The personal story behind the logo of the institute

credit Christo Downs

 At the May 9 inauguration of the new Carl Sagan Institute: Pale Blue Dot and Beyond at Cornell University, a new logo created by Christo Downs of Popular Forces LA was unveiled, as well as an animated version of the logo.

Downs explains his creation:

“The design incorporates the image of a human fingerprint with a symbol of the earth. The fingerprint is a metaphor for the light wave frequency received from exoplanets that are within the habitable zone and may harbor life. The final design of the logo merges this metaphor with a symbol of Earth – our Pale Blue Dot – in the foreground and two other exoplanets just beyond.

“When I first began working on the logo, I spent time just looking at the night sky with my two children. As I brainstormed, I knew I had to balance the forces of wonder, mystery and science within a very small composition. I felt the magnitude and even the joy of taking up the challenge. I was being asked to distill Carl’s legacy: the meaning of the universe and our place in it, the search for exoplanets, the need to inspire future generations, all that star stuff. Needless to say, I felt the gravity of it. The joke has been made before, but it still made me laugh because it was right in front of me, my own personal ‘space challenge.’

“At one point in the logo development, I knew I needed a frame of reference for the alignment, placement and proportions of the Earth with the two (un)discovered pale blue dots. I recalled a conversation with Ann Druyan, Carl Sagan’s professional collaborator and wife. She told me of Carl’s love for his friend Stanley Kubrick’s films (which I share). Inspired to watch 2001: A Space Odyssey again, I landed on my favorite scene, ‘Jupiter and Beyond The Infinite.’ Just before the colors go wild at the speed of light, viewers see a vertical alignment of Jupiter and its satellites forming a cross. I took the proportions of three of the satellite moons of Jupiter, rotated the frame 235 degrees, and found the perfect placement for the pale blue dots in the logo. I had my frame of reference, and it resulted from reuniting Stanley and Carl in a new planetary alignment across space and time.

“Later in the design process when I collaborated with the animation team at Arsenal FX, we studied dozens of NASA images of Earth as seen from the surface of the moon and also Hubble photographs. We wanted the film to fill viewers with the awe of space. The final piece is more stirring than we imagined possible.

“The Carl Sagan Institute logo animation sequence begins with the famous ‘Pale Blue Dot’ image from the ‘Family Portrait’ series of photos of the solar system taken by Voyager 1 in 1990. The request to turn the camera toward Earth was made to NASA by Carl Sagan. At the moment of the photograph, Voyager 1 was nearly four billion miles away from Earth. Carl wrote later of ‘our pale blue dot, a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.’ In the film, we hitch a ride on Voyager 1 and journey back through space, returning to our familiar neighborhood in our solar system. We arrive back home equipped with inspiring ideas and advanced technologies as we continue our search for fingerprints of life in the cosmos. The film is entitled, ‘Carl Sagan Institute: The Voyage Continues.’

“Looking back, the resulting creative design process was an inspired exercise involving the intricate relationships between color, scale, geometry, proportion, typography, music, animation and imagination. And of course the intricate relationships among the many talented people who were part of my team.
“I know that my entire creative team feels as I do – humbled and honored to be part of the visual legacy of Carl’s work as we help create a “face” for the institute. Our efforts, alongside those of Anne Druyan, Joy Fehily and Lisa Kaltenegger resulted in something special, powerful and beautiful. My hope is that all the work produced within this fascinating institute will continue to inspire generations of beautiful minds to seek new worlds within the Cosmos.”


For more information: kristen@memocomm.com

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