When in Dome…

The Morehead Planetarium & Science Center Production Blog

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A few months ago, we officially retired the Zeiss Mark VI Star Projector at Morehead Planetarium. We’d had it for 42 years and it served us well. However, the ol’ Zeiss had been getting old and despite the heroic efforts by our Chief Technician, Steve Nichols, to keep it going the decision was made to put ‘er down. And since we added a digital system to our planetarium over a year ago, we were able to just roll on forward. However, before the Zeiss was dismantled, we thought we’d shoot some footage of it and put together a short tribute video. RIP Zeiss.

Ok, so this isn’t necessarily brand new news (it was announced in August 2010) and the lens isn’t even available for purchase (B&H says May), but you can at least start to get excited. Why? Because Canon is coming out with a 180 degree fisheye lens for all of its EOF SLRs.

For those of you already out there shooting with a 5D Mark II, just pop on this lens and you’re ready for popping off frames for the dome. No adjustment necessary (theoretically). Now you’ll be able to shoot time-lapse or stop motion with your favorite camera.

I’m psyched and planning on selling one of our interns to the North Koreans so we can get one.

But keep in mind that this isn’t going to solve the 4K video on the dome problem. The 5D still only shoots 1920×1080 so the best you could do is shoot video for a 1K dome but if you’re shooting stills you’re looking at 5,616 x 3,744 frames, which is big enough for a 4K show.

Here are the sample images from the Canon page about the camera:

Full-frame fisheye:

Circular fisheye:

LadyBug3 camera

October 30, 2009 | No Comments | Gear

ld3_white_background_largeThere’s been a lot of talk and some experimentation regarding using one of the Red cameras to shoot video for the dome.  The footage I’ve seen coming from the Red looks decent on a 2K system, but on a 4K system, it’s just not there yet. Just a bit too blurry and not ready for prime time.

I’ve been interested see that Aussie dome superstar Paul Bourke has been messing around with Point Grey’s Ladybug3 camera, a spherical digital video camera that works in a somewhat similar way to the Immersive Media camera that The Goog uses for Street View. Check out the installation that he did at the Wollongong Science Centre:

http://local.wasp.uwa.edu.au/~pbourke/exhibition/Wollongong/ (Scroll down on the page for the video that showcases it.)

While the subject matter (a lab interview with some composited molecular models) isn’t exactly screaming for 360 dome treatment, it is pretty interesting and opens up a host of possibilities. Best of all, he recorded the footage straight to a MacBook Pro. He mentions that the “spherical resolution” is 5400×2700.  Does this mean that it’s half that (2700×1850) on a dome hemisphere? Either way, it’s basically at the same place as the RED camera. Not quite ready for 4Kx4K. But at least there’s another possibility for the future. Hey, if Canon can get the 5D to shoot HD with real lenses somebody is going to break the 4Kx4K barrier soon.

The  time has come for us to consider some software upgrades. Let me preface this with the fact that generally I’m a content generalist. The majority of my knowledge is in the design and creation of content in multiple software packages, but requires me to know a little bit about the technical aspects of the software the we use.

Currently we run the following software packages:

  • 3ds Max 2008
  • Pixologic Z-brush 3
  • Maya complete and unlimited 2008
  • Mental Ray for Maya 3.6.1
  • Adobe After Effects CS3
  • Frantic’s Deadline 2.7

When considering a software upgrade, there are multiple factors.  One might be inclined to think that the cost per product would be the largest factor, but really the main concern is cost in time to install, trouble shoot, and hope that the upgrade doesn’t disrupt the current pipeline setup.  Our hardware set up includes a mixture of PC’s and Mac’s. For our PC’s we have 2 primary workstations and and 23 Render machines supplied by BOXX technologies.WorkstationrenderfarmExtreme

On the Mac side of things we have 4imacs and 1g5 workstation. They’re generally used to create base assets that eventually get moved into the PC realm and finalized anyway.

We’ve got our eyes on upgrading the software to the following versions.

  • 3ds max 2010
  • maya 2010
  • mental ray 3.7
  • Deadline 3.1

We’ve also considered moving to cebas’s Final Render, but this change will be put on hold due in part to the fact we’re running 2 different 3d software packages. The support has arisen for both independently, but there is talk to have one standalone engine that both 3ds max, and Maya can use simultaneously.









It’s always hard to explain exactly what the fulldome experience is like without being there to see it in all its 4K glory. Especially if the person you’re talking to has never been in a planetarium, or as in some cases, has never heard of a planetarium (yes, those people are out there). xRez Studio, the team that produced “Crossing Worlds,” which won the Domie this year for best immersive world design, just put up a interactive video pano in which the user can move around a virtual dome space while a full dome show is playing. It may help in our collective struggle to explain to the uninitiated exactly what it is we do. You can check it out here – http://www.xrez.com/cw_video_pano/ – just click and drag to pan around and scroll to zoom in and out. Also, check out Crossing Worlds.


Looks like the new version of Final Cut supports 4K resolution and RED camera natively.

http://www.apple.com/finalcutstudio/finalcutpro/digital-cinema-workflows.html

If we weren’t already using After Effects for our final edit, I’d move us over to Final Cut since we’re doing our sound design with Logic and Soundtrack. But we may soon have access to a RED camera so it’ll be nice to pull in footage to Final Cut for editing. I’d love to hear from people who have used Final Cut for their 4K footage. What do you think?

I was reading the fulldome yahoo listserv today (the “My farm’s bigger than yours” string) and saw that a couple people mentioned producing for 8K systems. Wow. Already? Hmmmmm. I’m wondering if we’re jumping the gun a bit.

Now, for a minute forget about the technical issues, like the fact that After Effects can’t easily handle anything larger than 4K and that we’d need a render farm 4x bigger than our current one to handle the processing. After all, we’ve got Moore’s law working for us and sooner than later, the hardware and software will catch up.

What I’m wondering is will the average Joe Planetarium visitor appreciate the difference? After all, 4K looks great and I even think 2K looks pretty damn good on a large dome. And being part of the industry, I’m probably much more discriminating than 99% of the general public out there.  I haven’t yet seen any 8K demos or been to any of the installations that Sky-Skan has done in China but I’ve been assured by Steve Savage over at Sky-Skan that it looks phenomenal and that even 4K content looks better on a 8K system (which I don’t really understand). And yes, it is supposed to be rivaling the image quality of large format 70mm film. So OK, maybe it’ll look fantastic and we’ll sit back and marvel at our own magnificence.

However, think about this – in that same string on the fulldome listserv, Paul Mowbray over at NSC Creative mentioned that their “Centrifuge” scene in Astronaut was “rendered at 2400×2400 and then scaled up to 3600×3600″ and it still looked amazing on a large dome with a 4K system. In fact, it looked good enough that it picked up a Domie at the 2008 DomeFest.

He also said this, “… don’t get caught up with pure resolution” …. “4k doesn’t = high quality. If you have a big enough render farm/budget/time/patience then the higher res the better but at the moment very few domes can even show 4k so by the time they can you’ll probably be making a new show so in the meantime focus on the content itself.”

If we spent as much time worrying about storytelling and compelling content as we do about resolution, we’d have a lot more people excited about going to their nearest dome.

Centrifuge – ASTRONAUT – Fulldome from NSC Creative on Vimeo.

The Chamber

April 6, 2009 | 1 Comments | Gear

Where Awesome has been known to happen.  We welcome you to join us in “The Chamber”.

No dome Studio should be without a dome. The Chamber was built by our own Richard McColman using pre-fabricated Fiberglass dome panels, and some good old hard work.  Its roughly 8′ in diameter and 9′ high.  Using a rather standard projection unit with a not so standard Fisheye Lens projection mount we are able to preview and discuss shot composition for our full dome shows. We’ve even taken to doing story boards using Photoshop drawing directly on the dome surface.

Its equipped with 5.1 surround, has a screen resolution of 1024X768, and sports a wonderful set of sleek gaming chairs.  This dome is even equipped with its own ventilation system to draw out the heat from the projector lens.

Rigged.

April 2, 2009 | No Comments | Gear

Looks like SkySkan and PMW Creative just got together to build a timelapse motion control rig for 4K dome use. Seems to use a Canon 5D MK1 camera with a fisheye lens. The vid looks like something straight out of Baraka.