Trying to convey the enormity of all existence, from the remote reaches of the universe to the invisible depths of intercellular life, is a pretty bold undertaking, especially when you’re trying to cram it all into a 9-minute film. Yet, Ray and Charles Eames took on that very challenge, and hit it out of the park (and the stratosphere, and the solar system …) with their 1977 clip, Powers of 10.
That seminal video not only illuminated the grandeur of the universe for generations of viewers but also proved that Eames’s brilliance for understanding and communicating transcended subject matter and media. Now, 40 artists are nearing completion on a 21st-century ode to the original, each contributing a segment in their own unique style.
The producers, Andy Rohrmann and Peter Lucas, refer to it as the Powers Project. Though there are, in fact, already several versions of the film aside from the widely seen 1977 one—a few early, rough cuts, a Morgan Freeman-narrated IMAX version, and countless homages, to name a few—Rohrmann and Lucas thought their idea was suitably unique: A tribute that focused on the clip’s huge influence on contemporary artists and filmmakers, more of a "re-imagining," Rohrmann says, than a remake or a re-creation. Eames Demetrios, Charles and Ray’s grandson and the current head of the Eames Office, eventually gave them the okay, and they set out to find their roster of contributors.
Sadly, the globe-crossing, team-assembling montage I had in my head wasn’t exactly how it played out. It was "about as unglamorous as you can get," Rohrmann recalls, "lots and lots of sitting in front of a computer watching Vimeo and writing emails." Eventually, however, he and Lucas managed to get a diverse assortment of artists on board. "We wanted as broad a representation as possible," Rohrmann says, "in style, regional origin, 'pure artists’ vs. commercial professionals, individual artist vs. studio, etc." Each was assigned their own power of 10 and given free rein to do with it what they wanted.
As for Rohrmann, he first saw the film as a kid at the Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. "It stuck in the back of my mind," he says, and he traces its influence to his current work in macro videography. As it is to so many others, Rohrmann considers it the perfect intersection of science and art, though he points out that Eames Demetrios urges fans not to consider it a "science film" but rather "a film about scale." And in a way, so is this exquisite-corpse-style homage—proof of just how wide-ranging the original clip’s influence was on today’s filmmakers, the world over.
The re-imagining is currently about 95% complete, with just a few segments outstanding. The duo has been showing a rough cut of the clip periodically at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation headquarters in Seattle, and they’re hoping to hit the 2013 festival circuit once they’ve got the final cut, before eventually making it available online through their site.