This is a home-made award statuette. It consists of a small, silver, plastic male figure standing with feet apart, and holding some kind of weapon or apparatus. The figure stands at the centre of a circular metal base. The figure has a clear plastic tube over his head as a helmet. A paper label in a plastic slip accompanies the figure.
Accession Number: 2019.ast.230
Primary Materials: Metal: Aluminium, Plastic.
Label with the object reads: “Although there is no such category, the staff of the Department of Astronomy presented Dad with this statuette for his work in Canada’s National Film Board production <i><b>Universe</i></b> (1960, Roman Kroitor & Colin Low, Directors).
Described as a triumph of film art and an awesome picture of the universe as it would appear to a voyager on an outward journey through space, the seminal special effects in this film were an inspiration to Stanley Kubrick in <i><b>2001: A Space Odyssey</i></b>, as well as <i><b>Star Wars</i></b> creator George Lucas.
Universe did not prevail at the 1961 Oscars, but the film did win <b>Best Animated Film</b> that year at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts and <b>Film of the Year</b> at the Canadian Film Awards (now the Genie Awards), and our leading actor remains first in our hearts.”
Dimensions (cm): Diameter = 15, Height = 17
This statuette was constructed by Department of Astronomy personnel and ‘awarded’ to Dr. Donald MacRae, an astronomer at the David Dunlap Observatory in Richmond Hill for his work in the award-winning 1960 film, <a href=https://www.nfb.ca/film/universe/><i>Universe</i></a>. The label was written by one of his three sons.
Good: The metal surface of the base of the statuette is dusty and dulled. The plastic figure is in very good condition. The helmet of the figure is somewhat yellowed.
Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics
Statuette: c. 1960-1961; Label: After 2006
Department of Astronomy & Astronomy
Additional Information and References:
The short documentary, Universe, by directors Roman Kroitor and Colin Low, was filmed in part at the David Dunlap Observatory at Richmond Hill. The film takes the viewer on a journey through the universe, framed by the opening and closing of the DDO’s 74” telescope by an astronomer—Don MacRae. The opening shows the arrival of MacRae at the Observatory, where he takes a phone call, and then the opening of the dome and preparation of the telescope. At the conclusion of the movie, at dawn, MacRae is seen closing the telescope and driving away from the Observatory.
The documentary was extremely influential in both filmmaking and astronomy. Stanley Kubrick was so struck by its photography and soundtrack that he asked Kroitor, among others, to come to work on 2001: A Space Odyssey. Although Kroitor declined, Wally Gentleman, who had worked on Universe’s optical effects, did take up the offer. In addition, the narrator of Universe, Douglas Rain, was hired as the voice of HAL, the computer.
Members of the University of Toronto Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics report the film being valuable to astronomy. John Percy, Professor Emeritus, recalls using the film as part of the school and public programs at the DDO:
“Traditionally I’d show a wonderful half-hour film called Universe [1960, dir. Roman Kroitor and Colin Low], made by the National Film Board, which is a really really important contribution to astronomy understanding in Canada. It won all kinds of awards. And that plus a talk plus lots of questions and answers, that was good for both the school kids and for the general public as well. They all like to ask questions.”
Ernie Seaquist, also Professor Emeritus and a former director of the department, remembers being inspired by the film to both come to Toronto to study, and work with MacRae:
“There’s another little anecdote that perhaps should be mentioned, because it did factor into my decision, which is almost a silly story actually. I went to a drive-in theatre with some friends, and we saw the film, in 1960, called Universe, which is a National Film Board film which is still one of the best films as far as I’m concerned that was ever produced on astronomy. Though it’s outdated now, but still the quality of the film is very good, the special effects are excellent, and the guys who worked on the special effects on this film ultimately went to work, so I recall, in Hollywood, working on the film 2001: A Space Odyssey. So they ended up working on that and various other film enterprises. So I saw that film, and featured on that film…you will remember that the featured astronomer there was Donald A. MacRae. He was the one who opened up the telescope at night, pointed it at the cosmos, and started to take spectra before the film pans away to the grand scale of the universe and out to the galaxies and so on. And finally comes back in again to show Don MacRae closing up for the night and heading home.
Well that film just sold me! That was my final decision. I decided surely astronomy has to be for me, so that helped me to decide to apply, and I knew Don MacRae was at UofT, so I actually wrote to him to see whether he would accept me as a graduate student for studies in radio astronomy, which was what I was interested in.”
On MacRae’s appearance in the film in a jacket, tie and blazer, Percy said this:
“And the quirky thing about that is you’ll notice he’s actually wearing a jacket and tie, or at least he’s wearing a tie. Maybe it was done in those days when they were actually operating the telescope, but I think it was just done for the film.”
John Percy was interviewed on March 11, 2021
Ernie Seaquist was interviewed on April 16, 2021