Explore Movie Monsters this Summer with All-New Special FX Camp

When I was a kid, I lived a couple of years in Singapore. There, at the time, the media was somewhat censored, so your TV viewing options on a Saturday afternoon were limited. Consequently, I have seen the 1981 film Clash of the Titans approximately 60 times. It was on the approved media list, apparently.


This cinematic masterpiece was produced by Ray Harryhausen, who was known for his special effects techniques well before CGI. What made his techniques fun was the use of stop-motion animation. This made things that would not have otherwise been possible suddenly within the realm of possibility and gave inspiration to some of today’s most famous directors such as George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson and Tim Burton.



For those of you born more recently, Monsters, Inc. threw back to the original Harryhausen. Think you can remember the reference? Here’s a photo of Harryhausen while you think about it…


Time’s up! “Harryhausen’s” was the name of the restaurant that Mike and Cecelia were canoodling in before Scully and an uninvited Boo interrupted their dinner. Did you get it right?



This summer, we will be introducing a new generation to the wonders of monster movie magic with a new camp called Monster Movie Maker. Campers will spend part of the day discovering the myths surrounding some of our favorite monsters and doing a little myth-busting with some science experiments; they will also learn the art of stop-motion animation as they create some monster movies of their own. Here are two non-monster related stop motion videos I made for practice.

Finally, they will spend the last part of the day learning some tips and techniques for monster transformation. Check out HMNS’s very own Kelsey, who was transformed from a regular gal to a sassy vampire. As the week progresses, so will the transformations. By the end of the week, campers will be working on applying prosthetics as part of their makeup magic.


Got a camper between ages 10 and 12, doesn’t have a latex allergy, and wants to come create with us? Click here and sign up for camp! There are only a handful of spots left!

Are you a grown-up who is too old for camp, but still wants to come play monster? Check back here in October. We will be posting some tutorials for some of the simpler monsters make-overs.

Already a monster but want to up your game? We will be offering some Monster Make-Over Classes for some of the more complex monsters this fall. Look for the September-October Museum News, the blog in September or the e-blasts in October for more information.

Coincidence or Cooperation? Amazon Feathers & Modern Jewels

Here at HMNS, we frequently offer exhibitions that showcase stunning and diverse artistry from cultures around the globe and throughout time. In working here, I’m privileged to be able to walk through each as much as I can while they are here, and absorb the colors, forms, and inspiration of thousands of years of human culture. I love design – modern, ancient, however humans have creatively assembled things. We’re a science museum – but there is just so much art in science. I’m constantly fascinated by it.

Amethyst Necklace,
designed by Ernesto Moreira;
on display in the Gem Vault.

Which was why I am delighted to share something I noticed recently – a commonality between the very modern design showcased in one of our permanent exhibitions and the design of several of the absolutely stunning works of feather art in our current Spirits & Headhunters exhibition – which, while created in relatively modern times (within the last 100 years or so) reflect a design tradition that goes back centuries – if not thousands of years.

Many of the pieces on display in the Smith Gem Vault were created by a local designer, Ernesto Moreira, specifically to showcase some of the worlds most striking and rare gemstones. Made circa 2005-2006, they were inspired by architectural elements – as Ernesto put it, “the ornamental ironwork on windows, doors, and street lights, so prevalent in European cities,” which he has spent many years observing, sketching and photographing.

In contrast, the unique feather art of the Ka’apor tribe is some of the most beautiful and delicate ornamentation produced in the Amazon. Produced for ceremonial use – and then discarded – these objects are created in two sets: one specifically for men, the other for women. The tukaniwar shown below is a “spectacular neck ornament,” made for women from “mythologically harmless bird feathers…the blue color connects the wearer to the sky where all the culture heroes dwell.”  (Check out the exhibit catalog for more info.)

As you can see from the image, there are blue feathers woven into the ornament that would have hung in the front – as well as the smaller ornament that would have hung in back, once the necklace was tied.

tukaniwar, on display in
Spirits & Headhunters

It would seem that these two objects – created by artists from very different cultural traditions – would have nothing in common. However, the hanging feathered ornament is extremely similar to the small jeweled ornaments that Ernesto designed into the clasp of his pieces in the Gem Vault (if you haven’t been in the Vault yet – trust me, you’re going to want to check it out in person).

I wondered if there could possibly be a connection – and when associate curator for Amazonia Adam Mekler was here to install the Spirits & Headhunters exhibition, I asked him. Sure enough – it turns out that Moreira had worked with Mekler many years ago when parts of this collection were first on display.

Pretty amazing coincidence, to be sure – but I had to find out if there was any merit to the theory that one had influenced the other. (This *is* a science museum, after all.) Here’s what Ernesto had to say:

” I can tell you right away Adam’s pieces did not have an immediate direct impact on my work. That said, I have noticed a pattern in the way my brain works in regards to creativity. When I was a teenager, I looked at Japanese prints and architecture… then in my early twenties I made a collection of one of a kind pieces called little people. One time during a solo Gallery show the entire collection sold out. The gallery owner told me it was sold to mainly Asian customers. Sometime later…I realized how Japanese my pieces actually were… in their geometry and their compositional balance. Most recently during the making of the museum Gem Vault pieces I began to adorn the settings with filigree… but not just the normal filigree… a more architectural version. This time it did not take me long to figure out that, once again, I was translating many of the images in my head into my jewelry designs since I had spent many years sketching and photographing much of the ornamental ironwork on windows, doors, and street lights, so prevalent in European cities (something I still do). So it seems I work best absorbing and letting be, then somehow, sometime the subject matter reappears in my work. I worked with Adam Mekler and his incredible Amazonian collection during many years and for months at a time I would handle these amazing works… absorbing as usual. I doubt that such resemblance between the indigenous works and my own are purely coincidental, yet I cannot claim an intentional link.” [emphasis mine]

So, not an intentional connection – but I was pleased to discover such a link between ornamentation designed by these two very different artists and cultures. It’s fascinating to see how artists are inspired and how very different cultures can influence one another, sometimes in seemingly random – but very delightful – ways. It inspires me to take a closer look at everything around me, in the museum – but also out in the world. Part of the joy in seeing real artifacts, up close, is having the opportunity to examine them for these little details that allow you to really experience the object first-hand.

So, how about you – what little things have you noticed about the world?

The Lester and Sue Smith Gem Vault is a permanent exhibition at HMNS – but you only have a few more weeks to see Spirits & Headhunters before the exhibition moves on. Don’t miss it! Before you come, you can learn more about these fascinating cultures in a preview video interview with curator Adam Mekler below.

Can’t see the video? Watch it here.

Vikings – Fact and Fiction

September in Houston means back to school for the Museum’s campers and the start of weekday programs for the Education staff.  While the classroom floors get a fresh coat of wax after a long summer, the Museum teachers are hard at work creating a myriad of classes for the upcoming school year. 

The Museum is not just about touring the halls anymore; no sir!  Children from all over Houston come to discover, learn, and be engaged in our hands-on weekday labs.  Interacting with live animals, dissecting biological specimens, experimenting with scientific equipment, and handling real artifacts are just some of the fun going on in our classrooms!

It just so happens that the topic for September’s Time Lab (my class, of course) is Vikings.  It’s amazing the amount of disinformation out there about the Vikings; poor guys.  They are the victims of a real smear campaign. 

Let’s take a few of the most popular myths:

Myth #1 – Vikings were filthy! WRONG. Vikings bathed once a week (on Saturday) and washed their faces every day.  By our standards, this is still disgusting, but in a world where people may have only bathed once or twice in a lifetime, I’d say the Vikings were pretty darn clean!  They also had soap, ear spoons (used to dig out ear wax, yummy!), razors, tweezers and combs.

Myth #2 – Vikings were brutal killers. WRONG. Well, sort of – Vikings were no more brutal than most other groups living at the time, they were just really good at being mean and scary.  Their swift-moving ships with the carved dragon heads must have created “shock and awe” in any group they encountered.  They also had well-organized armies, and many bleached their hair a white blond – which must have looked alarming to say the least.

Myth #3– Vikings drank from cups made from skulls. WRONG. A mistranslation from the original language into Latin had the Vikings drinking mead out of the skulls of those defeated in battle.  Properly translated it should have read horns, not skulls, but details…Phew, that makes the Vikings seem a lot more cuddly.  Incidentally, most Vikings would have taken their mead in a wooden cup; horns were reserved for the rich and important.

Myth #4 – Vikings wore helmets with horns. WRONG. As much as I want this one to be true, it doesn’t seem to be the case.  Vikings with horns just didn’t exist.  It seems this image was popularized by art, opera, books, and movies. Thanks, Wagner!  There are on-going arguments about how many – if any –  horned helmets have been preserved from Viking times.  It would seem that if they were so popular, we might at least have one preserved.

I hope you enjoyed my attempt at reviving the reputation of the Vikings.  Check back soon to see what else we have in store!