Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Paul & R2-D2 Dine with the Smileys

Last Thursday (May 3rd), R2-D2 and I were guests at Sarah Smiley's home.

Sarah's husband, Dustin, is away on a 13 month deployment with the United States Navy.  She decided that she and her three kids were going to invite a guest to join them for supper each week.  To date she has had Senator Susan Collins, the kids' school teachers, community leaders and now...and Astromech Droid!  (You can read about Sarah Smiley here:  https://www.facebook.com/sarah.is.smiley )

Sarah and her boys, Ford, 11, Owen, 9 and Lindell, 5  had asked for us to be a guest and were initially planned for May 4th...May the "force/fourth" be with you Day.  However, Sarah was graduating from the University of Maine on that day!  So, we were moved up a day.

If you read Sarah's wonderful column, you will see that her guests get to enjoy supper with the family and usually pass the evening doing something together.  With R2-D2, I wanted to do something really unique and special for the family.  I knew the kids were huge Star Wars fans and I also knew it must be hard for Dustin to be away when Sarah is graduating.

While tinkering with R2's projector, I pondered having a special message play from R2.  I shrugged it off at first.  How in the world am I, a complete stranger, going to contact Dustin and not sound nuts?  "Hi there, You don't know me but I want to make a hologram of you."  However the fact I had the Princess Leia one working so well in the new projector kept coming to mind.

I knew it was a long shot but I really wanted to try.  I knew I couldn't approach any of Sarah's friends on Facebook, I didn't want the secret to get out, especially if it failed.  Since I knew Senator Collins had been their first guest, she and her staff would understand how special this would be.  I emailed, faxed and spoke to a staffer, who I am sure thought I was nuts.  "Did you say an R2-D2?"  "Yes.  Please don't call Homeland Security".

24 hours later, I got a call back from one of the Senator's staffers.  She loved the idea and would see if she could pass along my email address and request.  With Dustin away in the MidEast and the time ticking down, I really didn't hold much hope.  

Dustin contacted me two days later and told me he thought it was a very cool idea.  He said he would work on getting a video to me and did so.

My extremely graphically talented co-worker, Kiernan McMorrow, offered to help me out and convert the video from a bright, sunny, noisy outdoor shot to a hologram!

We had the video done and ready to go 24 hours prior to dinner!  All I had to do was sort out how to project the video and have the audio be heard clearly.  Since R2 would be facing a wall, I brought external computer speakers that could plug into the projector's audio output port.

On the day of the event, I arrived right on time and unloaded R2-D2.  The kids quickly greeted me at the van and helped me unload.  Due to the layout of the sidewalk, steps and porch, R2 had quite a trek to climb!  I'd get R2 over one hurdle, move the aluminum ramp, then over the next.  By time R2 made it inside, I was sweating really good...quite the cardio workout!

As was pre-planned, WABI-TV (CBS) was there interviewing Sarah about her weekly ritual.  She had no idea that I had worked with them a week in advance.  We wanted to catch their reaction to the hologram from Dustin.

Once R2 was settled inside and everything was powered on, I answered all the their questions and demonstrated all the sounds and lights R2 has.  I told them that R2 can do the Princess Leia hologram message and they immediately wanted to see that.  Once Princess Leia's clip had finished, the boys were all open-mouthed and asking if I had more videos to play.  I hinted that I had something they would probably like a lot....

News Link 1:  http://www.krqe.com/dpps/news/strange/video-soldier-uses-r2-d2-to-surprise-family-ob12-jgr_4160533

News Link 2:   http://www.wlfi.com/dpps/news/strange/video-soldier-uses-r2-d2-to-surprise-family-ob12-jgr_4160533

(The video streaming from WABI doesn't seem to work for some viewers)

Sarah was video recording the boys as they were watching the holograms.  Her reaction to the hologram is fantastic...

I'll continue about our visit tomorrow...however if you would like to see the beautiful pictures professional photographer Andrea Hand took, here is the link...