When in Dome…

The Morehead Planetarium & Science Center Production Blog

Archive for October, 2009

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.

We’re approaching a new show, with an even newer frame of mind. Currently our shows have had a bit of a mishmash style bordering cartoonish/realistic. The challenge being how does one do scientific content without reflecting some realism in the images that are created. Obviously, until live action video catches up to the dome, everything depicted will be a simulation, or digitally filtered into some variation of artistic interpretation. It would be nice to push a specific style forward, and try to really keep it consistent through the whole show. I’ve seen some other productions out there that use some stylization for portions of their show but end up falling back to the semi photo real content.

Domefest has always been a great place to check out some more experimental art direction, and visual concepts. I’d like to be able to do a collection of music videos themed for the dome and explore the potentials of certain styles on the dome.  Like the following examples.





Red Hot Chili Peppers – OthersideThe funniest home videos are here

wall-e-poster1-big copyIt takes a little more than grit and perseverance, although that probably helps. In the analog days, at least at Morehead, planetarium shows were put together using about 60 slide projectors, 3 video projectors, a slew of opti-mechanical do-dads, a computer to time everything out and a huge star projector that sat in the middle of all of it. The production staff consisted of two people, an outside contractor to do some artwork and a music composer.

Now that we’re in the process of going digital, it will be very different within the planetarium dome itself. The plan is to have two huge projectors that will project a 4000×4000 pixel image onto the screen. To put that in perspective, it’s roughly 8 times bigger than High Definition television. But the production staff is fairly similar. We’ve now got a producer, a director, two main animator/compositors/creative directors, the same music composer we used for the old shows, support from the Morehead staff and others here and there.

It takes this 4-5 person crew anywhere from 9-15 months to create a 3D animated 25 minute dome show, depending on the content and situation. To put that in perspective, it took Pixar up to four years, at least 400 people and $180 million to make Wall•E. Compared to that, we’re definitely coming in under budget.

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.









Seams can be a problem not only in the dome master frames, as Pete illustrated in previous posts, but also in the projectors themselves. I learned from our resident dome expert, Eric Knisely, that seams can present themselves in the projectors themselves. Constant maintenance is needed to keep these projectors calibrated, and not every planetarium may be keeping up with theirs. Eric let me know how using solid colors can really make these seams stand out. He suggested that noise be added to them to break up the constant color, where even gradients may fall short. I can show in these quick illustrations below the scene that brought this problem to light, pardon the pun. The seams I put in are of my own doing, but I tried to make it reflect what we saw in the dome the best I could. The dome at RENCI uses 4 cameras, so the seam across the top was a cross shape.


The first example is what it would look like had it been with just a single projector.

Projector01

The second is the same image projected using 4 projectors.

Projector02

The third is with the noise applied to the sky, breaking up the values to help hide the seams.

Projector03

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.