When in Dome…

The Morehead Planetarium & Science Center Production Blog

Author Archive | Jay Heinz

Earth, Moon & Sun picked up the silver medal at the Astro Projection International Film Festival hosted by the Gwacheon National Science Museum in Gwacheondong, South Korea. More than 10,000 people in Seoul attended the festival, so we figure they got a pretty good sample group. Unfortunately, we didn’t place in either the Synchronized Swimming or Curling events, but we’re pretty happy nonetheless.

Gwacheon National Science Museum also decided to lease the show, which makes EMS the best selling show of 2010 in the Sky-Skan catalog! Woohoo!

Check out the new trailer for our newest fulldome show Magic Tree House®: Space Mission. We’ll be debuting it at the Imiloa Film Festival in Hawaii in October.

Since its debut, the beloved Magic Tree House® book series has been a perennial best-seller. Published in 32 countries and 28 languages, the series focusing on the exploits of the brother-sister team of Jack and Annie has sold more than 64 million books in North America alone.

Now, UNC Morehead Planetarium and Science Center, in partnership with authors Will and Mary Pope Osborne, brings the blockbuster Magic Tree House® franchise to fulldome theaters for the first time ever.

In Magic Tree House® Space Mission, a mysterious “M” sends the intrepid Jack and Annie on a fun-filled journey to discover the secrets of the Sun, Moon, planets, space travel and more. Aligned with early elementary information skills learning objectives, this beautifully-produced show is a winner with Magic Tree House® fans of all ages and school audiences alike. Audiences age 5-10. Running Time: 30 minutes.

An original UNC Morehead Planetarium and Science Center production, written by Will Osborne, co-author of Space, the non-fiction companion and research guide to the Magic Tree House® book Midnight on the Moon.

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

For the past year, Morehead’s been working with an Artist in Residence, David Colagiovanni, who has been not only creating new content for the dome, but thinking more in-depth about how we use and interact in the dome environment.  David’s a professor in the UNC-Chapel Hill Art Department and we’ve stolen him away to work on dome stuff in his free time.

Last month, he presented his work on the dome to a packed house and we’ve convinced him to stick around for another year and push some of his ideas even further. Meanwhile, we asked one of our multimedia students, Colby Ramsay, to put together a short documentary about David and his work on the dome. And for all you gear heads, yes, he’s using the RED Camera. Check it out:

Fulldome Fest Honorable MentionWe just heard the news that Earth, Moon & Sun earned a 4.0 rating (out of 5) at the 4th Jena Fulldome Festival, an international showcase in Germany. EMS also received an honorable mention for best use of humor. Not too shabby for our first fulldome show!

Next stop on the festival circuit is the Fulldome Film Festival that follows ASTC in Honolulu in October.  We’re planning on entering Earth, Moon & Sun and our newest show, Magic Tree House: Space Mission.  I think I’m going to mail myself out there with the hard drive.


We just finished up our second full dome show called Magic Tree House: Space Mission. The show is based on the popular children’s book series Magic Tree House and is written by Will Osborne. We’ve been showing an analog version of MTH at Morehead since 2004 but it’s so popular that we decided to convert it to digital.

The audio track remains similar, although we added a few new SFXs, switched out one of the main character’s V.O.s and mixed it in 5.1 surround. But we didn’t do a typical digital conversion for the visuals. We essentially rethought the visuals from scratch, making the show much more interesting to watch and utilizing the full capacity of fulldome video.  The trailer is coming soon!

We just finished production on our latest show, Magic Tree House: Space Mission and now it’s time for the surround mix. While we usually do the sound design in-house, we decided it would be much more efficient and cost effective to send off our surround mix to an outside house. So we send it off to Alex Markowski at Audio Kitchen Post who does a mix in his studio and then comes over to our dome, plugs into our surround speakers (and brings his own) and does a final mix.

If you’re new to producing digital content and don’t know some of the details of what to do once you’ve finished the sound design (or if your surround guy is new to planetarium mixing), here are some tips:

1. Exporting for the mix – OMFs

Because your sound mixer may not use the same platform or application that you used to do sound design, you’ll probably be asked to export an OMF.  You may be thinking, “WTF is an OMF?” An OMF is basically all of your sound clips and timing information in a generic format that other programs can use in one large file. Your mixing person can take this file, import it into his application and tweak away.  *IMPORTANT* – Apple’s Soundtrack does NOT export as OMFs (it does export AAF’s but that’s a different story). I’d suggest just using another program if you’re using a Mac such as ProTools LE, Logic or even just Final Cut.

Before you export, make sure your tracks are organized in groupings (dialog, VO, music, sfx). Levels, pans and filters cannot be exported as part of an OMF so it is important to have a….

2. Guide Track

When you send your mixer your video domemaster for reference (make sure it’s not 4K or it’ll be a pain in the butt – shrink it down to 1K), export your audio (the guide track) as an aiff and attach it to the video or send it as a separate file so that the mixer has a good sense of what you’re trying to make the audio sound like.

3. VO in the dome

Normally when you mix VO for 5.1 surround in a movie theater, you put the voice in the center channel and then just a bit in the left and right. However, in the dome, it’s usually good to bring the VO up in the left and right (about -3db from the center level). This way, when sitting in the left part of the theater, it prevents the VO from sounding like it’s coming from the right part of the theater and vice versa. Let your surround guy know.

4. Do the final mix in a dome

Don’t trust your headphones or your fancy-schmancy Alesis monitors. Things sound very different in the dome. There’s a lot more reverb and subtle sounds can get totally lost, especially in a big dome. Have your sound guy set up a computer in the dome and plug it into your surround system or set up his own speakers. That way you’ll get the real deal.

5. The Final Files

Here’s what you need from the final mix:

  • 5.1 surround mix (6 files – Center(C), Front Left(L), Front Right(R), Back Left (Ls), Back Right (Rs) and Low Frequency (Lf))
  • stereo mix (2 files – L and R)
  • a 5.1 dialog and M&E (music and effects) mix  – this is so you can hand it off to a planetarium in a country that speaks another language and they can replace the dialog track with their native language.

Is there anything else you’ve had to deal with or keep in mind? If so, let us know and we’ll add to the list.

DF09_smFor a bunch of reasons, we weren’t able to make it to Domefest 2009 this year. Missing it, as you might guess, really sucked. After being so inspired by all the great content we saw in Chicago in 2008, we were really looking forward to the 2009 gathering. We saw all of the finalists on the Domefest vimeo channel, but it’s just not the same on a flat screen.

So instead, we’re bringing Domefest to us. Morehead is taking place in UNC’s CHAT Festival (CHAT is “Collaborations: Humanities, Arts & Technology”) this year. As part of that we’re going to be showing the Domefest 2009 winners on Morehead’s dome on Wednesday February 17 at 7:00. If you’re local and want to check it out, let us know.

We’re putting the finishing touches on converting our theater to a 4K digital fulldome system from SkySkan. As far as I know, we’re now the largest fulldome theater in the Southeast US. We’ve been waiting for this day since I started working here three years ago. And it’s been talked about for over 10 years! In fact, it’s been so long that the guy who started talking about 10 years ago, Holden Thorp, was then the director of the Planetarium. Now he’s the Chancelor of the entire school of UNC-Chapel Hill.

Our official reopening is going to be February 5th. On the docket is “Astronaut” from NSC and “Black Holes: Journey into the Unknown” from Museum Victoria. We’ll also be playing our own homegrown show, “Earth, Moon and Sun” and a live show called Carolina Skies. We’ve also got the Domefest 2009 shorts that we’re going to play during special occasions AND we’re weeks away from finishing our second show, “Magic Tree House: Space Mission” and a domefest short entitled “Jeepers Creepers.”  Yeah, it’s a bit busy, but we’re pretty psyched.

41pBhfgzCoL._SL500_AA240_Because dome shows are mostly 3D animation, making planetarium shows is closer to creating cartoons or video games than live action films. Therefore, most of the sound effects have to be added in after the visuals are created. The arrangement and layering of these sounds is called sound design.

I was looking to get a little more education on doing sound design for film, whether it be from a class, books or some old sound guru who lives on a mountain top somewhere. It’s not easy to find info out there. And I work on a University campus, so you’d think there’d be some resource available. Nada. Nothing. If anyone has any thoughts or suggestions, lay it on me. I’m not talking the basics of audio editing, I’m talking full-on film sound design.

One book I did find that was interesting, however, is “Sound design & Science Fiction” by William Whittington. It basically talks about the evolution of sound design and how the 70s sci-fi movies such as THX-1138, Star Wars, Alien and Blade Runner revolutionized the business. And pretty much the leader in the revolution was Lucasfilm’s Ben Burtt. Thirty years later, he continues to be the leader in the biz – he did the sound for Wall•E. If you’re interested more in the sound design and foley work that was done for that film, check out this talk he gave about it as well as this website – Ben Burtt Interviews.