When in Dome…

The Morehead Planetarium & Science Center Production Blog

Archive for October, 2011

Before diving in, I realize that some of you may not have even heard of the word “previz”. “Previz” or “pre-visualization” is a step in production after storyboarding and before final animation where simple models are laid out in 3D space, basic animation is done and camera moves are locked in place. This allows the director to get a better idea of what the final shot will look like before any intensive work is done on the models or the scene. It also allows camera moves to be changed without needed to do extensive rendering.

Lets back up a bit and put this in context.

Our production process has 4 major steps:
1. Scriptwriting & Concept Art
2. Storyboarding
3. Animatics & Voice-over
4. Previz & Sound Effects
5. Final animation & Score

The difficult moment in any film/tv/dome production is how to move from the animatics phase (essentially a flipbook storyboard with scratch audio) to the final animation stage without really knowing what the shot will look like. A good example of this would be a scene in our latest show, Solar System Odyssey. In the scene, our two heros are trying to escape from the radiation belt around Jupiter, which is causing havoc to their ship. This is what the original storyboard/animatic looked like:

As you can see, there was a lot of proposed camera movement in that shot. The difficulty was knowing how much movement would be most effective to make the scene interesting and tense, but not make the audience confused or nauseous. So we took low-poly renders of the characters, did basic animation on them and put them in a basic textured, low-poly environment. This is what it looked like:

By doing the previz stage, we got some great intel back. We realized that the shot felt dead. There was very little tension in the shot with the current camera moves. And since it’s difficult to build tension through editing, like in a flat screen film, we realized that we’d have to make the camera moves more dynamic. We did this by making the moves faster between rest points and adding dutch angles to the pause points. This was the final product:

Previz is becoming very popular in Hollywood, typically with action shots. We already find it an integral part of our process. Not only does it allow us to more clearly visualize the final look of a shot, but it actually speeds up the production process by preventing us from needing to go back and re-tweak an already rendered shot. For a great video about the importance of previz, check out this video about how it’s being used in Hollywood:

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.

We just released the trailer to our newest show – Solar System Odyssey. We’ll be showing the trailer at ASTC this weekend during SkySkan’s after hours presentation.

Our story takes place far in the future with an Earth on the verge of environmental collapse. Billionaire Warren Trout thinks he can make a fortune colonizing the rest of the solar system and sends space pilot Jack Larson to find out where. But there’s one thing he didn’t count on – Ashley, Trout’s daughter, has stowed away on board the ship and has her own ideas.

Our intention was to make sure the show was filled with science, but to also have an exciting, entertaining story as well. Let us know what you think.

One of the things I discovered is that when you want to have a camera shake, normal camera translation doesn’t really work. Hardly any motion is perceived, unless the camera moves enormous distances. What I found to be the most effective approach is to rotate the camera, rather than change its position. This really makes the audience feel uneasy and unbalanced, which is exactly what we want the camera shake to portray.

Here’s an example of it from our new show, Solar System Odyssey.