How a Cambridge museum helped Steven Spielberg bring Ready Player One to the big screen
We take a look at what's going on behind the scenes at Cambridge's Centre for Computing History.
‘You know the scene in a film where the hacker walks up to a computer, bangs a load of keys and suddenly there’s some perfectly formed code on the screen? Well, we write the code that creates that code. The actor just hits any old key and makes it look good.”
There’s more to Cambridge’s Centre for Computing History than meets the eye.
And that’s saying a lot, as the dozens of computers and games consoles on display at the museum are enough to keep gamers occupied for days.
But if you’ve visited the museum you may spot some familiar items if you’re planning to see Steven Spielberg’s latest epic Ready Player One, because it’s one of many films that the centre has supplied with its equipment.
The centre loans computers, phones, televisions and various retro technological gems, and even offers their expertise to film productions to make sure kit is placed in the right time period and, of course, to make sure it works.
Right now the centre is working with four big films... but sadly the team can’t tell us which ones!
“Without it I don’t think the museum would have existed,” Jason Fitzpatrick, one of the museum’s founders, told the Cambridge Independent.
“It dates back to the very early days of the museum when we were in Haverhill.
“You could visit the museum then but it was pretty small.
“The BBC was doing a drama called Micro Men which was all about the struggle between Cambridge company Acorn computers and Sinclair computers. They came to us because at the time we were the only people around that could have possibly helped.
“We ended up spending a lot of time getting equipment together and then advising on the film in terms of technical accuracy.
“I ended up in it as well. I was working so hard between the museum and the film that they said you’ve got 70s looking hair, do you want to be in it? And I was like, yes, that would be amazing!
“After that Channel 4 got in touch about a documentary. At the time we just lent the stuff and did the work; we thought it would be good publicity for the museum. But then thought there might be something in this, and it’s flourished.”
The museum, which will have been in Cambridge for five years in August, now boasts more than 1,000 computers. Only a selection of them are on display.
“We’ve got shelves full of video games,” Jason continued. “They took hundreds and hundreds of our video games to recreate a library in Ready Player One. But they never used it. The idea was a really bright white lit library of old 80s games, and they would have been our 80s games from our library. They took it all, but when we watched the film is wasn’t in there. But that’s pretty normal. And the nice thing about it is it’s an American film, so they wanted American-released games and machines.
“When we got stuff back we got a lot of random extra stuff that they had brought from America to add a bit more authenticity, and obviously once they were finished they just gave it to us.”
“It’s also great for the museum. When those films come out parents feel nostalgic and kids get an interest in all this retro tech, so we become the perfect place to visit to come and see that stuff. And at the museum you can come and see the stuff from the film.”