Digital production changes how we see the universe

Mike Murray

Did you know that virtually all of the shows playing in the Hansen Dome Theatre are original in-house productions?  Each can take anywhere from 9 to 12 months to produce, and can involve up to a dozen people in their creation.  At last summer’s International Planetarium Society meeting in Chicago, Clark Planetarium Productions was recognized as among the top distributors of original shows as well.  We now have programs in over 100 digital planetariums in 14 countries.

The idea of what a planetarium even is has gone through a renaissance in just the last 5 years.  We were among the first dome theaters to “go digital” in 2003 – now there are over 500 in the world.  In this medium, “digital” is more than a great marketing buzz word.  Digital show production has literally exploded the boundaries of what planetariums can do.  Instead of capturing a “snapshot” of the sky or a 360-degree scene on another planet, everything is now full-color, high resolution animation.  Now we can show the universe the way it was really meant to be seen!

A great example of this is our newest production, Saturn: Jewel of the Heavens. Even though the ‘still photos’ from the Cassini spacecraft are spectacular in their own right, our producers took the photomaps, wrapped them onto 3-dimensional spheres, and sculpted height map information to make them show true surface relief!  In other words, when you fly through the ice canyons of Enceladus, it’s like hitching a roller coaster ride on the spacecraft itself.

It’s also why our “Cosmic Light Shows” are like no other domed entertainment show.  3D-based art and scenery can go way beyond the “laser shows” of the old Hansen Planetarium…but that’s another subject for a future post.

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