FILM | CINEMATOGRAPHY | DESIGN
In 1950, a small town with just over 16,000 residents took the lead in developing the engines that would carry all mankind to the moon on the Saturn V rocket.
Since that time, Huntsville has grown into one of the world’s leaders in aerospace manufacturing, missile defense, genomics, cyber security, advanced manufacturing, and become home to the second-largest research park in the nation.
The Huntsville/Madison County Chamber has played a vital role in the recruiting of more than 20,000 new jobs to the community since 2008.
In late 2016, the Chamber hired Red Brick to help with a ‘very exciting project' that could one day help lift mankind even further.
'This calls for a face-to-face. Magic is definitely on the menu.'
In late 2016, the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber asked for Red Brick to produce a film that could honor both the city's Rocket City USA origins and highlight the culture of innovation allowing it to reach even loftier heights. The film would also be used to help with the Chamber's efforts for an ‘Economic development project.’
The email from Lucia Cape, the Chamber’s senior vice president for economic development, offered few details about that project or what Red Brick’s role would be supporting the Chamber’s efforts with it.
A follow-up email said only “This calls for a face-to-face. Magic is definitely on the menu.”
It was during that face-to-face meeting, and only after entering into a strict non-disclosure agreement with the Chamber that Red Brick learned Blue Origin, the spaceflight company started by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, was considering Huntsville's Cummings Research Park as a possible home to a state-of-the-art production facility for its BE-4 engine.
That meeting would be the only time the company's name would be mentioned. From that point forward the project was referred to with a one-word designation: Eagle.
If Blue Origin were selected to power the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Vulcan rocket, Huntsville could again find itself at the forefront of America’s aerospace industry with the company joining a long list of other rocket and missile companies already in the city.
Huntsville’s origins as a leader in space and missile defense began in 1950 with the arrival of Dr. Wernher von Braun. After helping to produce the Jupiter and Redstone rockets, Huntsville’s work on the F-1 engines for the Saturn V - still the most powerful launch vehicle in history - as it carried mankind to the moon.
Cape’s request was to not only help the Chamber tell Huntsville’s history as the Rocket City, but also show the city as a proven leader in modern aerospace manufacturing, and highlight its highly-skilled workforce.
The Huntsville/Madison County Chamber wanted to tell that story first to Blue Origin but then later to the community as a whole, regardless of whether our area was selected for the Blue Origin facility. Red Brick's work supporting Project Eagle would be multifaceted.
The first: design the booklets, collateral items, and presentation the Chamber would present to Blue Origin's team during the process.
The second: produce an inspiring film that could successfully balance Huntsville's proud role in America's aerospace history with the city's present day highly-skilled, and growing workforce.
How do you properly honor and convey the pride and enthusiasm the city and nation felt as Neil Armstrong became the first human to walk on the moon while highlighting the energy and excitement surrounding Huntsville’s role in new and emerging areas of engineering, research, design, and manufacturing?
More importantly for the task at hand, how can that story be told in such a way that connects both to Blue Origin specifically and the community as a whole?
Red Brick began its work for Project Eagle by researching not the immeasurable scientific achievements of America’s space program, but rather NASA’s immaculate 1975 Graphics Standards Manual by Danne & Blackburn.
The manual presents NASA’s design standards meticulously and with a thoroughness and clarity that is still a model of excellence in design.
The minimal design would allow for the graphs, charts, and bullet lists to be compiled and presented in a way that had a connection to history. Instead of the color swatches and typefaces used by NASA, Red Brick would incorporate the ones employed by Blue Origin. While the film could stand entirely independent from the Chamber's efforts with this specific pursuit, the design elements were created specifically for it.
For the largest spreadsheets, oversized addendum documents were styled and printed as blueprints and included several of the original engineering concepts for the Apollo/Saturn V rocket.
The video portion of our work with Project Eagle would require planning, clearances, and coordination between government agencies, universities, private companies, high-level officials, the U.S. Armed Forces, individual schedules, and an astronaut.
The magnitude of not only the project but also its purpose combined to make the film project the biggest in scale that Red Brick has worked on to date.
It was not uncommon during the filming process to move from interviewing an astronaut (Dr. Jan Davis) to listening-in on communications between workers on the ground and the astronauts aboard the International Space Station today.
Interviewees were only told that we were producing a film highlighting the community's role in America's space history. During filming, many of the participants took the time to teach us about their work and explain, in an understandable way, the incredibly complex areas of science where their work is focused.
That experience continued in other settings during the filming as well. Red Brick was able to show a few of the incredible things happening at a variety of private aerospace companies and the University of Alabama in Huntsville.
How incredible? The kind of incredible that is helping turn what was once science fiction in films like Star Trek into science fact today. Some of the work being done by Professor Ross Cortez could one day cut the cost of travel to Mars by three-fourths in part by using dilithium. (Fun fact: dilithium is what was actually used to achieve warp speed in Star Trek)
Often, the amazement and awe of experiences we feel fade with time. Even the most extraordinary of accomplishments can become afterthoughts as the minute-by-minute wonder that capture our imagination and pride become lessons found in history books and science classes.
Seeing the work being done in the Huntsville area gave us a new found pride in the role our community has played in humankind's greatest moments. That pride grew into inspiration knowing that many of our world's next great achievements will also have roots in the Rocket City.
The stories told to us by the dozens of interviewees helped us capture a wonder and curiosity that define us as a community and helped us earn the Rocket City nickname so many years ago.
Men and women that have now worked for more than a generation in space science told us the stories of their dreams doing those things as children.
Young professionals just beginning their journeys in the aerospace industry and students that have not yet started theirs told us of dreams that often mirrored others we'd heard during our filming.
It was because of those stories that we were able to tell ours. Huntsville's unique connection to America's space program should forever give us a source of pride. It's what makes that relationship unique, the men and women here that work every day toward ‘impossible' goals, that will help the Rocket City carry humankind on our journey beyond the moon.
In our work for Project Eagle, we found a way to help yesterday meet tomorrow, and it was in that intersection that we found...magic.
Red Brick’s final delivery supporting the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber’s efforts for Blue Origin included the meticulous booklet, presentation, supplemental document designs and the film.
The Chamber presented the film portion of the project in early March.
More than three months of research, design, scheduling, interviews, setbacks, cinematography, editing, tears, pride, and everything in-between culminated, for us, at that presentation. Our part of the journey was over.
Red Brick's design, production processes, and work styles are unique: sensitive, sometimes gruff, both hyper-organized and sometimes unorganized, equal parts over-achiever and misfit. The results, however, can create beauty and magic that few agencies can replicate.
On June 26, leaders from across our state would gather under the Saturn V rocket at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, the same Saturn V rocket that inspired, and continues to inspire, generations of imagination and innovation.
“We are excited to welcome Blue Origin to Alabama.”
While officials will continue to work through the many steps of the economic development process, our work for Eagle had landed. The ‘Blue' journey was over. Now the next journeys begin.
Red Brick Strategies would like to thank the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber and the dozens of individuals that made our work for Project Eagle possible and supported us through our journey.