When in Dome…

The Morehead Planetarium & Science Center Production Blog

Author Archive | Jay Heinz

We just rendered a flat screen version of the trailer for our newest show – Solar System Odyssey. Looks pretty good in a rectangular format, if I do say so myself.  Check it out below. But you’ll have to check it out on a dome to get the full effect, obviously.


Have a warm and wonderful holiday season and a happy new year.

-Your friends at Morehead

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.

Now that we’re almost finished with our most recent show, Solar System Odyssey, we’re getting things lined up to start work on our next show. We’ve now produced a science documentary, a cartoon, a horror short and a show based on a best selling children’s book. Now we’re going to make a show featuring…giant puppets. Yeah, we like to keep things interesting.

We’re teaming up with the Paperhand Puppet Intervention, a local giant puppet group, to create a winter season show. Paperhand has a great following in North Carolina and their history began in 1998, when artists Donovan Zimmerman and Jan Burger, working out of an abandoned old gym in Saxapahaw, NC created the group to entertain and engage audiences by animating ancient fables and modern allegories with intricate shadow figures, larger than life creatures and everything in between.

To get a sense of what they’re really about, you’d need to see one of their shows (or hopefully, this planetarium show), but you can get an idea from the trailer to a documentary made about them called “A Puppet Intervention”:

What exactly we’re going to do is a secret, but we’ll be shooting lots of puppets on green screens and creating really amazing environments for them to play in. It’s going to be an interesting show…

We’re finishing up our latest show, Solar System Odyssey, and we’ve just released a teaser trailer on YouTube. Here’s a description of the show and the video:

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. Learn about the solar system and the potential for human life on other planets and moons in a fun and exciting way. Ages 10 and Up. Produced with grant funding from NASA. Running time: 27 minutes

We’ve been really busy cranking away on our latest show, Solar System Odyssey, which we’re due to finish in 2 weeks. So we’ve been neglecting When in Dome a bit. But we’re almost there. Just putting some finishing touches on the visuals and working with master composer Mark Slater to finish up the score (which I’m really excited about). It’s been a year and a half long journey, but we’re finally seeing the light (and a much deserved break)!

Both Solar System Odyssey and our previous show, Magic Tree House: Space Mission are now available from Sky-Skan so go check them out. You can see a trailer and preview of Magic Tree House on Sky-Skan’s site or check out this post.

Stay tuned for a teaser trailer from Solar System Odyssey. I’ll be uploading it soon…

We just found out that Jeepers Creepers won an Honorable Mention at the Jena Fulldome Festival in Jena, Germany last weekend. Thanks to Volkmar Schorcht and the rest of the crew that put that festival together.


Here’s the full list of winners:

Winners in the “VisuaLiszt” category:
“Liszt from Space” by Stefan Berke and Jan Zehn, Ten Art Communications,
Jena. (independent media artists), endowed with 3,000 Euro (approx.
“How to disappear” by Merlin Fluegel, Offenbach Academy of Art and Design
(students’ work), endowed with 2,000 Euro (approx. $2,900),
“The Metalliszt – Road to Victory”, by Robert Sawallisch, Samuel Klemke and
Hannes Wagner, Weimar Bauhaus University (students’ work), endowed with
1,000 Euro (approx. $1,400),
“Nanocam. A trip into biodiversity” by Laura Alonso, Producciones El Exilio
S.L., Madrid, Spain (professional media production), special prize of the
jury, endowed with 500 Euro (approx. $700),
“Hysteria” by Pedro Zaz and United VJs, Sao Paulo, Brazil (independent
artists), special prize of the jury, endowed with 500 Euro,
“Lisztrausch” (Liszt Rapture) by Adrian Woldt, Weimar Bauhaus University
(students’ work), endowed with 500 Euro.

Winners of the FullDome Awards:
“The Royal Pea” by Helena Doyle and Rob Bidder, University of Westminster,
London (students’ work), Creative Fulldome Award, endowed with 500 Euro,
“No 217″ by Julia Wiesner, Lea Weber-Schaefer, Phil Schoell, Potsdam
University of Applied Sciences (students’ work), Performance FullDome
Award, endowed with 500 Euro,
“Schwimmende Einhoerner” (Floating Unicorns) by Stephanie Kaysz, Offenbach
Academy of Art and Design (students’ work), Audience FullDome Award,
endowed with 500 Euro.

Honorable Mentions have been presented to:
“Mephisto Cubic” by Philip Mayer and Bruno Mathez, GaiaNova Productions,
London (independent media artists),
“All We Are” by Norrkoepping Visualization Center, Sweden (professional
media production),
“Jeepers Creepers” by Morehead Planetarium & Science Center, Chapel Hill,
North Carolina, USA (professional media production),
“Dynamic Earth – Marine Biosphere” by Spitz Creative Media, Chadds Ford,
USA (professional media production),
“Tale of Stars” by Kagaya Studios, Tokyo, Japan (professional media

We just found out that Morehead’s fulldome short Jeepers Creepers won “Best Soundtrack” at the Immersive Film Festival last weekend in Espinho, Portugal. Additionally, our artist in residence, David Colagiovanni, won “Best Immersion” for his short, Charting Course for the Unknown. Next stop for both shorts is the Jena Fulldome Festival, which takes place May 12-14 in Jena, Germany.