HAL 9000: How This Nikon Fisheye Lens Inspired Hollywood and Culture

Did you know that HAL 9000 was powered by a famous Nikon Fisheye lens?

There are lots of great stories about the Nikon 8mm f8 fisheye lens, but perhaps one of the most famous is how it became a critical part of HAL 9000 in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. The vengeful supercomputer in the film was made with this exact lens put right into it. A recent exhibit at the Museum of the Moving Image in NY had the exact prop used to create the movie. And getting up close and personal with it is an experience all on its own. One would think that the lens is big, but in truth, it’s relatively small. This is a testament to Nikon’s engineering, as the lens could allegedly see behind itself. And if that’s the case, what other eyes would you want a supercomputer to use?

The Nikon 8mm f8 Fisheye

The Nikon 8mm f8 was a lens developed during the film-era for the Nikon F mount. It’s a Fisheye lens so wide that it caused vignetting. With a 180 degree field of view, that’s pretty intense. Nothing else like it has really been made for full-frame cameras. According to Ken Rockwell, “Without Live View, you can’t look through any camera to see what you’re photographing.” Indeed, it would probably make the most sense on a Nikon Z6 with an F to Z mount adapter.

To get the cinematic effect that you see in the movie, the cast used a red filter on the back of the lens. Then, the team just shone a light into it. In the video above, you can see little details like the aperture blades on the lens. That’s how you get such a devious and ominous-looking piece that’s otherwise pretty hypnotic. An eBay search shows us that the lens goes for over $1,500 on the upper limits. That’s far more affordable than it was back in 2013 when PopPhoto released this article.

Pop Culture Inspiration

The lens used in HAL 9000 probably helped with the chilling inspiration for several other crazy stories. If you’re old enough to remember Batman: The Animated Series in the 90s, then you can see how HAL 9000 and the single, red-illuminated Nikon lens was the inspiration for HARDAC. HARDAC was a supercomputer that found humans to be inferior and flawed. So it started to create its own duplicates using AI. This a common theme in the DC Universe, as one of Superman’s most powerful villains is Brainiac. This can be seen in the giant red eye that the machine has. Of course, it’s not a Fisheye, but it’s there.

We can also draw a possible connection to the logo for the company RED. RED, who years ago said they would make a tremendous impact in the still photography world, has a logo that you can see a parallel with HAL 9000 and the Nikon 8mm f8. The single eye is a stark resemblance to HAL 9000. Considering that RED always touted that their cameras have “Brains,” one can see how the lens inspired them.

Lastly, the Nikon 8mm f8 probably went on to inspire one of the most beloved video games in the past decade. Portal features an AI called Wheatley, who eventually turns evil and—well, I don’t want to ruin the game. But the single fisheye is seen here with a blue light.

Luckily, HAL 9000 inspirations in real life have helped astronauts. In 2018, Space.com reported that it was the inspiration for CASE. CASE stands for “cognitive architecture for space agents,” according to the site.

Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.