Alex Yarde’s exclusive interview with spokesperson Mr. Burt Ulrich regarding how NASA advised on Tomorrowland!
Alex: Thank you very much for doing this Bert!
Bert: My pleasure Alex!
Alex: I saw the film last night with my children and they loved it! I loved it too! I also admit feeling a little nostalgic for Sunday evenings watching Wonderful World Of Disney with my older sister.
Bert: That’s right! There’s a lot of retro elements in this movie, it was really exciting and also some of it might have been inspired by the mindsets of the earlier eras of NASA as well. So it was kind of neat to be a part of that.
Alex: Yeah, absolutely. I read a recent tweet by [Tommoroland] Director Brad Bird that read “Jet Packs! Audio-Animatronics! Walt Disney! See the future first at the 1964 Worlds Fair! Which was really cool. That’s where [Walt Disney] debuted “It’s A Small World” and the Audio Animatronics they still have at the park, and it seemed that Walt Disney was heavily influenced by the work that NASA was doing and also in a way NASA was influenced by Walt Disney. It seems like there was a synergy there. What do you think about that?
Bert: Yeah, I think first of all going back to Mr. Disney, he collaborated with Wernher von Braun for television who was one of our fathers of rocketry in the Apollo era. And in the 60’s created a show around Tomorrowland about the future and Disney’s and von Brauns concepts of future space exploration and it was really innovative, novel, and very inspirational television that was created with Disney. Now you see it again, this sort of commingling you had with Disney and von Braun with NASA and Brad Bird today in terms of mixing space exploration from today with visions of tomorrow. This wonderful foray of what his version of Tomorrowland looks like. The other thing is when you talk to a lot of astronauts and scientists here at NASA and you ask them “Well, why did you decide to go into your field of exploration? A lot of them will say “I saw Nichelle Nichols on Star Trek or I got inspired by Star Wars or I watched Lost In Space or Space 1999. These television shows and these movies like 2001 that have happened over the years and current films like Gravity, Interstellar even Men In Black 3 and Transformers that all have NASA elements in them or more recently Tomorrowland which is out this week or in the near future The Martian, these films get people really jazzed about space exploration and primarily they spark curiosity in people of all ages of course but particularly youth because of characters like Casey who’s this young bright woman, a budding engineer who’s really inspirational for future generations of young women and men. It’s really an amazing thing, you couldn’t ask for something better than for NASA to inspire future generations in that way.
Alex: Yeah, to follow up on that the protagonist Casey’s narrative thread in Tomorrowland was “I know how things work” how important do you think STEM curriculums are for young people today, especially young girls?
Bert: I think this film definitely hits that same source wanting to reach out and inspire young girls and young boys to enter fields of space exploration or even just to be more [intellectually] curious. You know?
Bert: A lot of this stuff sparks creativity, imagination & curiosity they all form the inspirational focal point of our shared humanity, which I think this film really taps into. I think that’s really a wonderful gift of the film to future and current generations of youth. And people of all ages, but the idea that you can spark the imagination of one little kid out there so they might be motivated to Goggle NASA an learn about what it all entails to go into space? All of this is very inspirational.
Alex: Absolutely, I totally agree. Tomorrowland also taps into a very hopeful take on the future and our individual roles on how we get there. Casey’s dad was a former NASA engineer. What are some of NASA’s next steps in exploration and technology?
Bert: We [NASA] are going like gangbusters, there’s so much going on. We’re continuing work on our mission to Mars in the 2030’s we have a spacecraft doing a flyby of Pluto on July 14th of this year. We’re also preparing another rover to complement Curiosity on Mars. There is all kinds of stuff happening at NASA right now! We have an astronaut up on the ISS currently Scott Kelly, he’s living there for a whole year, which is the longest an American has ever been in space. You just see these huge steps being taken right now. And I have to honestly say that NASA is really lucky right now, I think we are riding a wave of interest which I’ve never seen before quite frankly. I think a lot of it is due to public interest in technology and computers. NASA does have a role in that and I think that you see it. The whole sort of “Geek Age” &“Nerd Age” we’ve kind of attained this “Nerderiaty”
Bert: That we tap into that’s very inspirational and we are just so excited we have Tomorrowland coming out on the 22nd this week. We are working with Ridley Scott on The Martian coming out soon which is going to talk a lot about the NASA mission to Mars and we are working with the makers of Geostorm next year. Plus, all the documentaries we work on. First it’s a scientifically smarter public because people are watching these documentaries, being informed and getting jazzed. Their curiosity is being sparked basically by watching and audiences are learning a lot. And it resonates [with them] and then these films come out that are very inspirational. It’s an exciting time for us at NASA!
Alex: Indeed. I was curious there were some of these great technologies that are on the cusp of coming to reality in the film like the 3D printing of the walkways by those robots in the film. What are some of the technologies in Tomorrowland you think are closest to becoming a reality?
Bert: I’m not a technologist, but I can tell you the technologies of robotics and all the exciting advances NASA scientists and engineers are currently developing using their ingenuity, inspiration & creativity comes from the same source as Tomorrowland filmmakers.
Alex: In the film, the narrative speaks to how important Dreamers are. I wrote about the “Create Tomorrowland Xprize Challenge for young people that asked 8-17 year olds to imagine world changing technology of the future and was connected to Disney’s Tomorrowland release, to inspire kids to learn about science. It’s great that STEM can be used to inspire kids creatively to be thinkers. There’s a great scene where [George] Clooney’s younger character Frank is at the ‘64 World’s Fair with his vacuum cleaner jet pack and Hugh Laurie’s Nix asks him, “What’s the purpose of this?” Franks answer’s, “It’s Fun!” Nix prods, “How does this invention advance mankind?” Little Frank has this great answer, “I could inspire somebody, if some kid sees me flying around it could inspire them to do something great and that’s important.” That’s where Tomorrowland lives for me; it’s a very inspiring film. Also, the story of the “two wolves” Casey’s dad shares, one representing despair and the other hope the winner being the one we choose to feed. How are NASA and Disney “feeding” the hopeful wolf?
Bert: The movie is about exploration. It follows this exceptional young woman who embarks on this incredible journey into a future place where anything is possible. I think NASA has it’s own version of Tomorrowland. We want to get to Mars one day and other worlds but we also want to understand our own world better. Knowledge is power the more you learn about the solar system as well as our own planet the more we can advance culturally as a larger society and as a world. There are so many ideas and wonderful issues that are touched upon in this film that makes you think on so many different levels, it sticks with you and you’re kina of left with this inner smile. I think at NASA if you talk to people that work here they have that inner smile it’s the fuel within them, that belief they are part of a greater purpose in terms of human advancement and I think the filmmakers share that too. I think its part of their creativity, ingenuity and knowledge, which are tools we develop in life to propel ourselves forward.
Alex: That’s a terrific way to put it! If there were one thing you’d like moviegoers to walk away with about the future of NASA and technology after seeing Tomorrowland what would it be?
Bert: I think the take away for us at NASA is to spark curiously, not only in the youth that are inspired by the film but people of all ages to learn a little more and I think that’s what these movies are about especially Tomorrowland.
Alex: Excellent Bert! Is there anything else you’d like my readers to know?
Bert: I think it was an amazing movie in a lot of ways one thing that has come up a lot is this idea of “retro future” you have these futuristic concepts of different eras layered on top of each other 1960’s mindset of the World’s Fair that taps into the era of NASA, Disney & von Braun, the concepts of 19th century France with the Eiffel Tower and this hyper futuristic pristine setting very bright and hopeful it’s so interesting how they all fit [together].
Alex: Absolutely! Thank you very much Bert. I really appreciate your time for doing this interview. It was great speaking with you about NASA and its involvement with the production of Tomorrowland. I look forward to speaking with you about NASA’s future film collaborations.
Bert: You’re welcome! Let me know if you need anything else. Take care!
Tomorrowland opens this Friday nationwide.
art credit- Disney