Michael Starobin - Using Cutting Edge Technology to Tell Goddard's Stories
Producer Michael Starobin uses projection spheres, hyperwalls, and other gizmos to showcase our science and engineering marvels.
Code 130, Office of Communications, Office of the Director
What do you do and what is most interesting about your role here at Goddard? How do you help support Goddard’s mission?
I produce and direct programs including films and multimedia lectures often using advanced technologies. My clients are frequently senior management here and at NASA Headquarters.
I make spherical films for “Science on a Sphere,” a theatrical-sized, round projection screen that’s a six-foot diameter ball hanging in space. NOAA developed the screen technology, but working with Goddard staff, I developed the methodology for making spherical movies. In 2006, Time magazine named our first spherical film called “Footprints" one of the best inventions of the year. In the fall of 2011, we released “Loop.” In 2010, I coordinated a project to develop low-cost, in-house 3-D moviemaking capabilities. Following a field campaign to Utah, we produced a 21-minute, 3-D presentation, and a one-minute Goddard feature.
I’m currently working on a new film about GPM called “Water Falls,” which opens in the fall of 2013.
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Photo of Michael Starobin. Credit: NASA/W. Hrybyk
The latest media technology we’ve been working with is called “the hyperwall,” a display system that uses a collection of flat panels networked together to project a composite image in resolutions far greater than high definition. Our new film is called “Pursuit of Light.”
Who at Goddard inspires you?
I work closely with extraordinary visual artists and also with two terrific teams, the Scientific Visualization Studio and the Conceptual Image Lab. Everyone has great creative verve, endless ingenuity and impressive technical abilities, which helps convey NASA’s research to the public.
After all the many interviews you have done, is there anything that stands out about Goddard people?
I have interviewed a number of different Goddard people. I find it amazing that they all have such a strong passion for the work they are do here.
What is the role of a producer in a scientific institution?
A producer is a backwoods bushwhacker, a showman, a bricklayer and a poet. My job is to translate essential truths about science and engineering to wide audiences who may not know what questions to ask. Some days require diplomacy; other days require inventiveness; other days require just plain dogged determination. All days require a sense of humor and an ability to see the big picture without ignoring fine details. The job requires a great curiosity about people and the universe. An artist closely observes and then plays with his or her world. If you care about what you’re doing, you don’t simply make decisions; you make essential decisions. The meaning of stories will morph and change without clear, decisive creative decisions and the implications for both audiences and institutions are large. These decisions also affect trusted teammates. Artists may use different tools than scientists, but our goals are the same: to reveal something important about the world.
What goes through your head when you see your films screened in front of an audience?
Have I been honest enough with myself? Have I respected my audience enough? Have we pushed the boundaries enough? High-level media production is always an expensive balancing act. You’re given a singular chance to focus a portion of your life on saying something that you hope has a meaning beyond its own flashing images. When you sit in a darkened room with strangers and consider their reaction to those images, you take stock of the expenditure of precious resources and the months of your life you used to make it come together. When something works well, I don’t simply feel happiness: I feel like I’ve made an assertion about life. There’s a humbling sense of awe in watching others react to something that didn’t exist before you brought it into being.
What at Goddard fuels your creativity?
The people at Goddard continually refresh my desire to come in each day because inevitably I will hear something that I could not have imagined the day before. This extends into scientific discoveries, engineering inventiveness and artistic creativity.
If you could meet and talk to anybody, living or dead, who would it be and what’s the first thing you’d ask them?
I’d spend the day with my father Sanford “Sandy” Starobin, who was an award-winning broadcast journalist. He was also a powerful photographer and a great, passionate thinker. I would love to simply to spend a day together and introduce him to my kids.
I would also enjoy spending a day with the great naturalist E.O. Wilson, a scientist, thinker and humanist. In 1990, we spent an afternoon together which I will never forget.
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Elizabeth M. Jarrell
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD