When in Dome…

The Morehead Planetarium & Science Center Production Blog

Author Archive | Jay Heinz

Our first fulldome short, Jeepers Creepers, will be showing at the Immersive Film Festival this weekend. This year’s IFF is taking place from April 29 to May 1 at Centro Multimeios Espinho, Portugal.

They’ll be showing a lot of full length shows as well as a group of competitive shorts including “Charting Course for the Unknown” by Morehead’s own artist in residence, David Colagiovanni. Both shorts are screening on Saturday. If you’re in Portugal or nearby, go check it out.

We’ve got a pretty amazing After School program here at Morehead. Kids from Kindergarten to 5th grade come over here after the school day is over and do all kinds of cool hands on science activities and field trips. We brought a few of them over to our studio to show them how planetarium shows are made. We even gave them a Wacom tablet and let them have at it. Better than being on the street, looting and pillaging or whatever it is kids do these days. Anyway, I was told it was their favorite field trip of the year. If they’d only just teach Maya in 4th grade, we’d have our next slew of interns. Here’s a few photos:

Well, we’re in the last phase of production for our latest show – Solar System Odyssey. We’ll be doing evaluations with students on a rough cut of the show in our dome during the first couple weeks of May and then we’ve got 3 months left to put on the final polish.

In the meantime, we were asked to put together a new trailer for our first show, Earth, Moon & Sun. Full disclosure – when we originally put together a trailer for the show, we thought our target audience would be kids and their parents who would see the trailers being played before other shows, much like they would during a typical film in a movie theater. Turns out that’s not the case.

The audience for planetarium show trailers are science center and planetarium directors and educators – the people that are actually going to lease the shows and bring them to their planetaria. So we added more science content from the show and more explanatory voice over to give a better idea of the focus of the show. This will let the directors and educators know that we’re hitting specific curriculum points for children in the 8-11 range. Keep all that in mind if you’re making a trailer.

We also found out that Earth, Moon & Sun was the best selling show of 2010 from our distributor! I might have mentioned that in a previous post but we’re pretty psyched so I’m leaving it up.

Here’s the new trailer in domemaster format:

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:

NewScientist.com, the online version of the pop science mag New Scientist posted a short article on their blog called “Beware: It’s raining creepy crawlies” about our latest dome short Jeepers Creepers. There’s also a small, flat video dome-master version of the short at the top of their blog post. The short was just premiered over the weekend at the 2011 Fulldome UK festival and hopefully will be showing next month at the Immersive Film Festival in Espinho, Portugal.

Jeepers Creepers is also blogged about on SyFy Channel’s blog – DVICE. The best part is that the title for their post starts with the word, “Ew.” As is Ewwwwww…bugs.

We’ve been absolutely buried working on our new show so none of us has gotten the chance to post anything on the blog lately. Recently, however, I was purusing the Dome-L listserv and came across an interesting post by Jim Sweitzer from Science Communications Consultants, a firm that consults on planetarium planning and programming. He was responding to a question by Mr. Huseynov at the new planetarium in the city of Baku (Azerbaijan?) and gave some good tips for new fulldome system owners:

1. Don’t invest in a major in-house production team. You should be cautious in launching into major full-dome video productions. They can be quite expensive produce at times and assembling a production team is challenging and difficult to sustain. Even the most well funded planetariums have difficulties keeping production teams going. If you really need a show that you can’t purchase from a vendor, then hire an experienced producer who has a good track record. It will be cheaper in the long run.

2. Invest in good pre-rendered shows: We are in a better place than we were years ago because there are numerous excellent, pre-rendered full-dome shows available. You couldn’t afford to produce any of them for any where near what they cost to lease. If you choose wisely, you will be able to use them for a long time.

3. Invest in your operating and presenting staff: Rather than try and develop a production team, I might suggest that you develop the skills of yourin-house staff to really be able to use the real time software that came with your system. All the vendors’ software is now quite mature and sophisticated. Mastering it well and also making sure your presenters are well versed in the science will be the best “production” path you can take. This means making sure they attend the vendors trainings and also get to visit good analog planetariums around the world. Make sure they can also talk about the latest subjects your audiences see in the news too.

4. Couple pre-rendered shows with live, real-time session: I continue to find the most effective and lively planetarium offerings. I see around the world are ones that join a great pre-rendered show with a live session. Give your audiences a one-hour experience that includes contact with a knowledgeable presenter and you will please your audiences.

5. Work hard on marketing your new planetarium. This cannot be neglected if you want to be successful, especially with a new and innovative theater. “Framing” is a term used in America to characterize, in this case, your planetarium. I’m not sure what is appealing in Baku, but one “frame” that I think can work well with new digital planetariums is to characterize them as “space exploration simulators.” They are ultimately based upon flight simulator technology. Make your audiences think that you are going to fly them around outer space. This type of approach is much better than characterizing them as “visualization theaters” or “immersive experiences.” I might get in trouble with some with this opinion, but I feel that the latter two frames are too abstract and un-engaging for typical audiences. Whatever you do, make sure people understand it’s not simply a big round cinema.

I think Jim’s made some excellent points. (However, if Morehead listened to the first point, I’d be out of a job right now) I especially agree with point number four – coupling pre-rendered shows with live shows. As great as the pre-rendered shows are, you can really get a crowd excited and engaged with a view of the night sky and a short hop through the universe with real-time software such as DigitalSky or Uniview.

What I’m curious about is characterizing new fulldome theaters as “space exploration simulators” as opposed to “immersive experiences.” Has anyone else tried this?

This image is amazing and looks like it’s ripe for the dome. It’s even already in a dome master. Someone out there should work with this guy (Chris Kotsiopoulos, who lives in Athens, Greece) to make some interesting content. A little background, this is how Chris says he did it:

After wondering for some time whether it was possible to image the sky from one morning to the next where I live in Athens Greece, I decided to give it a try. After hours of planning and preparation, and a full day of shooting, the image above is the result of this labor of love. It took me about 12 hours to pull together and process a single image that included over 500 star trails, 35 shots of the Sun and 25 landscape pictures. My plan was to make the image on the day of the solstice (December 21) when the Sun’s stay in the sky was short (in the Northern Hemisphere) and the star trail durations were long. Of course, trying to find clear weather for a given 24-hour period is not an easy chore. However, I was patient, and the weather eventually cooperated (on December 30-31, 2010). I had to stay at the same place for approximately 30 hours. In addition, I was on location 2-3 hours before sunrise in order to make the preparations and test shooting. I also needed to stay an extra 2-3 hours the second day so as to shoot part of the Sun’s sequence that I lost the first morning due to clouds. I chose Sounion (Temple of Poseidon) as the setting for this project. Click on image to see labels.

I began the shooting the morning of December 30, 2010, taking photos with my camera on a tripod facing east. The day portion of this shoot is composed of a dozen shots covering the landscape from east to west as well as the Sun’s course across the sky, from sunrise to sunset. I recorded the Sun’s position exactly every 15 minutes using an intervalometer, with an astrosolar filter adjusted to the camera lens. In one of the shots, when the Sun was near its maximum altitude, I removed the filter in order to capture a more dramatic shot that showed the Sun’s “glare.” After sunset, I took various shots with the camera facing west-northwest in order to achieve a more smooth transition from the day portion to the night portion of the image. The night portion is also composed of a dozen landscape shots but this time from west to east. After the transition” shots, I took a short star trail sequence of approximately half an hour duration, with the camera facing northwest. At 7:30, I turned the camera to the north and started taking the “all-night” star trail shots — lasting almost 11 hours. After accomplishing this, I then turned the camera to northeast and shot another short half an hour star trail sequence, and then finally, with the camera now facing east-northeast, I took a series of night-to-day transition shots.

Are the folks at the Athens Planetarium producing content? Get this guy on your team.

(Gizmodo via EPOD)

Our first fulldome short, “Jeepers Creepers,” will have its world premiere at the Fulldome UK 2011 festival in mid-March. We’re pretty psyched because it will be the first time anyone will see the short outside of folks from Morehead. I won’t give away the premise, suffice to say that if you’re not yet afraid of insects, you might be after it’s over. Pete wrote a short blog post about it when we were in the development phase to give you a little sense of the plot.

Fulldome UK 2011 is being held at the Thinktank Science Museum in Birmingham and has some interesting dome content lined up and some great looking sessions such as shooting with a RED for the dome by a pro steadicam operator, “Storytelling in the Dome” by NSC Creative and “Adventures in Fulldome cinemetography” by Phil Mayer from GaiaNova.  Who wants to buy me a plane ticket?

We’re outta here. See you next year!

We’re looking for a local (North Carolina – Triangle area) Maya character animator for a 3 month freelance gig starting January 15th. We’d like someone who is/has:

  • fluent in Autodesk Maya
  • facial animation and lip sync skills
  • solid understanding of animation principals (Arcs, Anticipation, Timing, etc.)
  • open to changes in direction when needed
  • team player
  • detail oriented
  • If you have all that and rigging experience, it’ll put you over the top.

    If you’re interested, please email me at jayheinz@unc.edu with a copy of your resume and a link to your portfolio.  You’ll need to work on-site in our secret lair, so brush up on your ninja skills.