Archive for June, 2000

Journal of the Myths – Part IV

Wednesday, June 28th, 2000

One crate. One massive crate resting in the Field’s design loft where our extreme ping-pong table usually sits.

Ten people. Ten people standing around a massive crate in the middle of the Field’s design loft. Two on each corner. Two more sliding off the newly-unbolted front panel of the massive crate sitting in the middle of the Field’s design loft.

Twenty-five people. Twenty-five people stood around and watched eight exhibit preps (two on each corner) remove the top and three remaining sides of the massive crate sitting in the middle of the Field’s design loft.

When the boards were clear, thirty-five people paused and took a long, quiet look at the thing sitting in the middle of the Field’s design loft that used to be home to the Exhibits staff’s extreme ping pong table.

One Star Destroyer. The Star Destroyer. Eight feet long. 200+ pounds. Thousands of fiber-optic filaments. So many little plastic bits that the surface looks like a recently unearthed Snap-Tite burial ground. The subject of what is arguably the most famous, most gripping opening shot in film history.

And I was holding it in my hands.

Well, ok, not just my hands. Six of us had been carefully positioned (on the corners, along the sides, on the nose) to support its wooden framework for the five-foot journey over to the wheeled mount built specially for Star Destroyer Inter-Museum Transport.

This afternoon was absolutely surreal. We rolled the model into the elevator and headed for the ground floor. As I stood near my position at the back corner of the giant gray pie-wedge of plastic, I looked down to check out the little light bulbs Lucasfilm used to “ignite” the engines.

“Christ,” I whispered, and rattled off a few number codes under my breath.

“What’s up?” asked the rep from the Smithsonian.

“These lights,” I said, “I go through at least five a day here at the museum to keep graphic panels lit in Nature Walk and What Is An Animal. The Underground Adventure has dozens of them. And here they are, part of an image that is so deeply embedded in my head that I don’t remember not knowing it.”

All right, so I wasn’t that articulate at the time, but that’s what I was thinking. I probably said something closer to “wow… incredible…”

Still, the best part of the day came when we got out of the elevator and started the ship toward the soon-to-be-mythical Hall E. Most of our nervous, extremely cautious journey was done behind-the-scenes. But there was a stretch of about thirty or forty feet of public space we needed to cross between the end of the back hallway and the entrance to Hall E. I went ahead to join half a dozen other staff members in order to stop visitor traffic and clear a path for the Star Destroyer.

I stopped a mother and her family on their way out of the Underground Adventure. I apologised for the inconvenience, and told her that we’d be out of the way in a few moments. She correctly guessed that we were transporting an artifact. I said she and her family were welcome to watch, but they had to stay clear.

“With all this attention, it must be prety important,” she said.

In my best Jeremy Irons voice, I turned to her and said “You have no idea.”

No more than a foot of the ship’s nose was out the doorway when the mom realized what was coming into view.

“Kids, look,” she yelped, in the sort of voice she probably hadn’t used since she saw Menudo live when she was fifteen.

We stopped about fifty or so people to clear a path for the model, but by the time we arrived at Hall E, at least 200 people were crowded around ten people; ten people all huddled close together with little white Mickey Mouse-looking gloves on.

Ten people with artifact-protecting gloves. Ten people and one starship.

A Star Destroyer. The Star Destroyer. Eight feet long. 200+ pounds. Countless man-hours. Unending childhood and adult dreams and fantasies. 18 days left.

Le Penguin
“The damage doesn’t look as bad from out here.”

P.S. This is probably as good a time as any to send an extra-special thanks to the good people from SITES (Smithsonian Institute Travelling Exhibits Staff) and the reps from Lucasfilm for putting together such a great show and for being so accommodating to a geeked-out, overzealous fanboy.

Journal of the Myths – Part III

Thursday, June 22nd, 2000

A representative of the Smithsonian showed up on Tuesday, along with two more trucks full of crates – crates which are considerably larger than the ones we got in last week. All of a sudden, things got very crowded and very busy in Hall E.

Friday is looking to be the big day for the prep crew. That’s when LFL reps are set to show up and the Exhibits crew can get down to serious business. Right now, the murals are being put in place; anyone who hasn’t seen the expo elsewhere is going to be blown away by these incredible prints of Ralph McQuarrie’s design paintings. Some of them are up to 8 feet square. By the end of the day, the entire hall should look like a McQuarrie gallery.

The anticipation for SW:MOM is unbelievable. Two weeks ago, the Field held its annual Members’ Nights on the 8th & 9th. From 5pm to 10pm on each day, an estimated 12,000 families poured through the museum, which opened up its third and fourth floors (research and development) for teh members and their families to explore the institution from behind the scenes. Every department had demonstrations set up, from anthropology to interactive design to the print shop. But far and away the most popular display was the desk of Robert “Bob” Weiglein. You see, Mr. Weiglein is the designer in charge of SW:MOM. He had a small mock-up of what the entrance to the exhibit will look like, along with some photos from the Smithsonian’s setup as well a copy of the spectacular companion book to the exhibit. Not a groundbreaking display by any means; but I had a small lighting demonstration set up not to far away from his spot, and from where I was standing, I could see that as many as 60-75% of everyone who walked into the museum those two nights made sure to stop by Weiglein’s desk. That’s even more popular than the fox dissection they had going on down in Mammal Biology. Only SUE, on display in the main hall, received such a constant mob of attention.

Now for some bad news… due to conservation concerns, there are three artifacts from the original expo that are not included in the travelling exhibit. What makes things worse is that two of them were among the best photo-ops from when I visited the show in D.C. The third is a ship model that, while it’s impressive, it’s not exactly heartbreaking to learn that it won’t be showing up here. Anyway, here’s the short list of absentees:

  • Jabba’s sail barge model
  • Gamorrean Guard
  • Sy Snootles

Like I said, it’s stinks that anything needs to be left out, but those last two will be extra-specially missed.

22 days and counting…

Le Penguin
“This leash demeans us both.”

Journal of the Myths – Part II

Tuesday, June 13th, 2000

Two non-descript trucks rolled into the FMNH docks early this morning. I was informed just after they arrived that there wouldn’t be any artifacts in this shipment. What’s being set up over the next few days is the “pre-install”: mounts, reference photographs, Plexiglas cases and all of their bases (check it out; that kinda rhymes). The exhibit preps rolled them in all morning… one-by-one and two-by-two. At the time of this writing, the once modest Hall E has been almost completely transformed from a small underground corner of the museum into what can only be described as a shrine waiting to happen.

The hall looks like the scene of a very thorough crime. Scattered everywhere along both of the long, narrow corridors are small cylindrical columns, thick rectangular bases, and short odd-sided platforms; their brushed and pebbled copper finishes just as they stood in the Smithsonian (in design if not in placement.) Even though the mounts fill space in the hall, their presence without the artifacts in place creates an incredible vacuum. Imagine an entire art gallery full of empty frames.

I’m a rational guy. I’ve seen The Magic of Myth in D.C. I know that what’s coming here in just a few days is pretty much the same stuff I saw a few years ago. But walking into the hall this afternoon; seeing all those empty spaces and knowing what the place will look like by this time next month…

Le Penguin
“Excuse me, I have something in my eye…”