Archives for category: Fulldome Production

When I first started working in the fulldome environment, one of my biggest frustrations in the dome was the inevitable washing out of images. At IAIA, our 24′ digital dome currently has 6 – PLUS U7 projectors. Each of these projectors has 3500 ANSI with a contract ratio of 2000:1. Add this low contrast ratio to the photon splash that occurs in a spherical theater and images that look gorgeous on a monitor become lifeless on the dome. High Dynamic Range (HDR) techniques solve the problem.

The average human eye sees at about 10,000:1 contrast ratio. A high end DSLR camera shoots a single image at around 2000:1 contrast ratio. Place this images in the dome with a projection system of 2000:1 and add photon splash and the image washes out to about 500:1 (just a guess, not an actual measurement). The details of the images are simply lost in translation. My first approach in attempts to solve this problem was to increase the contrast and the saturation of the image. Although this would help, it still left me completely frustrated.

While reviewing the materials for the highly anticipated xRez training session, I began to review the techniques they would be teaching. High Dynamic Resolution immediately caught my eye. While in Portland’s Powell’s Books, I picked up two books; Practical HDR by Jack Howard and Practical HDR by David Nightingale. Through these two texts I began to see the world and the images I shoot in a completely different light. Not only has this process saved my photographs for the dome, it has enhanced my overall photographic skills for all mediums.

After learning about HDR, I immediately began to shoot bracketed photos with my Canon x3i using the automated settings in the menu. I tried Photoshop’s Merge to HDR Pro with fair results. Then I downloaded a trial of Photomatrix Pro. Within 10 minutes I purchased the full version and was hooked.

My first HDR photo. Bagby Hot Springs, Oregon.

Some people say that HDR is just a fad technique and things look to fake and overly illustrated, but take this image and place it on a digital dome and it is an excellent solution. There are many variations within HDR tonemapping techniques from illustrative to realistic. My tastes tend towards more realistic results, but I find some images call for the more grungy illustrated look.

Single shot

HDR photo

Fall 2011, the first assignment my students tackled in the Digital Dome Production I course was shooting HDR photos using a Canon x3i and a Sunex 5.6mm f/5.6 Super Fisheye lens. The assignment taught students to begin to visual the sphere and understand placement of images on the dome. They experimented with angles, perspectives, and various subjects. At the same time, they were learning HDR and creating stunning images that popped on the dome.
IAIA Tutorial on shooting HDR

Student Images

IAIA Dorms by Bryan Akipa

Railyard by Fernando Charley

Bridge by Jessie Bennett

Wood by Louva Hartwell

Duck Pond by Joseph "Seph" Turnipseed

From this foundation, my student developed skills in 360° spherical panos and 360° horizontal panos all using the HDR process. I am very interested in exploring HDR video processes and am currently developing ways to increase contrast in video for the digital dome. Look for more posts in the future with these tests.

For more information on HDR, check out
Wikipedia
A Versatile HDR Video Production System
And you know a web search will find all kinds of wonderful information.

In February, our Digital Dome Director, Ethan Bach accompanied by two New Media Arts students, Joseph “Seph” Turnipseed and Fernando Charley will present as part of the New Media Caucus events being held during the College Arts Association conference in Los Angeles, California. The presentation will include examples of student and artist-in-resident work produced for the Digital Dome @ IAIA. This event will take place on Thursday, February 23 at 8pm at the Glendale Community College Planetarium.

Fernando Charley's still photo "Santa Fe Railyard"

Historically geodesic theaters have been used for exploring the stars in the planetarium. It is not until recent years that these theaters have become capable of presenting digital media. This innovation brings new life to the medium providing artists an endless amount of opportunities for creation. Still the fulldome medium has yet to define itself within the field of fine arts. With over 600 digital domes around the world, the content being produced and shown is primarily science based and primarily intended for a fourth-grade audience. There is now more than every a great opportunity for the new media artist to creative interactive immersive experiences in the dome environment. The Institute of American Indian Arts has quickly become a leader in opening up the spherical theater for artistic exploration.

About New Media Caucus
The New Media Caucus is a non-profit, international membership organization that advances the conceptual and artistic use of digital media. The NMC represents artists whose media are expanding with developments in digital technology, artists working in emerging media such as robotics, virtual reality, interactive and installation environments as well as artists working in established digital areas of video, sound and graphics. By providing forum for the critical review of new media practice, the caucus increases the visibility and presence of new media practitioners.

About College Arts Association
Mission Statement
The College Art Association (CAA) promotes the visual arts and their understanding through committed practice and intellectual engagement.
Vision Statement
The College Art Association advances the highest standards of instruction, knowledge and practice in the visual arts to stimulate intellectual curiosity and advance skills that enrich the individual and society.
To realize this vision College Art Association will:
1. Represent, promote and advocate for the visual arts nationally and internationally;
2. Create new opportunities for dialogue among members;
3. Explore new forms of communication using innovative and improved technology;
4. Address career development and workforce issues to assist professional growth;
5. Strengthen organizational leadership, membership and financial support

In February, our Digital Dome Director, Ethan Bach will present a workshop at IMERSA Summit in Denver, Colorado. The session is entitled, “Fulldome 101” and will focus on examples and methods for creating in the spherical fulldome theater. Ethan will be joined by UNM ARTS Lab’s Hue Walker and others who bring years of experience and various methods to explore for the digital dome.

The 2012 IMERSA Summit is set to take place 3-5 February 2012 at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science (DMNS). “Learning from our past, Visualizing our future – Winning solutions for the digital dome” is the theme. The two-and-a-half-day Summit is organized by IMERSA (Immersive Media, Entertainment, Research, Science & Arts) – a nonprofit trade group formed in 2008 to boost the adoption and creative application of the digital dome and other immersive media formats.

In the visitor attractions business, digital dome, aka “fulldome,” is getting attention from museums, science centers and theme parks as they transition from film-based systems to digital projection and seek to provide ever-more immersive experiences. Fulldome cinema already boasts a network of more than 1200 permanent and portable domes around the world with the potential for many more. This inherently immersive, medium is being widely adopted in Europe and Asia as well as the US to create great story- based guest experiences, and to leverage trans-media opportunities for entertainment and education in 2D, 3D and 4D.

Within the planetarium community and educational institutions, it is anticipated that virtually all dome theaters will eventually upgrade to digital dome technology. The tendency is either to integrate a fulldome system together with an opto-mechanical starball projector, or to replace the starball altogether. Depending on the size of the theater, the number of projectors in a fulldome system can range from a single fisheye unit to a series of 6, 8 or more, linked and edge-blended.

Digital dome theaters are central to prominent visitor attractions around the world such as City of Dreams in Macau (“Dragons Treasure”); the Adler Planetarium in Chicago (“Deep Space Adventure”); the American Museum of Natural History (Rose Planetarium), Madame Tussauds London (“Marvel Superheroes 3D), Futuroscope in Poitiers, France (“Arthur”) and Universal Studios (“The Simpsons Ride” and “Harry Potter: The Forbidden Journey”) and Griffith Observatory (Centered in the Universe) in Los Angeles to name a few examples. The growing library of fulldome shows includes original custom productions from exhibitors and system providers as well as independent producers. Major special venue distributors such as nWave Pictures, SK Films and National Geographic are also getting into the act and starting to make titles available for digital dome exhibition.

“Because of digital technology, multiple industry sectors are converging, and we have a lot to talk about on the creative side, technology side and the business side,” says IMERSA co-founder Dan Neafus, who is director of the Gates Planetarium. “We’re working to develop standards and specifications and deal with what is called ‘pixel envy.’ Fulldome is pretty far along in terms of animation content, but mainstream filmmakers are eager to see better options for live action photography. When it comes to image acquisition, there are tricks for capturing material in a way that not only optimizes the special projection environment in the dome, but that can maximize the opportunities for cross-platform distribution. Everyone wants to see more viable business models for production, distribution and exhibition and not repeat previous mistakes.

We are preparing for the much anticipated three day fulldome production workshop with xRez. xRez are the creators of the spectacular dome show, Crossing Worlds
This workshop is a collaborative effort between xRez, IAIA, and UNM ARTSLab.

Using high resolution panoramic imagery integrated into 3D software allowed them to take advantage of it’s powerful flexibility while presenting real-world imagery. They developed a method utilizing a stitched panoramic HD capture, where they can far exceed even the highest resolution of emerging digital cinema solutions. Their first dome film format film, “Crossing Worlds” won a coveted “Domie” for Best Design in a Dome at DomeFest 09 in Albuquerque, NM and was later shown in the world’s highest resolution dome theater at Dome Day Asia. A visual tone poem designed for the emerging fulldome planetarium format, “Crossing Worlds” utilizes spherical photography from the American desert west to immerse the viewer in a transcendent spectrum of austere landscapes.

This hands-on workshop will cover basic approaches to capture and integration of real- world locations and CGI elements for fulldome production. The initial focus will be on photographic techniques, such as spherical panoramic background photography, HDRI capture, and photogrammetry for set reconstruction. Site survey techniques will be demonstrated as well as a brand new technique for 3d point cloud data capture based on Microsoft Photosynth software. Later classroom study will include formatting the content shot and integrating in Autodesk Maya for fulldome production.

We will have 2 components to the workshop, first a one-day field session to capture a nearby location (Pecos National Monument) covering spherical panoramic shooting, HDRI capture, gigapixel capture, and shooting for photogrammetry. The participants will perform most of the techniques illustrated w/ shooting rigs. The second phase will be a 2-day classroom session that will consist of software demonstrations in Photoshop, PTGui, Autopano, HDRShop, Maya, and Nuke to illustrate post-production workflow methodology. Integration of CGI elements within an image-based panoramic digital set will be the goal, and several completed works will be shown.

In preparation for this workshop to include purchasing new equipment to create four dome production kits and working on our shooting skills. Our kits include: Gigipan Epic Pro, Canon 600D, Canon EF 70-200mm F2.8 IS lens, Sunex SuperFisheye lens, and supportive gear.

Digital Dome @ IAIA fulldome kit

We will use these new skills to teach students at the Institute of American Indian Arts digital dome production courses. More to come on this workshop.

Digital Dome @ IAIA has recently had the pleasure of meeting Klaus Dufke who is teaching Motion Graphics at the University of Applied Sciences Potsdam in the Design Department. Our Dome Director, Ethan Bach, discovered this program through the call for work for the Currents @ the Digital Dome 2011 show, which took place on June 11. Two students projects were submitted from the University of Applied Sciences (UAS) and both projects were accepted into the show. Impressed by the work, Ethan contacted the professor, Klaus Dufke, who was more than willing to share his information. Turns out that UAS not only turns out interesting student work, but they have created a virtual dome testing software rightly named, DomeTester.

The DomeTester is a previsualization tool that takes flat images and places them on a three dimensional dome object that can navigate various perspectives of the virtual dome. This tool is amazing and will be a great help in creating work, teaching about the dome, and working with artists who do not have direct access to a dome. Before even looking at the software, Ethan was warned to “handle with care” as the DomeTester is still in development and has a hard time handling the computer memory.

This tool is easy to use, extremely helpful and accurate, and will become a staple in teaching courses here at the Digital Dome @ IAIA. As we were warned, the application is a bit RAM intensive. Our computer’s fan ran high while the software was running. I would recommend using this software for short intervals until the processing issue is handled. This should by no means keep anyone from using this tool to its full extent.

DomeTester is a freeware for Mac, Windows, and Linux. More information on DomeTester can be found on this translated link.