With all the dramatic editing of a Ron Howard film and a score that would make Hans Zimmer proud, NASA’s recent “7 Minutes of Terror” digital short has quickly became the talk of space geeks across the Web. The short runs just over five minutes and portrays the panic-inducing seven minutes it will take for Mars Rover Curiosity to transmit a signal back to Earth. Those particular seven minutes are so frightening to NASA, because in that time, Curiosity could have either landed successfully on Mars or crash-landed in a heap of twisted metal.
The film opens with EDL Engineer Adam Steltzner explaining the logistics of Curiosity’s landing: “When we first get word that we’ve touched the top of the atmosphere, the vehicle has been alive or dead on the surface for at least seven minutes.” The short continues on in a blur of dizzying tense moments that capture the process of what the film describes as Curiosity’s EDL (Enter, Decent, Landing) and ends simply with the quote “Dare Mighty Things.”
It’s no secret that NASA has been revamping their image over the past several years. Traditionally known as an organization made inaccessible by its own brilliance, NASA has made incredible steps in bringing their work into the public eye. With a number of NASA social events, NASA is recognized as the gold standard for government organizations using social media. “7 Minutes of Terror” is yet another evolution in NASA’s rebranding as an entirely personable program. We caught up with Eric Tozzi, the motion graphics artist behind the short to talk about developing “7 Minutes of Terror” and how JPL reminded the public that space exploration is incredible after all.
When you were developing concepts for “7 Minutes” how did you and the JPL team approach this particular project?
Eric Tozzi: The 7 minutes of terror product has a bit of a legacy here. It started with a video called “6 Minutes of Terror,” which John Beck of the current 7 minutes video, produced for the Spirit and Opportunity landings of 2004. I followed suit in 2008 with another “7 Minutes of Terror” for the Phoenix Mars Lander. What we have done is built upon this video product while introducing some new techniques with the graphics and the interviews, which this time had a much more intimate and intense look.
We wanted our audience to feel the excitement and the nerves in the same way that our engineers and scientists do. We didn’t want to merely throw information at them.
The video has a sensationalized tone throughout. Why was “7 Minutes” created in this way?
Tozzi: I think that while the editing style and techniques can be considered sensational, the truth of what is being attempted is not. Sometimes we tend to downplay just how remarkable the feat of landing on another planet really is. I wanted to see us communicate that emotionally in the piece through the visuals, the interviews and the soundtrack. And while it may seem similar to the tone of a theatrical movie trailer, unlike those other projects, our subject is real and not fiction.
Is NASA trying to appeal to a younger or different audience with this type of filmmaking?
Tozzi: I am in no way able to speak for NASA on this, so what I am going to offer is only personal and in no way an official NASA policy. But personally I have always wanted to give my documentary products a quality that would be attractive to a broad audience; to speak to them in a visual language that is familiar and that they understand.
Do you think that people respond best to a more tense “disaster could happen at anytime” tone when it comes to NASA projects?
Tozzi: I think people respond to the risk, but also the awe of attempting to do something never done before.