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News Release

February 27, 1998
Actor Charlton Heston lends big voice to Sandia's little machines

[Charlton Heston]
Celebrated actor Charlton Heston displays a silicon wafer containing thousands of tiny silicon machines in a scene from Sandia's new micromachine/ microsystems video program.
Download 150dpi JPEG image, 'hestonw2.jpg', 128K

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Sandia National Laboratories' micromachines are tiny little marvels, but now they have a spokesman who is bigger than life.

Charlton Heston, one of the world's most recognized, admired, and honored actors, provides onscreen and voice-over narration for a new promotional video about micromachine and integrated microelectronics research and development at Sandia, which is a U.S. Department of Energy science and engineering facility focused on national security research and development. (Clips are available for viewing on the World Wide Web. The address: http://www.mdl.sandia.gov/micromachine/heston.html.)

On the video, Heston taps into a half-century's worth of performing experience to speak compellingly and convincingly about the role of microsystems in nuclear weapons surety and other, broader applications. He conveys a sense of wonder about the engineering genius behind mechanical devices too small to see but big enough to perhaps change the world.

If Heston's presence adds an unprecedented luster to the Sandia video, completed just this month, the way he got involved makes an interesting story in itself.

Paul McWhorter, Deputy Director for the Technology, Microelectronics and Photonics Center, explained that Center Director Al Romig wanted a new video that portrayed the vision behind Sandia's microsystems work.

"Working with the Video Services Department we put together a rough cut of a video," McWhorter said, "but because of the widespread excitement in this technology, Al wanted to see if we could get a high-profile person to narrate it for us."

The result was a list of 50 "big name" people, actors and other celebrities who just about everyone would recognize.

"Our idea was to work our way down this list," McWhorter said. But the first name on the list was Charlton Heston.

"We sent him a letter, explaining who we were, what we were doing, and why it is important to the nation," McWhorter said. "We appealed to his patriotism and advised him that we really couldn't pay him but hoped he'd be willing to donate his services in the national interest."

The letter said, in part: "We believe you can communicate our message with maximum impact.... In a world without underground nuclear testing, Sandia must continue to insure a safe, secure, and reliable nuclear stockpile, as it has over the past 40 years, by rendering an 'exceptional service in the national interest.' Will you help?"

"Within a couple of weeks," McWhorter said, "he contacted us and said he'd love to be involved."

[ratio transmissions]
A closeup of Sandia's 3 million-to-1 ratio transmission. The distance across the photo equals about one-third the width of a human hair. Sandia may adopt this technology for use as nearly invisible locks for nuclear weapons. It may also be useful in satellite communications, sensors, optical telescopes, and optical switching for phone lines.
Download 150dpi JPEG image, 'TRANSMIS.jpg', 288K

On January 13, McWhorter and Dave Sparks of the Video Services Department, with a local crew with expertise in precisely this kind of production, arrived at the actor's home, where the shoot was to occur. Sparks directed the video segment and McWhorter was on hand as technical subject matter expert.

"Working with Charlton Heston was a dream," said Sparks, who has directed a number of Sandia videos. Sparks admits to being a bit "starstruck" at first, but quickly found that working with Heston was "like working with any other actor, except of course that he's a major movie icon. What you find is that working with a good actor is a lot easier than working with a bad actor, and he is very, very good. The consummate professional."

"We were scheduled to show up at 7:30 in the morning," McWhorter said, "and we obviously didn't want to be late, so we pulled into his driveway at 7 o'clock." Not wanting to disturb the actor so early in the morning, McWhorter, Sparks and the crew hunkered down in the van and waited. A few minutes later, Heston emerged from his house in his bathrobe -- he had just gotten out of the shower -- tapped on the window of the van and invited the team to come on in.

"My anticipation was that we'd go in, Mr. Heston would read through the script a time or two, we'd shoot the video and that would be that," McWhorter said.

It wasn't like that at all.

Instead he sat down with the Sandia pair and worked on the script. "He did quite a lot of wordsmithing; by the time we started shooting, the script was really refined and tailored for Mr. Heston's style," McWhorter said.

The thing that makes Heston so effective on the video, McWhorter said, is that he became fascinated with the technology, really amazed with the way we make these things and what they might be used for. The interest comes across in the video.

"To have someone of his stature be involved with us," McWhorter said, "has really boosted our pride in what we're doing here."

Sandia is a multiprogram DOE laboratory, operated by a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin Corp. With main facilities in Albuquerque, N.M., and Livermore, Calif., Sandia has major research and development responsibilities in national defense, energy, environmental technologies and economic competitiveness.

Media contact:
Bill Murphy, wtmurph@sandia.gov, (505) 845-0845

Technical contact:
Paul McWhorter, mcwhorpj@sandia.gov, (505) 844-4683

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