Pixar, the Space Shuttle, and Kids’ Museum Memories

Went with the family to see Space Shuttle Endeavour and a Pixar-themed exhibit on computer animation at the California Science Center.

The 6YO loved the Pixar exhibit, which broke down all the steps to creating a computer-animated movie into separate hands-on centers where you could do things like…

  • Apply different textures and bump maps to an object.
  • Rig a character for movement.
  • Change the lighting of a scene (real or virtual).
  • Define a shape in a 3D grid and watching the computer rotate it (way too much time on this one).
  • Create your own stop-motion animation by moving an actual desk lamp.

The only way we got him out was to point out that the museum was closing, and we only had 10 minutes left to get to the touch pools he’d said he wanted to visit. As it turned out, the pools shut down about two minutes before we got there, but staff was willing to let him look at the starfish. And we did catch the last desert flash flood simulation of the day.

As for the shuttle…he wasn’t impressed. He insisted on taking the simulator ride, but the real thing? I guess it’s old news when the whole fleet’s already been shut down by the time you start hanging onto long-term memories. 🤷

Admittedly, a big aluminum hut isn’t as suitable a viewing area for Endeavour as open space in broad daylight, surrounded by an enthusiastic crowd. Though that might have been the fact that it was my first time getting up close. On the other hand, this time I could see both sides. Heck, I could walk under it!

There is a new building in the works, where they’ll be displaying it with one of the external tanks in launch position. I’m sure it will lead to plenty of cartoons and movies where someone goes to the museum, breaks into the shuttle and blasts off.

I couldn’t make the building line up with my memories of visits when I was younger, back when it was the Museum of Science and Industry. The only thing I could match up at all were the wall facing the Exposition Park rose garden, and some of the buildings by the parking lot (a sunken structure now, but I remember it being flat).

Then again, what I remember are specific exhibits more than the layout: a big math/physics exhibit, a chicken incubator, and a multi-screen cartoon about energy sources and engine types called “The Water Engine.” (Each screen has a character talking up internal combustion, flywheels, mag-lev, electric, etc. I still quote the Peter Lorre-inspired fuel-cell scientist saying “And then…we burn the hydrogen!”)

It turns out there’s a good reason nothing fit my memory: They tore down the whole building in the late 1990s, preserving only that one wall!

AAAAAA! 😱

Artist Nathan Sawaya recreates Edvard Munch’s The Scream in LEGO, on exhibit in The Art of the Brick.

Perhaps it’s a cliche, but I’ve rather liked The Scream since I first saw a print of it somewhere. (Well, one version of it, anyway, as the artist created four of them.) Maybe it was in an art book, maybe it was a poster. Maybe it was one of a zillion pop culture references to it. (Heck, it’s got its own emoji now.) I associate it with college, but I also associate it with the crowd I hung out with in high school, so it’s hard to say.

And of course growing up in the 1980s means I have a lot of fond memories of playing with LEGO.

I got to see the full exhibit at the Fleet Science Center last week. (It’s there through the end of January). The first two rooms are mostly recreations of famous paintings and sculptures — Starry Night, the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, and so on — and the rest are original works. Some are realistic, while others are outright surreal. Almost all of them are done using standard rectangular LEGO bricks and tiles.

Sadly, the 6YO was not impressed by the subject matter, the creativity, or the craftsmanship (he was much more interested in building in the play area afterward), and tried to leave several times before we got through the whole exhibit. Then we got to the the dinosaur skeleton. That one he liked, as well as the crowd walking along a street that, when viewed from the right angle, lines up with the markings on the wall to form the image of an eye.

Happy New Year

“What do you mean? Do you wish me a happy new year, or mean that it is a happy new year whether I want it or not; or that it is a new year to be happy on?”

“All of them at once.”

— With apologies to JRR Tolkien. (Though I suspect it’s only going to be the first….)