When in Dome…

The Morehead Planetarium & Science Center Production Blog

Author Archive | Peter Althoff

Pixar has done it again with another amazing short. No dialog, just wonderful character animation coupled with very tight storytelling.

Often times we fall prey to the documentary style show production on a dome. The format being a heavy handed narration and visuals that directly correspond to concepts discussed by the disembodied voice of the narrator. This short as I said has absolutely zero dialog, just the characters reacting to their environment, and each other, but a touching story is still told.

Often we talk about the dome as an immersive environment but the flat screen can be equally immersive. The only distinction is how well we get our audience to empathize and become enveloped in whatever it is we show them. Surrounding someone with an environment doesn’t place them in a scene, but getting them emotionally involved in what it is they’re seeing makes it an experience. A concept that I’ll be trying to understand and emulate in projects to come.

One other thing that I thoroughly enjoy about this short and the most recent release “UP” is there use of clouds, fog, and sky. Still grappling with getting volumetric fluids to look good and work correctly on the dome.

We recently had a discussion on what lends itself to a dome. Seeing as Star projectors are no longer the center piece of the technology,we have an entire surface to expose and fill with content.
Space science has typically been the focus of Planetariums and is a primary focus even today. A dome offers itself to be a simulation of the sky above. Though as the technology gets more sophisticated it has become a way to illustrate space with a little “s”. We can deal with space inside a cell, or explore the volume of a dense molecule.

Some Visual devices we know work on a dome are as follows:
Moving to a large open area from a some what cramped one.
Moving through tunnels.
Flying along the surface of any object. (Moon, Mars, a really long line of text)
Flipping the horizon
Moving through objects
Shifting Perspective

Though a characteristic that seems to be prevalent in our continued exploration of the medium is motion. Still sequences seem to be a thing of the past. Even a slight rotation or scale is better than a static shots. I’m sure this list will continue to grow as we develop new ways to exploit the unique environment of the dome, and we define a visual language for how a dome is used.

Seeing as 3d software is designed classically for the flat screen, there has yet to be much adaptation to working with 3d in a Fisheye view. So to help us understand what we’re looking at we use a rig that points 5 cameras in different directions. Generally focusing on what happens in the front, left, right and Up cameras. We do think about what should be happening behind the viewer, but it should never be there for very long, as we can’t see through the backs of our heads.

3dMax Workspace


The Chamber

April 6, 2009 | 1 Comments | Gear

Where Awesome has been known to happen.  We welcome you to join us in “The Chamber”.

No dome Studio should be without a dome. The Chamber was built by our own Richard McColman using pre-fabricated Fiberglass dome panels, and some good old hard work.  Its roughly 8′ in diameter and 9′ high.  Using a rather standard projection unit with a not so standard Fisheye Lens projection mount we are able to preview and discuss shot composition for our full dome shows. We’ve even taken to doing story boards using Photoshop drawing directly on the dome surface.

Its equipped with 5.1 surround, has a screen resolution of 1024X768, and sports a wonderful set of sleek gaming chairs.  This dome is even equipped with its own ventilation system to draw out the heat from the projector lens.