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Photographer seeks hopeful 'Visions of Tomorrow' on frontiers of science

(c) Roger Ressmeyer / Corbis

Lasers fire at a fuel pellet inside a nuclear fusion experiment at the University of Rochester's Laboratory for Laser Energetics. Covering the effort to develop fusion as a power source was one of the experiences that led photographer Roger Ressmeyer to move ahead with his "Visions of Tomorrow" film project.

For decades, photographer Roger Ressmeyer has chronicled discoveries the frontiers of science, from nuclear fusion to the edges of the universe, and now he's working to distill all those discoveries into a hopeful film about the future, titled "Visions of Tomorrow."

"This movie will be saying, 'Here's what we can do about humankind's biggest problems. ... The world's future looks a lot brighter than we're led to believe," Ressmeyer says. But in order to get that message onto the big screen, he's going to need a little help — and several million dollars.  That's why he's bringing his project to the Social Innovation Fast Pitch conference in Seattle this week.

Ressmeyer is best-known as a visual storyteller, specializing in the wonders of space and science. It's that reputation that has earned him honors as 2012's PhotoMedia Photography Person of the Year. He has helped chronicle the space effort in magazine layouts and in coffee-table books such as "Orbit," and he has captured images from around the world that make the world's scientific landmarks look like the shrines they deserve to be.

Through the years, Ressmeyer has come to believe that scientific wonders have a spiritual dimension as well. "Visions of Tomorrow" will tell that story, with the help of some of the best minds in science and technology.

"A key spiritual truth is that 'thoughts become things,' as Mike Dooley says," Ressmeyer told me over the weekend. "What we're hoping to do on the spiritual level is to address the collective loss of hope, and create a movie that leaves people walking on air, letting go of fears, and getting behind a better future for the planet."

Visions of Tomorrow

Photographer Roger Ressmeyer is creating "Visions of Tomorrow."

The project sounds a bit like some other science-plus-soul hybrids that have shown up in theaters or on DVD in recent years, ranging from "What the (Bleep) Do We Know" to "I AM" and "The Secret." But Ressmeyer insists that this film will be different.

"There have been many 'new-agey' movies about the fact that humanity is one, and people everywhere are basically good. What makes this movie different is that it will present actual solutions under development by world-renowned scientists, engineers and futurists," he said.

Setting an agenda
So who are these scientists, engineers and futurists? For now, Ressmeyer is being cagey about that question. He's begun to use his network of contacts to recruit the folks that will be featured in the movie, and some filming has been done already. But he's holding back on the details until he assembles a core of executive producers to help shepherd the project — and assembles the financing for the next phase.

He says his vision for "Visions of Tomorrow" aims to touch upon some of the top problems facing humanity, and how science and engineering can turn them around.

"In my years of covering science, I learned how to dig really deep, and how to create images that bring ideas to life," Ressmeyer said. "We'll take the best ideas — the ones most likely to succeed, the ones covering the biggest challenges humanity faces, like resource depletion, climate change and global warming, overpopulation, the effects of war and social distress. In the movie, all of these things will come together in a beautiful, entertaining and inspirational view of what's possible for tomorrow."

Nuclear fusion power seems certain to earn some screen time: Ressmeyer noted that his photo coverage of the fusion frontier was one of the factors that led to the "Visions of Tomorrow" project in the first place.

"We don't expect that every one of these solutions will pan out," he told me, "but we do believe there are enough possibilities out there to produce virtually limitless energy, to address the population issue, climate change, and raise the planet's collective consciousness."

The road ahead
During the Seattle conference on Thursday, Ressmeyer will talk about the project and show a teaser video clip. "It's the perfect place to show that pre-production footage for the first time, and possibly the only time it will ever be shown in public," he said.

If the backing comes together the way Ressmeyer hopes, filming would resume in early 2013, with the film's release set for 2014. Ressmeyer has also established a Visions of Tomorrow Foundation to move ahead with the agenda laid out in the movie, and he and his colleagues plan to use social-media crowdsourcing (and crowdsupporting) to keep hope alive.

Ressmeyer says that reviving hope in the future is the driving force behind "Visions of Tomorrow." During our interview, the 58-year-old photographer recalled the despair that he felt when doctors told him he suffered from juvenile diabetes, back in the days when many people saw that disease as a "virtual death sentence."

"My experience of being told at age 13 that I would be lucky to live 20 years led to a very, very major internal struggle between optimism and pessimism, idealism and cynicism, that in some ways continues to this day," he said. "All my life experiences have led to a vision and realization that hope is the force that drives planetary change — and there's a real shortage of that right now. 'Visions of Tomorrow' is designed to spread hope, to create confidence we can fix things."

Ressmeyer still has to fill in a lot of the blank spots in his vision, but do you think he's on the right track? What issues would you want to see addressed in a vision of tomorrow, and what bright ideas can you contribute? Please feel free to weigh in with your questions and solutions in the comment space below. I have a feeling that Ressmeyer will be watching.

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Alan Boyle is NBCNews.com's science editor. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by "liking" the log's Facebook page, following @b0yle on Twitter and adding the Cosmic Log page to your Google+ presence. To keep up with Cosmic Log as well as NBCNews.com's other stories about science and space, sign up for the Tech & Science newsletter, delivered to your email in-box every weekday. You can also check out "The Case for Pluto," my book about the controversial dwarf planet and the search for new worlds.