Konnie’ is Reichert Planetarium’s Newest ‘Staff’ Member

Konica Minolta Projector Morphs into Comic Strip and Show Presenter

Dave Bush, director of the Reichert Planetarium at the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum, was shutting down all the systems in the William and Mollie Rogers Theater on the night before the Museum closed officially at the start of the Covid-19 quarantine.

“I was turning off the control systems and checking a few things over,” he said. “There were only few dim lights on. I looked at the star projector in the middle of the theater and imagined how she would miss the crowds of people that once visited.”

As he mused, he had a thought: “Wouldn’t it be cool to turn Konnie into a comic-book character? ‘Konnie’ is the nickname the Planetarium staff gave to our star projector – from Konica Minolta, the company that manufactured her. I kept thinking about various scenarios and situations that Konnie could be in, and really give her a personality.”

(Above right: Konnie, The Star Projector. Illustration by Vanderbilt artist Megan Gallipeau.)

After Bush discussed his ideas with Planetarium graphic illustrator Megan Gallipeau, she was excited to bring Konnie to life.

“Megan immediately started sketching and coming up with this fantastic character that is both endearing and captivating. Megan is incredibly talented. She is not only creating the artwork for Konnie but also researching topics in astronomy that will be of interest to family audiences,” Bush said.

Bush said Konnie will become a Planetarium presenter and discuss topics related to astronomy. Some recent Konnie comic strips cover Saturn, Venus, the life cycle of stars, black holes, and galaxies.

“It will be a short strip that’s creative, artistic, and entertaining in the way that comics are,” he said.

Gallipeau has produced a dozen color strips so far. The drawings will be reproduced in both color and in black and white so children can color them. The strips will be assembled into educational worksheets to download and print.

“We’ll soon start rolling them out weekly,” he said, and post them in the At-Home Learning section of the Museum’s website. Plans are to publish the Konnie comic strips as a book to sell in the Museum gift shop.

“I’m not the greatest artist in the world,’ Bush said with a laugh, “so I took some photos of the projector with my smartphone and spoke with Megan. She said, what about dialogue? I started piecing together a few ideas. Then after drawing some really rough sketches using stick figures as characters, I wrote out some dialogue.

“Megan turned all of it into a lovable character that resulted in the first comic strip title, ‘First Flight.’ It’s funny, because as the comics progress Konnie is slowly becoming a sort of Planetarium mascot.”

Console operators – staff members who operate the command console for the projection system and often speak during some programs – can have Konnie pop up on the dome as an overlay on the show they’re presenting, Bush said, and she can comment on what the audience is seeing and learning.

“We can now remove Konnie from her fixed position and animate her on the dome to take us on adventures though space and time. We’re also planning to use Konnie as a time machine to travel back in time,” he said. The next series of strips will talk about the birthplace of stars and a trip to Mars.

“Console operators, who often give star talks, can communicate with Konnie and have back-and-forth dialogue. She has a face now. The next step will be to give her a voice.”

The Planetarium has created six videos so far and the Museum’s Education Department has created several series of fun learning projects for children. Each project includes fascinating facts about marine, bird and insect life, along with pictures to download, print and color or paint.

All this programming can be accessed through the At-Home Learning button at the top of the Vanderbilt Museum website home page:

Click here to see all Vanderbilt Museum and Reichert Planetarium virtual programming.

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