Meet the IBEX Team: Mark Paternostro
The IBEX mission will image the invisible boundary of the Solar System by collecting and counting invisible particles. Mark Paternostro finds ways to make those invisible objects visible to the public - even before the IBEX spacecraft launches - as the show producer and art director for a digital planetarium show about the mission called IBEX...Search for the Edge of the Solar System.
IBEX...Search for the Edge of the Solar System is part of the education and public outreach (E/PO) for the NASA mission. Any planetarium in the country with a digital projector can request the show at the cost of shipping. Mark's job is to translate this highly technical science mission into an entertaining, informative, and stunningly beautiful show for a general audience in time for mission launch, and before scientists know for sure what the Solar System's edge is like. He manages a team of in-house animators and contracted recording artists, voice talent, and others to bring an artistic-scientific vision of the IBEX mission to life.
"Working on the IBEX show has been a unique experience, because the mission objective is to provide clarity and understanding about our place in the galaxy and the Universe at large," Mark said. "It has definitely expanded my view of the Solar System, where it might end, and how the Sun actually protects us. Blending art and science is what I do, and by helping to tell the IBEX story, I feel part of the discovery process."
Mark believes that all artists contemplate the wonder of the Universe, and that in addition to traditional and digital artistic skill, science literacy is essential for work in the field. "The scope of an artist's knowledge should include the physical sciences, astronomy and cosmology. The DaVinci notebooks are a good historical example of that. The artist is a mirror, reflecting and interpreting nature and events. Whether those interpretations are abstract or representational, and the more insight into the workings of the Universe one has, the better artist one is likely to be."
Mark decided to pursue a career in art when he was a junior high student living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. "I was always interested in art. My father was painter, although he didn't pursue it professionally, so there were always art materials around. I learned to draw and paint at a young age, and liked to build model planes, ships, and cars. I also used to construct some amazing tree forts," he said. He was also a gymnast, which he credits with helping him develop "physical discipline." Mark took art classes in high school, and studied fine art and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He taught classes at the Milwaukee School of Art and Design, and then got his start as an astronomical artist by working at Astronomy Magazine.
"At Astronomy Magazine, I had the opportunity to illustrate a wide range of astronomical topics and to speak directly with writers and astronomers doing the actual observations and research. The added benefit of the artwork being published each month was also a thrill," Mark said. "That led to other book and magazine assignments, commissions, gallery exhibitions and ultimately to the [Adler] Planetarium." He has been working at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago since 1985, where he has created astronomical art for planetarium shows, exhibits, and more.
When Mark started at the Adler, all the art and graphics for sky shows were created without the aid of computers. "I would paint or airbrush all of the horizons and all-skies - it was all done by hand. I called it painting the dome," he said.
Now that most planetarium imagery and visualizations are created using sophisticated software, Mark feels that his skill in painting, drawing, and visualizing is still very important. "I think my background in fine arts and having solid traditional artistic skills has been extremely helpful," he said. "The ability and confidence to quickly visualize thoughts and concepts with a simple pencil and paper is something I've always relied on.
The electronic tools are fantastic, but the fundamentals of artistic expression will always be around."
Over the last few months, Mark and lead animators, Patrick McPike and Lu Natalino, have combined their artistic talents with mission science to create a full-length draft of IBEX...Search for the Edge of the Solar System, called an animatic. This 2-D animatic is an animated version of the concept art and storyboards that Mark created. The team has also recorded the narration, and finished filming live-action character scenes with young adult actors, who help tell the story, as well as IBEX team members Dave McComas and Susan Pope, who discuss the mission.
Currently, Mark is working with a sound designer, who shapes the narration, composes music, and creates effects for the soundtrack. The animation team is editing and compositing the live footage into computer-generated "hologram like" environments for testing in the planetarium dome. They also continue to create and add details to the long list of 3-D models, working toward the goal of creating a full 3-D animatic. "The 3-D animatic is rough draft of the visuals and timing for the entire show," Mark said. The 3-D animatic will include the narration, preliminary soundtrack, scene composition and the basic "camera paths" of what the audience will see.
Mark loves his job, and keeping track of hundreds of production details is a challenge he enjoys: "Like a giant jigsaw puzzle, you don't see the entire picture until the end." Like any large production, dealing with unexpected technical glitches can frustratingly interrupt work. "For the artist, computers are wonderful and exquisite tools, but the flipside is that they can sometimes act with a mind of their own. Technical hurdles can cause headaches that you need to work through, but we are lucky to have great people here [at Adler] to help solve them."
In addition to working on the IBEX show, Mark has lent his artistic expertise to other IBEX E/PO endeavors. He recently helped design a poster about the heliosphere, which is currently being reviewed by NASA before it can be distributed to the public.
When he is not working, Mark and his wife keep busy with their twin boys, Alex and Seth, who are ten years old. "To relax I like to cook, play guitar or read. Used book sales and photographing Chicago architecture are also on the list. I also love riding my bike." He even makes a 20-mile one-way commute on his bicycle occasionally in the spring and summer!
This summer, Mark hopes to put on the final touches to the IBEX show. He is glad to be a part of the science mission. "Working on a planetarium sky show to tell the IBEX story has certainly been a learning experience scientifically, and that's been intellectually satisfying," Mark said. "Artistically, painting the dome just keeps getting better and better!"