His mission is out of this world

first_img After calling up the knowledge he’d learned as a kid to manufacture unusually realistic space suits for such films as “Deep Impact” and “Armageddon,” he started getting calls from people outside the Hollywood realm. His suits came out nearly as functional as the real deal, at only a fraction of the cost, which got the scientific community interested in this bushy-haired man from the land of smoke and mirrors. “One day, I get a phone call from a professor at Berkeley, asking if I’d be interested in helping design a next-generation spacesuit for women,” Gilman said. “I tried to figure out who it was, thinking it was someone who was playing a joke on me.” It wasn’t. As he dabbled in space design, he developed a reputation as a Hollywood guy who cared enough to do things right, which led to another phone call from Gump to Global Effects in 2004. NASA was looking for replacement proposals for the space shuttle, scheduled for retirement in 2010 and t/Space needed Gilman’s help. So he took their designs, threw a team of 15 builders and $250,000 into the projects and built a full-scale mock-up of the crew capsule that would take astronauts from Earth to the International Space Station. T/Space has showed it off at trade shows and will be formally submitting it to NASA in February. If the space agency picks the design, it could be ferrying humans and cargo into the heavens by 2010. Being involved in a project that could be equally influential as any from NASA’s glory days doesn’t seem to faze Gilman, however. When asked a relatively straightforward question about how it feels to have his hands mixed into history, he nods, thinks for a moment and responds. “Well, it reminds me of an old blacksmith’s trick in sword handle design,” he said. Brent Hopkins, (818) 713-3738 [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORESanta Anita opens winter meet Saturday with loaded card His mom, a librarian, loaded him up with books on craft work, and on weekends, they’d work on the family race car. It was not, to be sure, a regular childhood. And his current profession isn’t too regular, either. In Global Effects’ chilly workshop, not far from eviscerated dummies, an arsenal of wicked-looking crossbows, samurai swords and maces and a larger-than-life animated figure of John Lennon, sits a full-size mock-up of a replacement for the space shuttle. “Chris tells a pretty good story about adapting suits of armor to space suits,” said David Gump, president of t/Space, the Reston, Va., aerospace company that contracted Global Effects to provide the life-size model of its proposed CXV spacecraft. “If you’re not familiar with suits of armor, you don’t understand. In essence, they’re protecting you against the vacuum of space.” Gilman founded the company 20 years ago to serve as a prop shop and creature builder, doing things like enormous rats and ghouls for horror movies. In 1991, he won an Academy Award in the technical category for his development of a cooling system to be worn inside monster suits. But he was just getting started. NORTH HOLLYWOOD – When he was just a kid, Chris Gilman worked on the Apollo program. As an adult, he’s helping send astronauts back into space. The story behind both is an odd one, but for a guy who builds medieval armor for grins, it somehow makes sense. Equally versed in competitive sword fighting and astronaut suit construction, Gilman made his name in the special-effects business and now finds himself working on a space mission. “The way I grew up, I wasn’t taught problem solving as a path, but like the spokes of a wheel,” said Gilman, president of Global Effects Inc., which builds swords and monsters for Hollywood and spacecraft prototypes for the aerospace industry. “You look down on it, see all the different ways to go out and figure out the best one.” As a boy, he helped his engineer father inventory parts that ended up on the moon as part of the Apollo 11 mission. This home-taught expertise landed him with the 12th-graders in his high school metal shop as a freshman, and he got so good at making leather goods that he ended up teaching a course before he even graduated. last_img