Keystone
Astronomer
Goes to B-5
Babylon-5 button


Keystone Astronomer goes to Babylon-5
Second Season but My First Visit


by RL Dietz

On March 24, 1995, I arrived at the front door of Babylonian Productions in Sun Valley, California just at the stroke of noon. Sun Valley is about 30 miles north of LA.. and centered between Burbank (the "Tonight Show") and Pasadena (the Planetary Society and J.P.L - but thatís another story). Aqua Productions produces the popular Sci-Fi series, Babylon-5 - and as a contributing artist, I was their guest.

After getting through security I was lead into the office and workshop of Daniel Saks, the props/art director (he ordered my photos for B-5). The office reminded me of up-stairs at my house - billions of little projects everywhere. I was in this room for about 15 minutes and as I milled around, people kept walking through from all directions. It was like I was at central control, turns out that the room had four doors but you couldnít see them because of all the posters and stuff. I met John Iacovelli who is a long time friend of Don Hamilton of Spokane and my first contact to B-5. John Iacovelli is the Production Designer (his name is in the credits right after JMS).

Eventually this guy named Mitch, I think he was the visual effects man, got the job of giving me the grand tour of the facility. But first - lunch. Mitch took me through a maze of hallways and pointed out a prop room that was piled to the roof (and the ceiling was 3 stories up) as we made our way to the back lot.

Lunch was served banquet style. There were about 30 or 40 people around when we arrived but there was seating for over a hundred. I was trying not to look too disappointed that I didnít recognize anyone when I realized that I was standing next to Captain John Sharidan (Bruce Boxlightener) and had to 'make like Spock' and totally control my emotions. "Whoa!" I thought, "This could be fun!" By the time we had finished a great lunch, I had seen: Garobaldi - Chief of Security, Lieutenant Commander Ivanova, the Telepath - Talia Winters, and the Doctor, as well as a dozen other prominent personalities and even J.Michael Straczynski the Executive Producer/Writer. All in all it was the most exciting lunch I ever had. We left for the sets and the grand tour of the Space Station Babylon-5.

As we went through the first set, Mitch told me all about everything. It seems the sliding doors on B-5 work about the same as the doors on Star Trek's Enterprise. Someone makes a Pussssssh sound and someone else inside the wall pulls the door open. It takes split second timing - or a retake and a nose straightening. Anyway, to make a long story a little shorter, I have been in just about every room of the space station Babylon 5. My favorites were the 'Eclipse' cafe, 'C & C' and of course the human crew quarters with my images on the walls! When I watch the show now it is really like Iíve been there. De Ja Vous all over again.

To top off the trek, we went onto the screening room and watched about a half hour of what they call in the business, the 'dailies.' This is where editors watch ALL the takes and do a lot of cutting and cracking up. By this I mean that what I saw was very funny. These actors must all be comedians at heart because they really have a hard time doing this stuff with a straight face. The funniest of them all was the Telepath - Talia Winters, but I can't tell you why, (yes - I'd have to kill you!). It's easy to see why it takes days of hard labor just to get a few seconds of final production. And I thought it was all those special effects computer graphics.

Well, I feel like I have been where no Keystone Astronomer has been before. I have to tell you that this expedition ranks among my top ten. Due to 'proprietary' and security concerns I was not allowed to have a camera of any kind so you will just have to take my word for it that this all happened.

If you watch carefully, you can see my work on the walls of the human crew quarters.


Interview With the "5 TIMES" conducted by Des Watkins

1. Briefly summarize your involvement with B5.

My involvement with B5 is a cosmic fluke of the Universe. I have a friend, who has a friend, who works for B5, and he needed "spacey" set dressing in a hurry, for FREE for the first season.

I sent a half dozen prints and the rest is future history. They used 6 of my images for the first season. When they got the 'go' for the second season, the set director (Daniel Saks) ordered a bunch of large prints from my portfolio and I even got paid for those prints (Of course I didn't tell them that I would have paid to have my work on the show). They used eight (8) more images for seasons 2 through 4. When they got the 'go' for season 5, another order was placed by the current set director, Jason Howard. The new captainís quarters have been adorned with no less than 9 of my images - all new except one, a larger print of my Aurora Galore.

Aurora Galore

I have just been invited to be an extra in a crowd scene in season five! I will be driving down to LA at the end of February, 1998. I am so excited I can hardly stand it!! (Update 8/15/98: I am in a Zocolo crowd scene in the 3rd to the last season five episode - "The Wheel of Fire" See my site for that story. It airs on TNT on November 4, 1998

2. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.

I was born in Jacksonville, FL, in 1949, but had to move frequently during my early years, this being easier on my parents than explaining me to the neighbors (You can read more about me on my bio page).

3. What advice would you give any aspiring photographers wishing to pursue astronomical photography?

To be honest, I would recommend not to start. Time exposures on photographic film is a dinosaur technology and it's a pain in the neck - literally. Time spent at a guiding eyepiece is tedious, quite often non-productive and habit forming. As much as it 'ergs' me to say it, if I was just starting out now, I would go with the electronic imaging technology that is available today. With CCD's, exposure times are in seconds - not hours. Better yet, just buy my images, they are actual photographs.

4. What astronomical event is your 'white whale'? In other words, what stellar happening/phenomenon would you most like to photograph, however unlikely or impossible it may be?

Easy question for me. I want Betelgeuse to go super nova in my lifetime. We are way overdue for a good supernova in the Northern Hemisphere.

5. (This one's for any techno-philes) What equipment did you use for your award-winning photograph of Haley's Comet?

Real basic stuff: A 35mm camera, 28-80mm zoom lens 1600 ASA film, piggyback mounted on an 8 in. Newtonian telescope on a German Equatorial guiding mount. Please see my write-up about it on my web site.

6. What is your favorite piece of equipment?

I have a lot of toys. For the last few years my Macintosh Centris 650 was my favorite toy - now it's my PowerMac, but I still have the ol' C650. Runner-ups for second place include: my cameras, telescopes, a 'Star Trek' pinball machine (circa 1974) and my mini-motor home (circa 1977, mopar) - for trekkin'. I should mention my photo lab, for a photographic artist it is a dream come true and it makes me a good living. Because of photography and astronomy (and sleep) I spend most of my life playing in the dark. In my lab, I can put an enlarger 15 feet above the easel and develop photo paper up to 40 inches wide and over 8 feet long in my 42 inch roller transport processor, or 50 by 70 inches in a drum.

I suppose I should mention my video equipment, without witch I could not produce my public access program called "Keystone Astronomers - At Large." I have been on cable TV for over 9 years now. It's a karefree (sic) examination of the Kosmos. Did mention that I am a bachelor? (That's how I can afford all these toys, not to mention time) You too can be a Keystone Astronomer, just raise a hand and swear (either hand, any good cuss word) and say "I'm a Keystone Astronomer and I'm OK"

7. What is it that appeals to you about Babylon 5?

EVERYTHING (and it doesn't hurt to see my stuff on the walls either).

8. Do you have any favorite B5 moments?

I have several, like - ALL of them, but I'll mention two. When Marcus states that he takes "great solace in the unfair nature of the Universe, imagine how depressing it would be if what we were getting, we actually deserved." This is very close to my personal philosophy on life and realistic optimism - in a bent sort of way.
View from the Shuttle The other moment was when Sharaden was looking into the mirror just before going to Z'hadum. Behind him he saw Kosh, who said "If you go to Z'hadum you will die." Sheridan turns around to face Kosh and Kosh had vanished!! And the screen is FILLED with my 'fisheye' photo of the sky that looks like the View From a Shuttle when displayed upside down.

9. Who or what, would you say, has been the greatest
influence on your life and career.


When I was about 7 years old, I saw Saturn with my own eye through a giant telescope and I, like Galileo, was never quite the same. In 1972 and '73, I canoed through the Canadian Arctic wilderness called the Barrens and spiritually never returned.
Aberdeen Glass
in The Barrens, Canadian Arctic
Aberdeen Glass in The Barrens, Antarctica

The 'Who' in this question has to be John Lennon in my early years and R. Buckminster Fuller later. Buckey Fuller "sent" me back to school in 1987 and I got my first degree in 1990 (I started college in 1969 and dropped out in '74). I continued my "professional student" status until '96 and don't regret a penny of it. (I'm paying on big student loans)

10. Do you have any thoughts on what the future may be like in 250 years time? And how would you hope it will be?

I expect the future will look a lot like most good fiction. One of the reasons for my optimism is that I don't believe that the speed of light is the fastest speed there is. This is, of course, critical to extended space travel. It's only a 'gut' feeling, and I do understand the physicists arguments to the contrary, but it's my feeling. Don't give me no speed limits.

If you ever dive into the topic of Bucky Fuller, you will learn that "Beam me up, Scotty" is entirely likely in the not to distant future.

in Valen's name
RL Dietz

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