Wouldn’t it be cool to put this to some memorable words? Quotes from astronauts perhaps? I researched those and as amazing as they were, I wanted something that addressed how miraculous our tiny blue marble is.

Thats when I thought of Carl Sagan. Thank you Google for some memorable quotes. Read “The Pale Blue Dot”. It makes you think about our planet from a different perspective. One where man’s conceit is frivolous when compared to the universe. Borders disappear. Labels don’t exist. The Earth is a living organism and we are part of it.

I sat there pretending I was in the International Space Station. Watching the Earth roll by, listening to Carl Sagan in my head. I thought this would be great footage for a video. The problem is there are no efficient ways to create a screen cast from the iPhone.

I wondered how it would look if I used an HD video camera and just pointed it at my phone while I created different orbits of the planet. The problem would be stability and focus.

I just happened to have a rig for my video camera that I made out of PVC. I made it as a hand-held stabilizer, but if you place it face down, it creates a platform for the camera that is perpendicular to the floor. Now it was just a matter of figuring how far the camera had to be from the phone to fill the frame and be in focus. After a few tests that turned out to be 4 1/2 inches. I wound need 4, 4 1/2 in supports for the camera rig to rest above the phone on.

Guess what’s 4 1/2 inches high?

Quart size cans of paint. I used them to rest the camera on as it pointed straight down to the iPhone resting on the floor.

It had to be shot in a dark environment so there would be no glare on the screen of the phone. I set it up in the corner of the basement and turned all the lights off. It worked great. I let the camera roll as I recorded different rotations around the planet at different altitudes.

After shooting I imported everything into a Final Cut Pro project.

The voice over was next. I got it on the second take after some coaching from my wife.

Then the background audio. The foundation would be two ambient space ship engine sounds. Then a layer of space music I found at Audiojungle.net. The last layer was the voiceover which I recorded on an H2 mic with Adobe Audition.

I pulled all the pieces together in Final Cut Pro X.

It was a most excellent Saturday. I would be remiss if I didn’t thank my wonderful wife Carolyn for putting up with my weekend obsessions.