When in Dome…

The Morehead Planetarium & Science Center Production Blog

Archive for June, 2010

One of the steps for building a character (in this case with Maya) is to rig them. That is to say, putting the bones inside the characters and adding the controls to manipulate them. This is generally just for the body, and unfortunately only half the battle. The remainder that we have to worry about is the face, which in itself a whole other beast.

A beast that is tamed much easier with this wonderful book at your side:

This is a book written by Jason Osipa, which details and teaches ways to rig the face to have all the expressions you could think of. The best part is that with the CD that comes with the book, he provides you the examples seen in the book, as well as the mel scripts and resources to apply to your own character! You really only need to make the blendshapes, and then the scripts he provides plugs it all in for you! It’s a huge time-saver, and will really make your characters jump out.


You can pick it up through Amazon with this link:

http://www.amazon.com/Stop-Staring-Facial-Modeling-Animation/dp/0471789208/

ISBN: 978-0-471-78920-8

By the term scale, I am referring to the relative size of objects as they’re perceived on the dome in relation to each other.

Recently, while constructing the office of our stories instigator, we noticed an interesting optical illusion. Though the two spaces were a rough test to try and sell the idea that this characters office was massive, they didn’t feel very large once we looked at them on the dome. There were two versions of the space in question. The images better illustrate the difference in size. The objects in the center are to represent a person 6 ft tall next to a shorter person standing behind a desk.

The following videos are indeed two different versions of the room, but due to the uniform scale on the environment, and the lack of visual cues, you’re unable to determine the scale of the space.



After this discovery, we went back to the drawing board. The issue is that we needed to establish scale, and big part of that is incorporating more information.

We broke up the scene a bit more, and added the guardrail element to give us an reference for our eyes, and mind to fill in the missing details.  In a traditional flat screen format, we can use distorted perspective to help sell distance, and depth.  In photography there are ways to blur the focal range, or different lenses can be used to elongate a space. In the dome world that type of visual trickery isn’t as simple, as the perspective is already distorted to work on a curved surface.

This is by no means a new invention. Traditional painting, and photography often times work a person or some other reference object into an environment to help people establish a sense of scale.


As the storyboarding phase is drawing to a close, I thought I’d touch on a couple things that I’ve learned.

Our new show, Solar System Odyssey, is heavily driven by story. Characters are continually interacting with each other, both in dialogue and action. This brings up challenges that haven’t been issues in shows prior to this one. In previous shows, interactions between the characters had been strictly though dialogue. Many of the voices were heard without seeing exactly who was doing the talking. In our first show, Earth, Moon and Sun, the main character, Coyote, would converse with a narrator that the audience would never see. Coyote could simply reply to the narrator by facing towards the audience. On the other hand, when more than two characters can be seen on screen, all interacting and talking to one another, things were a bit different and sacrifices needed to be made.

One of the great things about the dome is being able to be immersed in the environment. Current best practice would typically say that if you’ve got the dome real estate, use it. However, what we really want to showcase during these segments are the conversations between the characters. The audience needs a focus and we want to discourage their eyes from venturing around. Sure, the inside of the ship may look pretty and the viewer’s eye will want to look around it, but it’s truly a secondary element. We want their eyes focused on the character’s faces and body movements.


What’s all this leading to?



This map I affectionately call the “Dance Chart”.

For each scene I’ve created, I’ve drawn a chart in which I map out the character’s key points in the scene, as well as the location and front direction of the camera. I’ve been very careful to allow for good staging for the characters at most times, and the immersion comes from the deliberate and timed movement of the camera moving through the environment. The audience becomes like a fly on the wall, watching the scene unfold in front of them. While the characters are generally in the front half of the dome the majority of the time, by keeping the camera in near constant moving and framing, an immersive sense is developed and maintained.


When creating a Dance Chart, some key elements to think about are these:


•   An element of focus (Character, Object, Follow the bird)

•   Lots of play with foreground, midground, and background elements

•   Don’t move the camera too fast. Keeping a focus point helps, but only to a certain degree.


The element of focus allows for the camera to move without there being much motion sickness. Having foreground, midground, and background elements shifting and moving helps to sell the environment and reinforce the camera movements. The camera speed should maintain graceful elegance with its motion.


When you want to encourage the audience to look around, keep the camera still or moving slowly and deliberately. It’s our experience that people favor movement that compliments the direction they’re already looking.

We’re smack dab in the middle of storyboarding out our new Solar System show so that means it’s time to start on the audio.  Which is good because I’m tired of sitting back, lighting cigars with flaming $100 bills and laughing manically. First step is to get some scratch tracks of our characters down so when we move on to animatics we can have some idea of timing. It’s also proving to be helpful for us to have an idea of how things will sound and how they should be acted when we get the real voice actors in on the job. In the meantime, we grabbed some great amateur voice over actors from Morehead and let ‘em loose on the script:











Jonathan Frederick as Space Captain Jack Larson











Peter Althoff as Billionaire Warren Trout







Carly Apple as Ashley Trout








Jim Kachelries as Beemer the Robot












Laura Walters as Capcom