ARES: Arriving Realistically to Earth's Sister

I chose to use my skills in illustration, design, and visual communication to create a 2D animation that describes NASA’s plans for Orion and deep space travel. This animation uses illustration as its main medium to visualize the characters, settings, and information that detail what this pathway to Mars may look like. Consolidating the amount of information in the history, value, and logistics of humans travelling to Mars was a daunting task. I wanted to captivate interest and inspire appreciation for space travel in audiences that may never have considered some of the unique issues that complicate deep space travel, and how NASA and its affiliates may overcome these obstacles with the Orion MPCV. I chose to emphasize the bigger picture surrounding deep space travel by illustrating where we’ve gone, what obstacles are in our way, and how we may be able to go further with Orion’s help. The ARES pathway (Arriving Realistically to Earth’s Sister) is a fictitious route to Mars that uses pre-existing NASA concepts for deep space travel, such as Orion, the Space Launch System, the Lunar Orbital Platform Gateway, and the Deep Space Transport. I took creative licence beyond this point, envisioning reasons why astronauts may visit Mars, how these plans may require a station in Martian territory, and what kind of infrastructure may be implemented to make this journey feasible.

The film was selected as a finalist in the NASA and SciArt Exchange Project Mars Competition.

Created for:   Project Mars Competition 2018

                          SciArt Exchange

Audience:    General

Media:

Adobe Photoshop

Adobe After Effects

Development Process

Initial Research

For this project, I wanted to focus on communicating as much science as accurately possible. Of course, during my research, I realized that there was a lot of technical information regarding the science, value, and logistics of travelling in space. Being limited to producing an animation within 5 minutes, I sacrificed prioritizing details for the larger picture: how far have we gone in space, what obstacles stand in our way, and how might we go further?

My initial research focused on collecting as much information as I could about NASA's current plans for travelling to Mars. Fortunately, NASA has extensive documentation detailing the spacecraft, logistics, and socio-economic/financial parameters associated with a mission to Mars. Reading all of these materials was the starting ground for developing the narrative I wanted to share. To the right, you can find copies of a few examples of NASA documentation that provided a lot of helpful information on planning a trip to Mars. 

Building the Narrative

Not every detail has been determined by NASA, and up to a certain point, I had to exercise some creative licence in telling a story about travelling to Mars. I wanted to create a mission, or some kind of brand that can be associated with travelling to Mars, and thought of naming it after the Greek god of War, Ares, as an inverse to Mars, the Roman God of War.  Unfortunately, I discovered that previous instrumentation at NASA had been called "ARES", and so I chose to develop a "pathway" or "route" to Mars that would borrow this name. Hence, this pathway refers to mankind "arriving realistically to Earth's sister".

I also wanted to incorporate the use of visual metaphors to better illustrate concepts in ARES. Two visual metaphors are introduced in this animation to explain the ARES pathway: the idea of a stepping-stone pathway to wares, or a baton-race. I wanted to ensure people walked away with the idea that going to Mars wasn't necessarily a direct trip; instead, it requires help from multiple spacecraft. 

Finally, there were three extra pieces I needed to incorporate in my narrative: i) the different spacecraft, ii) the barriers or unique stressors that must be overcome by these spacecraft, and iii) some kind of emotional pull that inspires people to imagine and appreciate the effort it takes to accomplish going to Mars. With these in mind, I began writing to create multiple versions of a script.

Writing the Script

Once I had all the components of my narrative, I started organizing my thoughts in a timeline fashion: I broke up my script into categories to ensure I would cover all necessary topics. I went through several iterations of this before arriving at something I was happy with. I had multiple versions of the scripts done over several weeks, revisiting and rewriting to simplify the language, ensuring priority was given to really technical or dense parts, and solidifying the flow.

Moving to Stockholm, Sweden

Amidst these early stages, I had a big life changing experience: I moved to Stockholm, Sweden at the beginning of June to start my first full-time job out of school. I was thinking I was going to give up working on this project because of the time and effort it took to move to a new country, but stopping at a local bookstore and seeing the National Geographic special on the space race to Mars reignited my interest and compulsion to finish this animation. As a result, I revisited my script and began creating sketches for the visuals. 

Storyboarding

Normally when creating an animation, I always storyboard the process and how things are going to pan out. In this project, I began creating illustrations that I knew I wanted to showcase. These illustrations were early starts to a storyboard, but once I began creating these, the gaps in between illustrations were filled out in my head. Without any need to transfer these to paper, I took the preliminary sketches I made and began creating the visuals.

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Creating the Visuals

I started making full still-screens of what I wanted the animation to look like. I used this time to plan out the aesthetic and colours, and ultimately came to creating a blue and orange pallet for the tone of the animation.

Animating

Once the majority of the visual assets were created, I imported all of them from Adobe Photoshop into Adobe AfterEffects. The entire animation was created in After Effects, using Shape Layers for transitions and clipping masks, and standard keyframe techniques for compositing the animation. 

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Editing

After the first draft of the animation was created, I went through and cleaned up parts of the animation that needed extra attention. To the right you can see some changes that were made to visual style of some of the scenes.

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Music, Sound Effects, and the Wrap-Up

Once I was happy with the flow and style of the animation, I manually inserted audio tracks into After Effects to create the mood and ambience for several scenes. 

The final trailer included adding a production title card, ending credits, and a filter over the video for added visual appeal. 

The video placed as a finalist in the Project Mars Competition.

Complete!

I am super thrilled with my ability to condense a massive amount of information into a visually appealing and educational video amidst the massive undertaking that comes with moving to a new country and starting a new job. I hope that audiences who watch this take away with them a newfound appreciation and respect for deep space travel, and are inspired to continue learning about outer space and the great work being done by NASA and its affiliates.

© 2018 by Mark Belan.