Marketing Immortality

"I find the head-freezing business a little, not strange, but overhopeful, a little too self-absorbed."

That's Mary Roach, author of "Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers", quoted in a NYT article by Richard Sandomir on Sunday.

The article profiles the Arizona-based Alcor Life Extension Foundation, of Ted Williams' head fame. Population: 67 (52 heads, 15 bodies).

To raise the comfort level with its services, Alcor offers tours of its facility to anyone wanting to take one. The tours include a visit to the operating room, though not when a medical team prepares lifeless bodies for freezing by pumping them full of chemicals to protect their insides from ice formation or by taking 15 minutes or so to saw off a head - technically a "cephalic isolation." The tours, however, do include a walk through the "patient bay," the banks of tanks full of bodies and heads.

This isn't my first encounter with Alcor. Years ago, I co-directed a student film in which the main character is cryogenically frozen, and thawed out in the future in the middle of a war. Battle scene shot on top of Mt. Mitchell. Cool low budget CGI. Not bad (over)acting. Much fun to be a film student for a living, where your job is to be creative.

We sent off for information from Alcor, in order to get the cryonics scene as technically accurate as possible. If you want to see how the scene turned out, you should rent "Vanilla Sky", the Tom Cruise/Penelope Cruz movie directed by Cameron Crowe. Its freezing scene is nearly identical to ours, down to the shot sequence and camera angles.

Our film was shown at a gathering of CG animators in 1998. "Vanilla Sky" was released in 2001. But when you think about it, how many different ways are there to shoot a person being submerged in liquid nitrogen?

It turns out that both Crowe and my team were wrong in our visualization. Here's more of how it's actually done.

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