Buzz Lightyear Arrives at the Smithsonian

On Thursday, March 29 2012, John Lasseter, Chief Creative Officer of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios was at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum (NASM) for the induction into the NASM collection of a toy Buzz Lightyear that has flown on the International Space Station (ISS).

Nearby, coworkers and I were developing the Visual Summary of the NASA Open Government Plan, a graphic inspired by 60’s illustrations and Pixar’s work on The Incredibles. The group of designers decided to take a long lunch break to watch the induction ceremony at the museum.

“This mission has captivated many.” NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver presents flown patches and a thank you to Pixar’s John Lasseter.

The team had been given a heads up about the event by our friend at the museum, Isabel Lara. The induction ceremony and Question & Answer session afterward proved insightful to the team. Mr. Lasseter discussed an iterative creative process that included the trust to speak freely and critique one another’s work within the Pixar team. We listened to Mr. Lasseter describe the importance of story and development of character and watched him choke up recalling seeing Buzz Lightyear float into the ISS for the first time. Of note was Mr. Lasseter’s description of stories and characters that go unused. “We believe great ideas will find their way into other projects.” Also interesting were John Lasseter’s comments on failure, “It never works the first time […] be wrong as fast as you can.”

“Today is without question one of the best days of my life.” -John Lasseter, Chief Creative Officer of Pixar.

An especially heartfelt moment occured during the Q&A when Mr. Lasseter was asked by a young member of the audience, “If Buzz Lightyear were a real human being, what would the three buttons on his chest do?” The crowd murmured, wondering how Mr. Lasseter would break the news that Buzz was just a toy. John Lasseter contemplated for a moment and answered, “They’d be for communications when on Gamma Quadrant of Sector 4.” The crowed laughed to the simple yet effective answer.

A young audience member asks, “If Buzz Lightyear were a real human being, what would the three buttons on his chest do?”

After the ceremony, our design team returned to our project with a renewed sense of duty to the legacy of NASA and open data. We spent the rest of the day discussing what Mr. Lasseter had described about the purpose of story and thankful that the National Air and Space Museum, NASA, and Disney/Pixar had created such a wonderful opportunity for the public. The full flickr photoset is posted here.

Buzz Lightyear will reside in the middeck mockup of the space shuttle at the National Air and Space Museum. For more info on how Buzz Lightyear and John Lasseter ended up at the museum I recommend reading this blog post by the curator of National Air and Space Museum’s social and cultural space artifacts.

Posted by Dennis Bonilla

Dennis Bonilla has been a user experience designer, software developer, and digital strategist and is currently the Chief Technology Officer for a VR start-up. Dennis co-founded Unified Pop Theory with his friends. Dennis is a trend finder and idea maker who is inspired by individuals that believe the world can be changed one great project at a time. Dennis can be reached on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google+.

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