Sci-Friday #116 – How Peter Cullen Made Optimus Prime’s Voice

You know Peter Cullen even if you don’t know him. He’s been the voice of Optimus Prime, the hero of the Transformers, since the 1980s. Along with Transformers, Cullen is also:  Eeyore in the Winnie the Pooh,he first voice of KARR in Knight Rider, and the original vocalization resource for the Predator. How do you get a front-row seat to all of that sci-fi history? As you’ll see in the video below, it comes down to finding the humanity in the strangest of circumstances. The origin story of Optimus Prime’s voice is both interesting, and insightful. For Sci-Friday #116, learn how Peter Cullen made Optimus Prime’s voice for the original series and later for the Michael Bay franchise:

Cullen had no idea of Prime’s popularity until the character’s controversial death in the 1986 animated film. Wikipedia notes: ‘the studio had never given him fan letters from children addressed to Optimus. The public backlash over Optimus’s death surprised producers greatly. Children were leaving the theaters distraught because of the character’s death.’

Outside of Transformers, Cullen has enjoyed a steady career as a voice actor, but the biggest takeaway I got from Cullen’s story is this: the emotional cores of any scifi character should come from real places. The kids in Mesh, for example, are based on people I know: good, bad, or ugly. No one would be able to recognize themselves in Mesh, just like I think Captain H.L. Cullen would be hard put to recognize himself in Optimus Prime. Nonetheless, you don’t have to look too far for inspiration. Usually it’s right in front of you.

I hope you enjoyed learning how Peter Cullen made Optimus Prime’s voice and, guess what? I’ve got more fun scifi stuff to share! Dive down the rabbit hole of every other Sci-Friday I’ve published in the past couple years. Happy Friday and enjoy your weekend!

Sci-Friday #115 – Making of Super 8 – Fun Scifi Stuff

Getting warmer out there as we move into summer, so for this Sci-Friday let’s revisit some fun scifi stuff by watching the Making of Super 8. It’s ten years old now, and still remains one of the best non-Spielberg Spielberg movies you’ll ever watch. Kick back and enjoy the Making of Super 8 movie below:

Super 8 isn’t for everyone. I posted a Reddit thread about the movie and was surprised to find that many people were put off by the way the story was structured. CrittersRules for example, felt that ‘It was also a mistake to focus on the character who’s mourning his mom’s death. Spielberg movies have big loud families with dogs and annoying siblings etc. In this case it’s just him and his father, and TBH they’re just a huge bummer.’ trackofalljades also had this to say: ‘I […] was completely on board for it until the part of the third act when you actually see the reused Cloverfield monster design up close…then it totally fell apart for me so badly I would compare it to the “water revelation” part of Signs. It took a hard turn from beautiful homage into mocking failure.’

I’m in the other camp. I loved Super 8 for it’s heavy emotional beats:

  • Loss of a parent
  • Coming-of-age kid reconnecting with his distant father
  • Kids shaped by family conflicts beyond their control
  • Previous generations’ Coming-of-age experiences, and how different they are from now
  • That experiential magic of discovering your creative talent for the first time

Having lost my parents, my heart ached when the protagonist kid (Joel Courtney) watched that old movie of him as a baby with his mother. Later, when his father finally hugs him and his eyes close. He lost his mother, but he got his dad back. Oh man, the feels.

Super 8 says, quietly but urgently, that men, boys, fathers, and sons suffer when they can’t express their emotions but that this is a fixable problem without the big Hallmark moment. It also says that growing up is something precious, to be nurtured and treasured. All those silly moments where the boys argued and threw Twizzlers at each other before sneaking out on a summer night in somebody’s borrowed car. They’ll remember that for the rest of their lives and we get the message: The time you spent with your friends, even if it was doing nothing, was never wasted. Finally, I connected the small plot of the adults watching helplessly as a child they cared about suffers unimaginable loss – his best friends’ parents were dorky but you could tell they cared about the protag and wanted to do the right thing.

On the surface, the movie doesn’t seem like much but like every other JJ Abrams’ project, it’s got hidden depths.

So if you’re looking for a hot-summer-night movie to enjoy, look no further than Super 8. I hope you enjoyed the making of Super 8, and if you like this kind of fun scifi stuff, I have more to share. Dive down the rabbit hole of every other Sci-Friday I’ve published in the past couple years. Happy Friday and enjoy your weekend!


Sci-Friday #114 – The Great 1952 Space Program That Almost Was

For this Sci-Friday, enjoy a look at the future that never happened in this collection of Collier’s photos ‘The Great 1952 Space Program That Almost Was.’ As Gizmodo reports, ‘In 1952, Collier’s magazine sponsored a gathering of the world’s greatest space experts who, in a series of illustrated articles, outlined one of the first comprehensive scenarios ever conceived for the exploration of space.’

The Great 1952 Space Program That Almost Was

We had no idea what space exploration would look like, so we asked a number of futurists, experts, and dreamers to tell us what we might be getting ourselves into. You can even see this issue, it’s available online, courtesy of Horizons, the newsletter of AIAA Houston Section – use the search bar to search for “Collier’s”.

Along with the breathless superlatives come realities that are sublime in their gruesomeness. As the article brings out: ‘The first step proposed is the launching of a 10-foot cone-shaped “baby satellite” carrying three rhesus monkeys. It was orbit at an altitude of 200 miles for 60 days. It would eventually be allowed to reenter the atmosphere, where it would burn up (after the monkeys are given a merciful dose of lethal gas).’ Imagine being that rhesus monkey, floating along for two months, totally at peace with your human caretakers. Then the gas starts.

If you think I’m being macabre, look up what happened to Laika, the Soviet Space Dog. The United States scored a publicity coup by sending Ham to space and bringing him home safely, but the Collier’s article proves that wasn’t in the first draft of the plan. In those final moments panic and struggle, a monkey might not put the horrible truth together, but a human would. This was the plan all along. You were never meant to come home. Freaky!

William Gibson satirizes that mindset in The Gernsback Continuum, calling it ‘Hitler Youth Propaganda.’ I prefer to think of it as the result post-WWII American exceptionalism that died in the tragedy of Vietnam. Either way, it’s interesting to consider and that’s why I wanted to share The Great 1952 Space Program That Almost Was on this Sci-Friday. If you like it, go down the rabbit hole of every other Sci-Friday I’ve published in the past couple years.

Happy Friday and enjoy your weekend!

Sci-Friday #113 – Making Jabba the Hutt

This is an interesting piece of obscure tape – for Sci-Friday #113, watch a documentary about making Jabba the Hutt for Return of the Jedi. From the first time we saw him in RotJ, Jabba Desilijic Tiure quickly established himself as a strangely comic character – half evil, half ridiculous. Now for Sci-Friday, we can see how they made him live, breathe, and lurch back in 1982.

Writing a character is one thing, animating them is another. To crawl inside that car-sized monster, you need a rare talent and for making Jabba the Hutt, Star Wars turned to Toby Philpott. Seven years of work as a comedy juggler, acrobat, and magician led to working on animatronic puppets with Jim Henson on The Dark Crystal. From there, Philpott lent his talents to Return of the Jedi, Labyrinth, Little Shop of Horrors, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

What’s even more interesting is what happened next. Where do you go after making Jabba the Hutt live and breathe? The library, of course! Philpott took a job at Cardiff Central Library as a library technician, where he provides information technology and other computer support; Philpott described the job as a logical move at that stage in his life and according to Wikipedia, “Finding Jabba the Hutt working in a library is no more unusual than the rest of my life.” You can check in with Philpott at his local home site here.

As I said last week, science fiction exists through the collective imagination, blood, sweat, and tears of many people. In this Sci-Friday, Jabba the Hutt live and slug is another example of that journey. Go down the rabbit hole of every other Sci-Friday I’ve published in the past couple years. Happy Friday and enjoy your weekend!

Sci-Friday #112 – VFX in Flight of the Navigator

For this Sci-Friday we’re going down the rabbit hole of VFX in the muddled time between practical and digital special effects in movies. The VFX in Flight of the Navigator is a charming breakdown on the visual effects used by the makers of Flight of the Navigator and you’ll get a kick out of how easy some of it was.

That’s not to say there was no effort involved. At the time, FotN employed some cutting edge CGI hardware, ‘rendered in computer-generated imagery (CGI) by Omnibus Computer Animation, under the supervision of Jeff Kleiser, the brother of director Randal Kleiser.[7] It was the first film to use reflection mapping to create realistic reflections on a simulated chrome surface. Effects were rendered on a Foonly F1 computer before being matted onto the film print. The computer did not have much storage space so once the frame was mapped the data was deleted to make way for the new frame.[8] The rest were using one of two life size props or miniatures on a computer operated camera.’

Science fiction exists through the collective imagination, blood, sweat, and tears of many people. The VFX in Flight of the Navigator is just one example of that journey. Go down the rabbit hole of every other Sci-Friday I’ve published in the past couple years. Happy Friday and enjoy your weekend! Thanks to Captain Disillusion and VFXCool for putting this video together!


Sci-Friday #111 – The Brilliance of Fozzie Bear and Frank Oz

For this Sci-Friday, enjoy a special moment of joy between Jim Henson as Kermit the Frog and Frank Oz as Fozzie Bear at the World Puppetry Festival in 1980. Henson and Oz, similar to the outtakes of The Muppet Movie, improve for five straight minutes and the result is nothing short of brilliance:

Like all great characters, Fozzie is textured and complex. Frank Oz describes Fozzie Bear as “desperately insecure” and cites the character’s close friendship with Kermit the Frog to be essential to his core. Oz elaborates that, “With Kermit, he would want to find a way to be funny. That’s not altruistic for Fozzie. He’s not trying to make people feel better. He just wants to be a great comedian. But the main thing is that he would need to be with Kermit. He feels alone without Kermit.”

The voice behind Fozzie is Frank Oz, who’s been ‘that guy’ of the Muppet show, TV, and other movies. He was the original voice behind Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Animal, and Sam Eagle in The Muppet Show, and Cookie Monster, Bert, and Grover in Sesame Street. He’s also Yoda. Not only that, Oz has directed several great movies including The Dark Crystal (1982), The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984), Little Shop of Horrors (1986), Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988), What About Bob? (1991), In & Out (1997), Bowfinger (1999), The Score (2001), Death at a Funeral (2007), and an episode of the US TV series Leverage (2011). He was also the lawyer in Knives Out.

The Muppets proved that you don’t need a huge budget if you have a big heart. Fozzie Bear and Frank Oz are a big part of that success story. I hope they inspire you to show your big heart in your work, too.

I enjoy sharing fun scifi stuff every Friday. Go down the rabbit hole of every other Sci-Friday I’ve published in the past couple years. Happy Friday and enjoy your weekend! Thanks to Wikipedia for this information about Fozzie and Frank Oz.

Sci-Friday #110 – Leonard Nimoy Presents Star Wars – Fun Scifi Stuff

There’s a lot of talk about Star Wars / Star Trek crossovers, but none better than the time Leonard Nimoy presents Star Wars back in 1983. The back story is pretty simple: Leonard Nimoy hosted the making of “Return of the Jedi” (1983) from a Nickelodeon show called “Standby…Lights! Camera! Action!” which showed behind-the-scenes segments on major motion pictures.

As with every other Nimoy project, he brings some emotional gravitas that few other actors have been able to match. I hope you enjoy watching as Leonard Nimoy presents Star Wars! I enjoy sharing fun scifi stuff every Friday. Go down the rabbit hole of every other Sci-Friday I’ve published in the past couple years. Happy Friday and enjoy your weekend!

Sci-Friday #110 – Roasts by Megatron – Fun Scifi Stuff

For today, I’m tossing in some moments from Universal Studio’s Megatron picture zone – whoever this guy is, he needs to be in the next Transformers movie. Roasts by Megatron are definitely on my bucket list – Absolutely hysterical. Check out the guy who comes in around the 7:00 mark – hard to be scared when you’re laughing so hard:

So yeah, you’ll love Roasts by Megatron, fun scifi like this is what I enjoy sharing every Friday. Go down the rabbit hole of every other Sci-Friday I’ve published in the past couple years. Happy Friday and enjoy your weekend!

Sci-Friday #109 – Quick Fun Story – Cool Scifi Stuff

Quick Fun Story Cool Scifi Stuff

Hooray, happy Friday! No videos or pictures today, this Sci-Friday is a quick fun story, some cool scifi stuff I started in response to a Writing Prompt on Reddit this week. Here’s the prompt: “You’re not here to invade us or do horrible experiments on us, are you?” Asked the human. “What? No, of course not.” Replied the alien. “We’re here on vacation and could really use a local tour guide.”

Say no more! I started work on a new story, and here’s part of the first part for your Sci-Friday joy!

“Oh, okay.” I looked at my new captor / hosts. Green, gelatinous beings the size of a refrigerator with clawed tentacles. One of them is translating, while the others stared at me through single eyeballs. Not the kind of people, if you could call them people, you want to disappoint. “What would you like to see first?”

“Well start us off with a general overview. What do humans enjoy doing most? Where could we see them in their natural habitat?”

“Good question. Do you know what Wal-Mart is?”

“A Wall … Marht?” The head honcho spoke briefly in Alienese to his companions. I caught the word ‘Wal-Mart’ in all of its gobbledygook. “We’re interested in this Wal-Mart. Please take us there.”

“Well first, you couldn’t go inside. People would freak out. Some of them have guns.”

“Guns? Pellet cannons? Fah!” The alien hoisted a small device from an unseen hiding spot in a fold of skin. “No match for our defense technology.”

“Looks like a credit card,” I said. “That’s not very dangerous.”

“No, but this is,” the alien pressed a button and a large, quadruped robot leaped from the ceiling.

“Oh God, please!” I screamed as the robot slammed me into the ship’s deck. Sharp fans and laser cannon all pointed at me, ready to blast me into cinders.

“Down, Rusty!” the alien commanded the robot, which instantly sank into a rest posture. “You see? We’re completely safe anywhere we travel on your primitive world.”

“They’d still freak out. I thought you wanted to see humans in their natural habitat.”

“Already taken care of.” Another press of the tiny device and a screen of nanotech holographs swept around the individual alien beings. In seconds, the insect-sized devices created a visual screen of human camouflage. “You see? They’ll never know we were there. Quickly, to this Wall-Marht! I can’t wait to get some pictures to show our friends back home.”

Hope you enjoy the ‘Alien Tour Guide’ story. I might finish developing it into a follow-up for ‘Planet Ugh.’

Continue reading in my Reddit posts here …

Happy Friday –

Photo by Brooke Denevan on Unsplash

Sci-Friday #108 – The Martian Outtakes Fun Scifi Stuff

Happy Friday! Here are ‘The Martian’ outtakes, fun scifi stuff for your pre-weekend consumption. ‘The Martian’ was directed by Ridley Scott and features Matt Damon and a ton of other great people. I had forgotten how many awesome actors were in ‘The Martian,’ so this gag reel is a happy walk down memory lane featuring Jeff Daniels, Kristen Wiig, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Peña. There’s nothing quite like being on set with a bunch of talented professionals who love their work and love their material.

I love the Martian for a bunch of different reasons: A, it proved you can be successful at telling a hard scifi story, something people often say is impossible. B, Andy Weir is a decent guy and has been very gracious and helpful on the couple of times I’ve reached out to him. In fact, some of its hard scifi greatness comes through in the IMDB trivia page:

  • NASA was consulted in order to get aspects of space and space travel, specifically in relation to Mars, with the most accuracy. NASA is federally funded, yet charges no one, including private for-profit organizations, any fees for use of and access to its archives and consultancy.
  • In the beginning, it is mentioned that a compromised space suit would cause decompression, giving someone about a minute to live. This is scientifically correct; contrary to popular belief, acute decompression in space or a planet with very low pressure like Mars does not cause the body to immediately explode or expand. Major effects include confusion, loss of consciousness and some subdermal bleeding, but it is generally agreed that a healthy human body can survive one minute in vacuum without life-threatening consequences.

So yeah, you’ll love ‘The Martian’ outtakes – fun scifi like this is what I enjoy sharing every Friday. Go down the rabbit hole of every other Sci-Friday I’ve published in the past couple years. Happy Friday and enjoy your weekend!