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59"Planetarian" Forum

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  • Ryan Wyatt
    Jan 21, 2001
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      Okay, since it's soooo quiet right now, I figured I'd try to
      stimulate some discussion by posting a response that
      I submitted to the current "Planetarian" Forum.

      The Forum topic was given as follows: "Is there a danger that,
      as entertainment technologies improve, in the long term some
      planetarium domes may be given over to non-astronomical shows
      such as full-dome laser and other eye candy productions, thus
      putting our profession in danger of being eroded?"

      I wrote a response from a fulldome video perspective, so I thought
      it'd be worth sharing with the group. *Please* comment and reply
      to the mailing list. :)


      First off, technology changes, and it changes the world with it.
      Just as the planetarium field began with a technological innovation
      (the ability to recreate the night sky under a dome in the middle
      of the day), it will continue to evolve hand-in-hand with technology.

      We planetarium professionals cannot see ourselves as victims
      of technology, however; we have to see ourselves as empowered
      by the technology we have access to, and we need to recognize
      the dangers and limitations of technology as applied to our field.

      My interpretation of the question revolves around my experience
      with fulldome video technology, so I will address it from that

      Yes, fulldome video entertainment programs will take place -- some
      under commercial banners, others associated with non-profit educational
      institutions. The opening of Madame Tussaud's in New York has already
      put one for-profit entertainment program out on the market, although it,
      too, has certain educational merit (giving a historical tour of New York
      events over the last fifty or so years). More will come. The medium is
      too effective and too compelling for producers (of all stripes) to ignore.

      But "eye-candy productions" have taken place under planetarium domes
      for decades: how can we see this as any different? Many domed theaters
      already run education programs during the day and entertainment programs
      in the evening, and as long as non-profit educational institutions remain
      cognizant of their mission statements, this should concern planetarians
      no more than the technologies that already exist. Rather than become
      embroiled in a debate over the sanctity of the dome, let's consider a more
      likely source of erosion.

      Will some planetarium domes be given over to non-astronomical shows?
      Not necessarily non-educational, but non-astronomical? Yes. Again,
      the new dome technologies are too compelling to limit (yes, limit) the
      content areas they illustrate to astronomy. Much as large-format films
      address widely-varying topics, fulldome video programs will take on a
      variety of topics -- as real-time image acquisition becomes cheaper,
      programs will also move out of virtual environments and into the real world
      (maybe even showing real starfields), expanding topic areas even further.
      And why shouldn't the domed environment address a variety of topics?

      An institution will require considerable resources -- in terms of money
      or personnel or (best of all) both -- to produce fulldome media of
      appropriate quality. The tools are getting cheaper, admittedly, but
      maintaining a digital production staff will probably prove even more
      challenging than maintaining a traditional production staff. The solution
      will almost certainly lie along the lines explored by large-format filmmakers
      over the last few decades.

      Science center and museum administrators familiar with the large-format
      film production model will find it appealing to apply the model to producing
      fulldome shows. Evand & Sutherland has already jumped into the
      production business with "Wonders of the Universe." Others will follow.

      We already have domed theaters that aren't planetariums -- domed
      theaters with large-format film, domed theaters with interactive systems
      (such as the Exploration Place), domed theaters running entertainment
      programs (such as the aforementioned Madame Tussaud's in New
      York) -- and we will see more and more of them in the coming years.

      My guess is that we will lose some planetariums down this route:
      they will essentially become domed movie theaters, akin to our large-format
      brethren. You could certainly call that erosion.

      But I believe this will be a transition period, at least as far as planetariums
      are concerned. Much as taped multimedia programs make sense for
      certain applications but (thankfully) have not completely displaced live
      programming in most planetariums, fulldome playback programs will
      not alleviate planetarians' interest in producing live, interactive shows.

      I challenge everyone to think a bit further into the future... When fulldome
      video projection becomes cheap and reliable, when CPUs run however
      many times faster than they run today, when inexpensive real-time
      systems will be able to move into even a small dome (perhaps replacing,
      perhaps complementing, the star projector). Small educational domes
      that permit flying through the universe in real-time -- or exploring the
      human body in a classroom environment -- could crop up everywhere,
      planetariums plus, teaching about the night sky and astronomy and
      a host of other topics. Domes that currently sit dormant or underused
      might very well be revitalized by the new technology.

      Does this scenario seem like an erosion of our facilities? I wouldn't call
      it that.

      Ryan Wyatt, Director of Theaters
      LodeStar Astronomy Center
      1801 Mountain Road NW
      Albuquerque, NM 87104
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