Chatting with Don Davis

Posted by Daniel Pendick
on Tuesday, May 15, 2007

From time to time, something happens during my work day to remind me what I love about my job. This week, it was a conversation I had with astronomical artist and animator Don Davis about a project he is working on. We spoke at length about one special-effects shot in particular he worked on for an upcoming film — a 30-second shot of the night sky.

No camera exists that can realistically film the night sky in real time, so Don had to animate it based on a still shot. It took weeks of work and the churning of much digital data by Don's six-computer "render farm" at his home in Palm Springs, California. It was fascinating to hear how he approached the task and how he ultimately solved it. You can read the details in my article in the September 2007 issue about Timothy Ferris' film Seeing in the Dark. It's a new documentary about stargazing and amateur astronomy.

It was a great pleasure talking to Don Davis. He did his first work in the field in 1968, while still in high school: painting Moon maps for the U.S. Geological Survey's branch of Astrogeologic Studies.

You might be more familiar with Don's work on Carl Sagan's Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. The series aired in 1980 on PBS. Don and his fellow artists won an Emmy for their work.

Don was a very gracious and generous interviewee. His answers to my questions were thoughtful and informative. It was interesting just to get a little insight into his creative process and appreciate the tremendous thought and work that goes into astronomical art and animation. Without people like Don, our work as writers would just lie there on the page, flat as ink.

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