In Astoria, Queens, the Museum of the Moving Image is worth the trip for anyone who wants to experience the world of film, television and digital media from “behind the screens”. Located in a former building of the now re-designed and expanded Kaufman Astoria Studios, the museum exhibits are virtually guaranteed to reel in any visitor.
Museum of the Moving Image
Museum installations include television, animation, film and video games and just about everything that goes into the final products.
Going along with a group of elementary school-aged children, we began the tour in the museum’s slick, state-of-the-art movie theater with a showing of Charlie Chaplin’s silent film, The Immigrant—accompanied by a live piano player. For many there, this was their first exposure to silent film, and they were fascinated with the pianist’s ability to change the mood through his live “music soundtrack.” When the film was over, they were permitted to ask their guide and the piano player plenty of questions. (Question number one: How does he learn to play along with the movie like that?)
Moving through the museum exhibits, the kids learned about the history of different mediums back to their origins, as well as about the collaboration of artists, technicality and industry specialists who made (and make) the various mediums what they are today.
It didn’t take long for them to have a sense of the complicated factors that go into the inventions and the technology, and to begin to understand how moving images actually…move.
Key Components of Moving Images
No final product would be what it is without a list of collaborators behind the scenes. Makeup and hair, for instance, isn’t just there for cosmetic purposes, but also to “help compensate for lighting effects,” our guide explained.
Cases filled with famous makeup samplings such as Robin William’s latex face from Mrs. Doubtfire, Chewbacca’s mask from Star Wars and some gory samples of fake disembodied legs that looked almost real had the kids oohing and ahing and wanting to stick around for the details. Costume Design, along with plenty of recognizable costumes, Production Design, Set Design and The Composer were all given their glamorous dues.
Optical Illusions and Tropes
A series of “optical toys” let us understand the parlor tricks and entertainment of the 19th century as well as to appreciate that a good flip book never goes out of style.
As we learned about the “theory of visual persistence” zoetropes, thaumatropes, and other “tropes” gave us a glimpse into motion studies and how the first movies came about. Plenty of examples were on hand to spin and review, as well as some other breathtaking optical illusions that required a guide to show us how they worked.
Next was a chance to work at the animation station. Within minutes, the kids had made their own stop-motion animations or a live video flipbook. A camera and computer with built-in effects allowed other groups to be a part of a live animation as well.
A massive collection of video games, gaming hardware and the history of everything you love (or don’t love) about them is on hand as well. (It was decided the kids get enough video games everyday, so we didn’t spend a ton of time on this tour.)
An “Automated Dialogue Replacement” booth made for the biggest laughs of the day as the technique of “looping” was not only explained, but practiced by a number of children in the tour. A choice of famous movie scenes led to hilarity as two 10-year-old boys tried to synchronize and re-dub a famous scene from the Wizard of Oz. Creating a soundtrack, editing and special effects followed. All eyes were glued on a collection of television screens dating back to the invention’s inception.
For the Adults at the Museum of Moving Image
In addition to live screenings and discussions at the museum, be sure to also look into special exhibits before you go, as they often require timed tickets.
For instance, Sensory Stories lets you try the latest in virtual reality with technologies that “engage sight, hearing, touch and smell.”
This exhibit is only around until July 26, 2015. But extended due to its popularity, Matthew Weiner’s Mad Men shows you the process behind the popular TV series Mad Men. Check out Don Draper’s office and kitchen sets, costumes, and experience notes and research material and much more from the series creator. This exhibit has been extended to September 6, 2015.
Summer “Media” Camp
If a one-day visit isn’t enough for your children, you may want to consider the mini-camps held at the museum throughout the summer. From “Lights, Camera, Action!” in which campers create an original silent film, to the “Puppet Picture Show” in which they’ll get an “exclusive look at the Museum’s new collection featuring the work of Jim Henson” and learn about puppet performance on television, to courses on video game design, animation and claymation—there’s plenty to keep them occupied throughout the summer.