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  • A Christmas Without Optics
Nov 2010
Nov. 29, 2010 — If you know me at all you know I’m a huge fan of the Peanuts Halloween special, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. It is by far my favorite of the many television offerings from Charles Schulz and company: a tale of a boy against society, holding fast to to his idiosyncratic worldview, constructing his own elaborate set of rituals, even as those all around him pressure him to conform to a more orthodox but ultimately more oppressive code of conduct.

In my book, The Great Pumpkin is one of the all-time awesome holidays specials. But Halloween is a fading memory. And now even Thanksgiving has passed us by. It’s time to move on.

I’ve begun to see ads for a number of Christmas specials, and these have led me to ponder the role played by optics in the celebration of Christmas (I am, after all, paid to ponder such things). I’ve begun to contemplate, for example, what a Christmas without optics would look like – a Christmas without light-emitting devices, lasers and 3-D digital projectors, among other light-based technologies. Here are just a few of the things we might no longer have.

Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer

As it turns out, the song makes no mention of any kind of light-emitting mechanism. It says only that the reindeer’s nose is rather shiny, and if you happened to see it you might describe it as having a sort of effulgence. The idea of an actual illuminated nose – powered by a light-emitting device of some sort – was introduced only later, probably by the 1964 Ranking/Bass stop-motion animated TV special.

So without optics we would still have the “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer” story and song, but we might not have the stop-motion animated TV special. At least not the special we’ve come to know and love, with the “light bulb” nose literally driving the narrative. And without this, we might not have Yukon Cornelius; a singing, dancing Abominable Snowman; or the Island of Misfit Toys. Take a moment to let that sink in.

Christmas Laser Beam Cats

This one somehow escaped my attention last Christmastime: a minor viral sensation inspired by the “Laser Cats” digital short on Saturday Night Live. Here, the titular cats appear to have developed an ability to shoot lasers out of their eyes. Recognizing the destructive potential of these suddenly sinister animals, a pair of Christmas Day combatants – the source of their tensions is never made clear – wield them as weapons in a rapidly escalating conflict.

High-concept stuff, to be sure. Imagine, though, what it would be without the laser. The video would feature only a couple of dudes dressed as elves running around with cats in their arms. And that, of course, would just be silly.

 3-D Christmas Movies Featuring A-List Actors in Multiple Roles

I know this is still a relatively narrow category, including only The Polar Express (2004) and A Christmas Carol (2009). Mark my words, though, it’s going to explode. I mean, a manic Jim Carrey as Ebenezer Scrooge and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future? Truly, that’s a gift that keeps on giving.

I’m right now envisioning Frosty the Snowman with Tracy Morgan as both Frosty and Professor Hinkle. Or a remake of Rudolph with Russell Brand as the entire Island of Misfit Toys.

A critical component of my plan, of course, is the 3-D technology developed over the past decade or so – the 3-D digital projectors, the polarized glasses – not to mention the motion capture technology needed to map Morgan’s antics onto the various animated characters. Without these, I think, the holidays would be just a tiny bit less joyous.

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