Fans got a double surprise at the Paramount panel on Thursday afternoon (24) as first Matthew McConaughey and then Christopher Nolan took to the stage to talk up the upcoming sci-fi.

Star and director stirred up the crowd simply by being in town – both said they had wanted to come in previous years but schedules got in the way – before Nolan introduced a world exclusive trailer for Interstellar.

“The single biggest influence for me was 2001,” Nolan said when asked about his formative cinematic experiences.

“I was able to go with my dad and see it in London on the big screen… We have the opportunity to tell a similarly ambitious story. That’s my ambition for the film and I’m striving towards it.”

The clip showed the by-now-familiar scenes of McConaughey’s engineer character bidding farewell to his children as he prepares for an unprecedented space mission beyond the Solar System.

There was new footage of some kind of landing or fly-by on what appeared to be an ice planet. The crowd lapped it up.

Nolan told the packed Hall H how he grew up fascinated by space travel but felt the profile of space exploration had declined in recent years.

“It’s been a time of incredible technological change but it’s more about what’s in your pocket. I hope we are on the cusp of a brand new era of exploration and looking outwards more.

“For me the thrill of trying to make a large-scale sci-fi film about journeying through the stars has to be about the experience for the audience.”

The film-maker said he was excited to present his movie on Imax and shoot with the Imax camera. “We’re trying to show the biggest possible images and… to do that you need the biggest possible canvas.”

Yet despite the awe-inspiring scope of the story and its imagery, Nolan reminded the crowd of its heart. “What we learned in the journey of making the film so far is it’s really about human beings and what it is to be human.”

Earlier McConaughey, looking suitably pumped up to be at the Con, explained how he got involved on Interstellar. “I met with Christopher Nolan for three hours and he doesn’t say one word about the film and I remember leaving thinking, ‘What the hell was that about?’ Anyway evidently he liked me and a week later the script arrived and I liked it and said, ‘I’m in.’

“He works by his instincts. We moved fast. I was surprised. It felt like an independent movie. Two, three, five takes, then we move on.

“His reach exceeds his grasp. It’s by far the most ambitious film Mr Nolan has ever done. You will see why.” Interstellar opens through Paramount on November 7. Warner Bros handles international distribution.

Dwayne Johnson rocks Hall H for Hercules

Immediately before this, The Rock stormed on to the stage in an unexpected plug for Hercules, which opens on Friday (25). The star said he had booked out three theatres in town for free preview screenings on a first-come, first-serve basis on Thursday.

TMNT panel

The earlier part of the Paramount panel was dominated by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which will open on August 8. Megan Fox and Will Arnett joined director Jonathan Liebesman, producers Andrew Form and Brad Fuller and TNMT creator Kevin Eastman.

The film-makers showed several clips, including scenes of a subway hostage, the first meeting between Fox’s reporter character and the turtles and a truck chase across a snow-bound landscape.

Paramount also sneaked a clip from The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out Of Water, a CGI-live-action hybrid due out on February 6 2015.

There was footage too from time-travel thriller Project Almanac, set to open on January 30 2015, and a lighter take on the subject in the form of the trailer for Hot Tub Time Machine 2 – without John Cusack – that will arrive on December 25.