Who am I?
Howdy! My name is Jason Fletcher and I work at the Charles Hayden Planetarium as a Science Visualizer. I help to make the planetarium shows by creating planets, stars, galaxies, and such. Its a challenging job since I must combine real data with my artistic interpretation while reporting to a science adviser and still make the show cohesive and hopefully beautiful. I studied 3D animation and a million other things at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I’m an artist that works with science to tell stories about the universe we live in.
So I’ll be around here and there to answer any fulldome questions or problems. I have a full time job in a wonderful but small team, so my time is limited.
Fulldome is delicate
To begin, all video must be done SLOWLY on the dome itself. I can’t say this enough! You are working in an 57-foot immersive space. Think of this as the window to a spaceship and you don’t want to get sick. So please be kind to your viewers. Don’t give your audience a seizure. Remember, your dealing with 180 degrees of footage, not a small rectangle; any turns of the camera are very very noticeable.
Performance art, audience interaction, live music, experimental 5.1 audio, and such things are rarely done in the dome these days. We are very interested and excited to see how you can break our expectations. I would challenge you to consider the the planetarium lobby as a performance space too.
There are two projection systems in the dome: digital video and the Zeiss Starmaster.
— Most likely you will be using the digital video exclusively. Since you can project whatever material you make into it. Live video on the dome is impossible, sorry!
— The Zeiss Starmaster is a fiber optic system that makes ONLY stars. So the constellations are locked into place. Its very difficult to control and does not play nicely with the digital video system. Its great at projecting pinpoint stars and has no projected black level (the dome can be pitch black, but that requires muting the digital video system entirely).
Here is some stream-of-consciousness thoughts. Please forgive me if I forget anyone’s interests or skillset. Its by no mean comprehensive; just a start at explaining the details.
Video, Animation, New Media folk
On those scheduled days that you want to test some video in the dome, here are your specs. We work in the Sorenson Video 3 codec because the h.264 codec was crushing the dark colors. Sorenson Video 3 is a legacy (outdated) codec and you may need to enable it (open quicktime > Edit > Preferences > Quicktime Preferences > Advanced > Check ‘enable encoding using legacy codecs’)
Video dome testing & final delivery
— 1024 x 1024 px
— .mov quicktime
— legacy video codec: Sorenson Video 3
— 100% quality. no limit on data rate.
— stereo audio: embed into quicktime
— 5.1 audio: don’t empbed into quicktime, instead bring 6 mono wav channels
— do not embed the audio if doing 5.1
Testing in a virtual dome
— Here is an incredibly helpful piece of free software to project your footage into a virtual dome. Its useful to see just how your video will distort when projected into an actual dome. To use it: load your quicktime, and click/drag to move your perspective.
— Download DomeTester at the bottom of the page. Ignore DomeMod.
We have a full 5.1 setup and you are going to love it. Its a bit hard to describe the speaker placement in the dome, but I can show you a channel distribution test in person cause its probably not what your expecting since its a theatre-in-the-round-dome. I’m not a audio guru, but know that the speakers are actually behind the dome itself. The visible dome is actually hanging from a concrete dome behind it and this is where the speakers are.
There are some strange changes that can happen to audio in the dome. Overall, things just sound very different than what your studio is going to produce. The frequency response of the room is just plain bizarre. For instance there are certain low fequencies that produce a standing wave in the dome and amplifies the bass pretty hard. It can overwhelm the mids/treble and therefore sound kinda muddy; but its not a big thing to worry about since its circumstantial Also the black walls are actually sound-quieting foam, so it sounds quite different depending where you sit in the dome. We have a state of the art air conditioning that is practically silent. You can never quite know how it will sound, so test test test.
You actually have two options to work in: 5.1 or stereo. If you choose to work in 5.1 then you have the added step of bringing your 6 mono wav channels and at the planetarium office we will compress it into one AC3 file. If you choose to work in stereo, you can simply encode the wav into the quicktime.
It is a required that you work at 48kHz. If you want to use previously recorded samples that are at 44kHz, then please uprez to 48kHz. It causes us alot of problems if you’re not working at 48kHz (it can cause visuals to macroblock since 48kHz is a AC3 requirement).
5.1 sound setup
— 5.1 = Left Front, Right Front, Center, SubBass LFE, Left Surround, Right Surround
— Stereo = Left, Right
5.1 sound – dome tesing & final delivery
— separate mono waves for each channel (LF, RF, C, Sub, LS, RS)
— 48.000 kHz
There is alot of possibilities here. You own the true element of surprise since everyone will be expecting the visuals to be on the dome; use that to your advantage. Its difficult to explain without you seeing the space. But there is a bunch of chair isles that are somewhat wide in the dome. The possibility of glowing props or illuminated clothes is huge. Also there is a large open space in the lobby, where the stanchions can be removed entirely. I’m sure that I am missing other ideas, but improv work could be incredible too. Coordinating with the dome visuals and sound. Live music. Dancing. Sculpture. Yes.
— Don’t do these: no building anything on inside the Zeiss railing, no throwing things, no food or drink, anything that needs to be installed must not take more than one hour (and talk to me about your plans), no hanging things from the dome, no paint or such. Just please check with me if its at all questionable. We will have to do normal shows the next day.
3D Animator folk
You have a real potential to make a truly immersive space. If you know Maya, there is a custom lens shader called “DomeAFL” that will enable you to shoot 180 degrees footage (fisheye). If you’re working into a different software, then I can teach you about a hemi-cube camera setup separately. By using DomeAFL or hemicube, the dome seemingly disappears because you are now rendering fisheye footage (half a sphere) and then projecting it into a dome (half a sphere). It is quite a sight!
— Please try installing the DomeAFL lens shader. Download it here. Check out the included README, since I’ve made better installation instructions than the official one. But don’t worry if you have problems getting this installed, I can help you out. If you are able to get the lens shader installed, then here is a quick screenshot of how you actually use it in Maya. If you aren’t running Maya 64-bit or are on a Mac, then you will need to visit this website.
— One random tip is when your render from Maya, use a PNG sequence. This save a lot of hard drive space since they are lossless compression and include alpha.
Motion Graphics folk
Do you know After Effects? There is a plugin called Navegar fulldome and it allows you to place content so that its distortion is correct for the dome. You can create some amazing comps with this tool. Here is a short experiment I fulldome-remixed What Tau Sounds Like (original source); I used Navegar fulldome, Fractal Explorer, and Escher’s Droste Effect. Much of the 2D work you see in Domefest is using this plugin. Its not free but MASSart might be able to front it. Extremely helpful tool.
Thats the gist of it. To the future and beyond!