The HAL 9000 Prop

Kosmo Photo (via Jim Coudal, of course):

HAL 9000 needed to be all-seeing — the film’s plot hinges on his ability to detect a conversation between two of the crew. So he decided to use a camera lens.

The on-screen HAL 9000 — the single “eye” in blazing red — was played by one of Nikon’s most extreme lenses, its 8mm f/8 fisheye. But how did they add the glow? Simple — they used the camera’s very own red filter (R60) which screws on to the back of the lens. Then they simply shone a light through it.

Peter Jackson owns one of the original props now, and showed it to Adam Savage. So simple, so iconic.

There are so many aspects of 2001 that were remarkably prescient. One that’s gotten a lot of attention over the last decade is that astronauts Dave Bowman and Frank Poole use remarkably iPad-like tablets and watch video in portrait mode.

But this story on the HAL 9000 props reminds me of another one — the fact that HAL is a ship-wide presence, with no single instantiation. HAL doesn’t move from room to room on the Discovery — there are simply HAL consoles in every room of the ship. This seems obvious today with our various Alexa / Siri / Google devices strewn about our homes (and pockets), but this wasn’t obvious at all in the 1960s. The obvious way to do HAL back then would have been to make him a robot of sort.

Our AI assistants today are all incredibly crude and primitive compared to HAL, but the way we interact with them is exactly what was predicted in 2001.

Monday, 30 September 2019