Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Big Idea Interviewee: Steve Heminover

When seeking out subjects for a documentary, Steve Heminover is exactly the kind of person you want for your film. He's a member of that subset of scientists who are personable, have good camera presence, and are charismatic as well as knowledgable. There aren't many out there, which is why you see a lot of the same scientists crop up in TV science documentaries. Michio Kaku, Bill Nye, and my our personal favorite/patron saint of the show, Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Steve Heminover should be added to this list. Our interview with him was delightful, and the camera only seemed to make Steve goofier and more gregarious.
We filmed his interview in his workspace. Steve owns a company called Aura Technologies, which specializes in many things, but mostly does laser shows for Chicago-area events. If you've seen a laser show at the United Center, that's him.

His workspace was exactly how you'd expect it to be: a mess of wires; drawers full of mysterious parts; a whiteboard with project timelines; and shelves and shelves of random items. He has the most odd things lurking in his warehouse-size workspace, from the monitor system that was used for the first Star Wars film to a two-piece massive clear hollow sphere, reminiscent of a hamster ball, that could easily fit five people.

Steve deflecting the beam with a prism, while camera
operator Glen Jennings films.
We broke the interview into two parts: first, we spent some time discussing things like waves, sound, light, etc. But the second part was really where it was at: the demos! And Steve, being naturally predisposed to demonstrate science in a fun way, was prepared for us: he turned on his massive laser, which sent out of blue beam of light so concentrated that he set a post-it note on fire for us. He also deflected the beam through a prism and enabled a setting that turned the one beam into multiple colored beams.
A second laser, a less powerful one in a single color, was cone-shaped, casting a giant green circle on the workspace wall. Looking at it head-on created an eerie, alien-like effect.

Glen filming the laser head-on.
We spent an hour or so filming the lasers from every angle, keeping a smoke machine running for a good portion of the time in order for the lasers to be visible--the photons need particles to bounce off of, otherwise we can't see them.

After that, we finished our day in Steve's screening room, where he showed us a few films he made himself about lasers by using lasers. We tried to capture it, but couldn't properly. The frame rate of a video camera is 30 frames a second. We think what happened was Steve's video was older and probably running at 24 frames per second, the typical standard for older films. Since it has less frames per second, it doesn't capture properly with a digital video camera. The images ended up looking really jittery and hardly visible. You'll see a similar thing happen sometimes if you film an old computer screen or television with a slower screen refresh rate, where a line appears in the middle of the screen you filmed when you view the footage back.

Still, watching the videos Steve made gave us a lot of insight into the way lasers work, and we have perfect audio of the videos, so we're thinking of some way to work it into the show nonetheless. We spent way more time than planned at Aura Technologies, and definitely got tons of footage for the show.

And the interview ended the way we wish all interviews could: we piled into Steve's bright purple mustang and pizza was had by all.

No comments:

Post a Comment