July 8, 2005

Cornell alumnus Dan Maas '01 earns Emmy nomination for realistic Mars rover animation

Dan Maas
Frank DiMeo/University Photography
In a photo from 2003, Dan Maas '01 displays a computer-generated image showing several stages of the Mars rover landing and deployment.

Cornell alumnus Dan Maas '01, whose realistic Mars rover mission animations have been shown on television news programs the world over, received an Emmy Award nomination for his animation featured in the PBS Nova documentary "Mars: Dead or Alive."

The 26th Annual News and Documentary Emmy Award nominees were announced July 7 by the National Television Academy. The awards, recognizing outstanding achievement by individuals and programs broadcast during 2004, will be given Sept. 19 in New York City.

Maas was nominated in the "Outstanding Individual Achievement in a Craft: Graphic and Artistic Design" category. The documentary itself was nominated in the "Outstanding Science, Technology and Nature Programming" category. PBS is rebroadcasting "Mars: Dead or Alive" July 12 at 8 p.m.

Recently Maas created the high-definition animation for NASA that portrayed a conceptualized view of the Deep Impact probe's July 4 collision with comet Tempel 1. Founder of Maas Digital in Ithaca, he was hired to create the computerized animations on the strength of the widely heralded videos he developed for NASA's Mars rover missions.

Maas, who entered Cornell at age 16, has been making films and animations since elementary school. At Cornell he was a College Scholar, which allowed him to set his own curriculum, and he took courses mainly in math, physics and theater arts. He launched Digital Cinema -- the precursor to Maas Digital -- at 16 and interned with an animation studio in Los Angeles at 17. But his animation techniques are mostly self-taught. About half of Maas' work is now for NASA; the other half is for aerospace companies.

Mark Davis of MDTV Productions near Boston directed and produced the documentary, which aired after the rover Spirit's landing in January 2004. Davis used about 10 minutes of Maas' animation, including six minutes of new animation that took Maas three months to complete. "I was working at breakneck speed," he said.

Currently Maas is developing animation for a forthcoming Walt Disney IMAX film about the Mars rover mission, scheduled to be released in early 2006.