Science on the Half Sphere’s first full-length planetarium show is Cosmic Castaways. In this series of posts, we will talk about how the show was made. The goal is to help other people interested in making full-dome planetarium shows see what we did, and hopefully avoid our mistakes!
In the next series of postings, we will focus on Curt Spivey, our planetarium engineer, and the director of Cosmic Castaways. Curt has had a long and varied experience as a planetarium engineer and show producer. Take it away Curt!
5. Work in small bites. After your script is done, read through it and divide it in logical “scenes.” Cosmic Castaways had 18. We then had a storyboard brainstorming session with all the collaborators to decide the general look of each, and then it was up to me as the director to figure out how to make each scene work. I subdivided the soundtrack into 18 sections, and I created a separate AfterEffects project for each scene. After I was satisfied with the scene I would then create a PNG sequence for each, and then I “stacked” each scene in a master AfterEffects project with the final soundtrack before I ran out my PNG domemasters. “Domemasters” are sequences of still frames in JPEG, TIFF or PNG formats, that are strung together exactly like old cellulite films were. We used the PNG format as a compromise between storage size and quality. JPEGs are smaller, and TIFFs higher quality. The planetarium industry standard is 30 frames per second to create Persistence of Vision, so there are 30 frames for each second of Cosmic Castaways (that comes out to 35,409 frames.)
The domemasters are important because the more animation you have in a scene, the more likely your computer will screw it up of crash. For a clean final render, you need domemasters, AND because there are so many different planetarium formats out there, domemasters are the best way to distribute your show to other planetarians. Oh, and a very important point I learned the hard way: Always create your domemasters in the LARGEST FORMAT you plan to make available. We have a 1024×1024 pixel system, so I originally made Cosmic Castaways in that size. Much to my chagrin, those domemasters looked like crud blown up to 2048×2048 pixels, so I had to completely redo the show after we started distributing it.
6. George Lucas was right. “A project is never completed, just abandoned.” Cosmic Castaways is like a child. It started as a newborn that we were all excited and proud of. Now it is a freeloading twenty-something without a job that you just want out of your house. My AfterEffects skills have improved exponentially since I began this show, so I could tinker and futz with it from now until doomsday (oh, wait that was in 2012.) Know when it’s time to let go and move on to the next show.
Some other useful tidbits
7. Make DVD copies of your show. We knew we would distribute to planetariums that don’t have fulldome technology. We created a 16:9 version and put it on a DVD with Adobe Encore. My office is also full of DVD cases, blank inserts, blank DVDs and CD labels. I have a photo quality printer and the grant allowed me to get a slick DVD duplicator. Pop in the DVDs and 20 minutes later I’ve got 5 new copies. Woot!
8. International Distribution Will you make the show available to other countries? We are paying someone to create a Spanish translation for us. Figure out what languages you want it in. Make an “Instrumental Only” copy of the soundtrack. If other folks offer to make translations for you, say yes and ask for a recording of the translation in return.
9. Overnight is your friend. My render computer is also my desktop computer, so I usually build my show during the day, and then set it to render as I’m ready to leave for the day. It avoids the “twiddling thumb” syndrome.