Find out how Sent Into Space premiered Season 5 Episode 1 of Rick and Morty in space on a bespoke model of Rick's spaceship.
The tale of Mr. Nimbus and a Narnia-like world completely wrecked by Morty's continuing incompetence are a stellar start to the new series of Rick and Morty. To match the excitement of the show's long-anticipated return to screens, Adult Swim reached out to our team to do something incredible and actually play the first episode of Rick and Morty Season 5 in space.
We discussed a range of ideas for how best to achieve this out-of-this-world stunt. Ultimately, we decided to build a scale replica of Rick's own spaceship from the show with a bespoke digital screen in front of the windscreen that could survive the harsh extremes of space.
This project earned Sent Into Space and Adult Swim a CLIO Grand in the category of "Television/Series: Social Media". The CLIO Awards recognise excellence in media, design, and communication. The project was praised for its ability to engage with fans in a new and innovative way and for pushing the boundaries of traditional marketing campaigns.
Building a spacecraft for Rick and Morty
When challenged to build Rick's own ship from the show, we knew we had to make something picture-perfect. We took design notes from the show itself as well as creative input directly from the art department on the show. However, in true Adult Swim style, we were encouraged to pour our passion for the show into the project and take the initiative as well. If you look closely, you'll see a range of Easter Eggs, hinting at the team's favourite episodes from previous seasons!
We built Rick's ship on a plywood foundation with a lightweight, modular 3D-printed outer shell to sketch out the body of the ship. Internal elements were sculpted from high-density modelling foam covered with a layer of hand-modelled silicon clay for fine details. Finally, the entire model was textured and painted by hand. From initial design discussions to the final assembly, the ship model took over three hundred hours to produce—and that's not including the display system to show the actual footage of the episode.
We have plenty of experience optimizing electronics to operate in the harsh environment of space. Our flights routinely travel to regions where pressures drop below 0.2% of that experienced at sea level and temperatures as low as -70°C. The biggest challenges are maintaining a constant power supply and ensuring the screen is bright enough to combat the glare from the sun, over 60% brighter than anything seen on the ground. To display the footage, we installed a screen in front of the windscreen with a power supply and computer hidden inside the body of the craft.
At last, we had a craft ready to play the episode in space. Now we just had to get it up there.
Sending Rick Sanchez's spaceship into space
In order to premiere the first episode of Rick and Morty Season 5 in space, we used a high altitude balloon, capable of expanding to the height of the White House to carry our spacecraft, along with tracking equipment, multiple cameras and a parachute system, high above the Earth into the region of Near Space.
Reached at roughly 19,000 meters above the Earth, Near Space is defined by the Armstrong Limit: the atmospheric pressure threshold at which the boiling point of water is equal to the average human body temperature. Our goal was to get twice as high as this, high enough to see the black vacuum of space and the curvature of the Earth as dramatically as possible.
We decided to conduct the launch in Nevada, capitalizing on the beautifully alien landscape of the Mojave Desert. Taking weather data from over 100,000 sources worldwide, we built a sophisticated climate simulation which allowed us to model the path that the balloon would take on its flight, predicting the ultimate landing site to within just a few hundred meters.
On the launch day, we set off at sunrise, hoping to avoid the worst of the midday heat. We filled the balloon and activated our two tracking systems, which would provide real-time positional data throughout the flight and allow us to update our landing site simulations during the journey.
Once the cameras were rolling and the onboard computer was prepared to play the video, we released the spaceship into the air, where it began to ascend at a rate of about 5 meters per second. Our team jumped in our recovery vehicle and began the long journey to the projected landing location. In addition to the episode itself, we shared a preview of fan-submitted avatars created through gorickyourself.com during the ascent. After an hour and a half of climbing to an incredible altitude of over 40,000 meters, it was time for the episode to play.
Meanwhile, our team on the ground raced to the projected landing site. Adjusting flight variables, we'd planned our launch day to ensure that our craft would be landing in a remote location, far away from any built-up areas, so we had a prospect of a long hike through sweltering desert on our hands.
As the balloon rose, the changing pressure caused the gas inside to expand, stretching the natural latex material to a sphere exceeding 15 meters in diameter. Shortly after the episode finished playing, the balloon could no longer take the strain and burst, dropping the craft from over 42,000 meters above the Earth.
In the initial portions of the descent, the spaceship dropped at over 300 miles per hour, before the increasing air pressure caused the parachute to deploy and begin to slow the craft. By the time it touched down, it was moving at a gentle walking pace into a dusty flat between two mountain ridges, some 30 or so kilometres south of Las Vegas.
Thanks to solid planning and clever design, the craft survived its journey unscathed, despite the extreme conditions it was put through. The cameras recorded the entire flight and the screens worked perfectly, turning fiction into reality and putting Rick and Morty in space for real for the first time ever.
Launching Rick and Morty into space has to be one of the coolest projects we've been able to make a reality—and getting to watch the first episode before the rest of the world was a rare treat as well.