I met a spaceman at the weekend. More importantly, my two little girls met a spaceman. Astronaut Chris Hadfield, who I posted about last May when he both entertained and inspired the world, taught my youngest daughter to shake hands for the first time at the age of five.
And he was awesome.
I have no doubt that Chris Hadfield has completed many important tasks out there in space but one of the most important things he has done, in my opinion, is excite the people down here on Earth. And especially the children.
I have never been to space and maybe I’ll never get there but all the way back in 2010, I began my own mission: to inspire and excite children about space. Through a funny cartoon show, I wanted to introduce very young children to the planets in our Solar System. The real planets, all of which are completely mind-blowing. Whole other worlds. And, for me, that was just the beginning. The idea behind Planet Cosmo is that it would spark questions. That kids could go back to their parents and ask, why is Mercury so cold at night? How many moons do other planets have? What other suns are out there? What other planets are there?
The hope was that an interest would be ignited and that parents would recognise that and feed that interest. The show launched last year.
And you know what?
Planet Cosmo has worked. It hasn’t yet spread internationally as quick as I would have loved (it is, however, already it is making its way to Finland, Portugal and Iceland). But wow, it worked. Right here in Ireland, I have had some of the most amazing mails and feedback from parents. The ones that make me smile the most are those where the parents got involved – made Solar System mobiles with their kids, for example. When it isn’t just about a kid but a whole family sharing in interest in space.
Those are our future astronauts. Our future technicians, engineers. Even right here in little Ireland, software and equipment is being developed for space missions. In the future, who knows? Today’s kids could very well be astronauts. It’s more than just a dream. And right now, they are little astronauts. We are on a planet. In our Solar System. We are all in space. Making that known and igniting the imagination is so important.
Our little astronauts are wonderful.
So I thank Commander Chris Hadfield for doing a far bigger, better job than I could have ever done. I hope he has inspired your children, as he has inspired mine. His book is excellent, by the way. And if you haven’t yet checked out Planet Cosmo, give it a look. It’s often on RTEjr here in Ireland and there is a whole episode on YouTube below for anyone to watch. From here, I would love to continue that mission – to inspire and educate kids about space exploration and the awesomeness of it all. And I know it is a mission many others share so, who knows, there could be new partnerships, new concepts, new forms.
I suspect I shall end up doing a lot more work for all our little astronauts. I certainly hope so.
There were two subjects I was fascinated with as a child – space and dinosaurs. I thought perhaps that they were locked to their time (especially space with much more attention being given to space travel in the ’70s and ’80s) and that they were a boy thing (especially dinosaurs).
I was so wrong.
My daughter Daisy became curious about dinosaurs at around three years old, initially from Peppa Pig’s Mr. Dinosaur (or, more correctly, George Pig’s). A conversation with me on what a dinosaur was led to a genuine interest.
She became curious about space at around the same age, when she noticed the Moon one evening. Again, a conversation with me about it led to a genuine interest.
I learned two important lessons:
Lesson 1: Talk to your children. Lesson 2: Girls in this day and age find dinosaurs and space fascinating.
So I aimed to feed Daisy’s interest. Looking to books, I found a bunch of baby books (‘this dinosaur has a purple tail’) and quite a few very technical books for older children… but, at the time, pretty much nothing in between. Very little that was aimed at preschoolers and yet taught quality information on either space or dinosaurs.
Talking with other children and parents, it seemed my Daisy wasn’t alone. Other children had these interests too. But, when interests aren’t fed, they quickly fade. And the world wasn’t offering what I needed to feed those interests in an age-appropriate way.
So I decided to take action and do what I do – create.
And the choice became simply: planets or dinosaurs?
You know which one I chose. Several years later, Daisy was six years old and watching Planet Cosmo along with her younger sister Alice and, of course, with children across the country and soon the world. Today, I have added to my gallery some images showing the visual development of Planet Cosmo. I hope you find it interesting.
And dinosaurs? Well the end of this particular story is still to come…
By now, you will have all seen Commander Chris Hadfield’s version of Bowie’s Space Oddity, recorded and filmed on the International Space Station. It is truly amazing. More than two hundred miles above the Earth, a man floated in a tin can, played his guitar and sent a song down here to those of us still on the planet.
My mind is still blown, not just by the amazing imagery, but the whole idea of this happening and what it means.
Go on, watch it again…
This world is changing so much. Things we take as normal could be gone in a couple of generations and things we can’t even imagine could be part of everyday life. Don’t believe me? Okay, yes, I too am disappointed we don’t yet have flying cars and robot butlers. But just consider the effect of 3D printers. Right now, for several grand, you can get a device that prints objects. Actual objects. Sure, they’re expensive and are limited in what they can do but what about in ten years? What if they’re in all our homes and capable of making much more than a pretty plastic model? Already the implications are becoming apparent with plans for 3D-printed guns hitting the Internet. More positively, we can print our own tools. Our own toys. Our own parts for almost anything.
What will that mean for industry? What value will manufacturing have? And if manufacturing has no value and plans are shared freely, what value has creation? Innovation? How will our economic models that served us well during industrial times stand up to change of that magnitude?
I don’t have all the answers. I am just using that one single device to illustrate the potential for society-altering change. Those of my age, of course, have seen such huge changes already. We are the generation who knows what it is like to live before the Internet and after it. I watch Mad Men and notice the lack of computers on the desks and I have to remind myself how we possibly got any work done without computers.
It is all changing.
So in a world where all is changing, what do we teach our children? What do I teach my girls? How about these ‘ creativity, adaptability, problem solving. All good. Empathy, the will to do good. Great, I can see already we’re going to need each other as our planet changes. A love of learning, a search for knowledge, understanding, focus. Absolutely. Change can be influenced, steered, and a greater understanding of our world, our universe and just who we are can help us direct that change towards the positive, helping to make our lives better. Inspiration and aspiration, the belief that we can do amazing things and are capable of things thought previously impossible regardless of gender, race or social standing. Yes, yes, yes.
Commander Hadfield played a guitar in space and I think he has awed a whole generation. He entertained us. But he has done so much more ‘ he has inspired us. The International Space Station is just the beginning of an amazing journey.
We can all play our part. I won’t get to space any time soon but I can inspire children to learn, to enjoy the wonders of our planetary neighbours. That’s why I created Planet Cosmo. It is entertainment first and foremost. Kids have to love the show, they have to laugh and smile and have to want to watch it. And they do. I have lovely mails from parents on how much their children enjoy it but those mails tell me the effect goes beyond the entertainment. My little show inspires – a love of learning, a new interest in space. I’m no Chris Hadfield but the reaction to the show tells me that our team at Geronimo Productions performed our space mission well. Our hard work paid off. And I have been so fortunate to work with such a dedicated team.
As I prepare to leave Geronimo at the end of this month, something that will be one of the biggest changes in my own life, I reflect back on what we have achieved and I can smile. But I’m also looking to the future, at what awesome gifts we can give the next generation to entertain them and inspire them, to enrich their lives both as children and adults.
It’s an adventure. Almost like packing my guitar and blasting off into space.
Well, not quite. But exciting nonetheless.
Thank you Commander Hadfield for entertaining us and inspiring us. And reminding me of two of the most important goals when creating content for children.
Last week as the Curiosity Rover landed successfully on the surface on Mars, at Monster Animation we were battling the odds hoping to achieve our own Martian victory – to finish our very first episode of Planet Cosmo, in which Cosmo and her Dad climb the mighty Olympus Mons on Mars. Being honest, getting that episode together often felt like climbing a mountain and there were times it felt like we would never get there. So often we looked up but the peak was out of sight. And so we carried on.
Well, we made it.
We didn’t just conquer that one episode. We finished two, adding an episode in which Cosmo finds herself on the surface of Mercury. Two episodes. What we have now is no longer just a collection of elements – animation, backgrounds, voice recordings, songs, effects. We have a show. A real show.
Sure, we still have thirteen more episodes to make and there will be small things to improve even in these finished episodes (production of a show almost always reveals improvements that aren’t found in the first episode completed, it’s what I call First Episode Syndrome) but it is so important to acknowledge the victories, especially ones as important as this. It is vital to take time to really appreciate the successes, no matter what needs to be done next. Those successes show us just what we can achieve when we push ourselves further. Holding on to the victories can keep us going when production gets tough. And this one has been tough.
The victories show us why we did it in the first place.
Seeing the episodes finally come together and being able to watch them from start to finish, as they’ll be aired, leaves no doubt that this is all worth it. The Planet Cosmo team is doing an amazing job and should be very proud. And now as they work away on those individual elements, they’ll have an even greater understanding of where their pieces fit and the importance of each part of the process. For me, I wanted to deliver a fun show for children that introduces them to the planets and I can see we’re doing just that. A victory.
Every production has its own victories, big or small. Be sure to acknowledge and enjoy them.
By the way, if you’re at the MIP TV market, a Planet Cosmo episode pr two should be available to view there so check them out. If you’re not attending, it will be a while later before they make it out into the world but I can’t wait to show all of you. I’m taking a break for a couple of weeks so just a minimal update next week (assuming the schedule posts thing works). Hope you all have a fun and productive couple of weeks, full of victories.
This morning, the Curiosity Rover touched down on on planet Mars. A new man-made vehicle joining others all the way out there on another planet, one that looks like just a red star out there in the night sky.
It’s on a whole other planet right now as you’re reading this. I find that amazing.
For me, it is an important step on the journey to our future. I take it as a given that humans will one day live on other planets. We know that Earth won’t always be here – that’s just the way it is. At some point far into the future, humanity will simply have no choice but to be somewhere else and, given the rate we’re progressing, I have no doubt we are going to be well ahead of the universe and we’ll be nicely settled in other corners of the galaxy by that stage. So each journey like this is, in a way, preparation for some of the far greater journeys that will happen in the long story of humanity.
A story which is really only getting started.
Back to right now and our Solar System is absolutely fascinating and its exploration is an adventure. And I have found that this does not go unnoticed by any young child exposed to even the most basic ideas about the planets.
My Daisy’s interest began at around two and a half years old and it started with the Moon. What is it? What does it do? Can we go there? The more I told her, the more questions she had. On her third birthday, she blew out her birthday candles and made a wish ‘ that she would one day go into space with Daddy.
Then some time later, Daisy realised something that changed everything for her.
She looked up at me, very serious, and said, “Daddy? If we’re on planet Earth and planets are in space, does that mean… we’re in space?” The answer blew her mind. And made the world a far more wonderful and more exciting place to be. In a way, her birthday wish had come true. In that instant, she changed from being a normal little girl to a space explorer. And the best part? All this space stuff is real. That makes all the difference to a child.
And for me it was then that, in the back of my mind, a show was born. A show that might spark an interest in space for a new generation, nurture that interest and turn young children into space explorers. As Curiosity reached Mars and now explores its surface, we are putting the finishing touches to an episode of Cosmo set on that very planet.
I can only hope that when it airs it will entertain, amuse, inform and inspire.
I’ll leave you with this simple thought on the importance of space from my now five-year-old Daisy taken from her Saturn artist lesson video below:
“If space wasn’t real, there wouldn’t be Earth and there wouldn’t be stars to see, planets like these and Earth, because Earth is in space.”