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SGI Digital Dome at Rose Center

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  • Dennis Davidson
    I am responding to Ryan Wyatt s note on July 9 about the Rose Center s digital dome system. For those on the fulldome listserv who do not know me, the
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 31 10:46 AM
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      I am responding to Ryan Wyatt’s note on July 9 about the Rose Center’s digital dome system. For those on the fulldome listserv who do not know me, the following bio should provide the context for my comments:

      From 1987 to 1997 I served as astronomical artist at the Hayden Planetarium. I was one of the few staffers to make the transition to the new Hayden, as it became part of the Rose Center for Earth & Space. I was also lucky enough to be involved in creating several key aspects of the Rose Center. I managed the Digital Galaxy Project, initiated the partnership with the San Diego Supercomputer Center, commissioned new constellation artwork for the Zeiss IX, and had a hand in designing the Rose Center’s digital dome system.   

      I have included Ryan’s comments for clarity. My comments follow his.

      RW: First off, we don't have an "SGI system" per se.  In addition, I'd say the Rose Center has managed a fair degree of compatibility with other systems so far.

       DD: The Rose Center’s Digital Dome system was designed and installed as an SGI system with two modes – real-time and playback. With Aechelon’s C-Galaxy software and the NASA-funded Digital Galaxy Astrometric Database, the real-time Onyx2 image-generating system produces a stunningly realistic representation of the local universe, from the solar system to just outside our own galaxy. NCSA’s Virtual Director and Partiview are useful for real-time production and sci-viz work but are not as realistic as C-Galaxy. Although the shows are currently being served from a DDR-Barco system, for over a year the shows were served with an SGI-Ciprico-Barco system. Whenever AMNH wants to run the Digital Dome in real-time, they’ve got to fire up the 7-pipe Onyx. The Rose Center has an SGI system.

      About the Hayden Digital Dome System: A seven-pipe Onyx2 computer forms the core of the Hayden’s powerful real-time, image-generating system. Aechelon’s C-Galaxy software and the Digital Galaxy’s Astrometric Database turn the dome into a virtual 3-D planetarium. Different software and data could turn the dome into a virtual aquarium or virtual microscope. We installed a 2 TB Ciprico RAID to give us play-back capabilities. SEOS’s software and edge-blending system keeps everything in-register on its way to the dome. Seven Barco 1209 projectors deliver the motion graphics to the dome’s surface.

      The Hayden’s Digital Dome system has operated in different configurations since inception. Below are generalized descriptions of four configurations. Please note that three out of four configurations are based on an SGI Onyx2 system. 

      1)  Real-Time SGI-Barco-C-Galaxy System (fall 1999 to 3/2000 production):  SGI Onyx2, SEOS edge-blending and system control, Barco projectors, C-Galaxy software, Digital Galaxy database.

      2)  Real-Time SGI-Barco-VirDir System (4/2000 to present used at night by researchers):  SGI Onyx2, SEOS edge-blending and system control, Barco projectors, Virtual Director or Partiview software, reduced Digital Galaxy database, other databases (Tully’s galaxies, Hipparcos only, globular cluster simulation data from the Astrophysics group).

      3)  Play-Back SGI-Ciprico-Barco System (Dec 99 to June 2001): Ciprico RAID, SGI Onyx2, SEOS edge-blending and system control, Barco projectors,  multi-GB rendered frames adding up to Passport to the Universe space show. (significant portions of Passport were created with C-Galaxy using the SGI Digital Dome system in real-time mode).

      4)  Play-Back DDR-Barco System. (July 2001 to present) DDR, SEOS edge-blending and system control (not sure about the SEOS), Barco projectors, multi-GB rendered frames adding up to a 19-23 minute space show.

      Our original marching orders called for including real-time features in the dome. We were able to build a real time system by December 1999, but this did not leave enough time for our show producers to use these features in the first space show. It was not our intent to build a system that used a supercomputer as a glorified hard drive. I’m surprised that the Digital Dome and Digital Galaxy are so underutilized. Nonetheless, the SGI Digital Dome is a fabulous production tool, an engaging presentation tool, and an early test-bed for the National Virtual Observatory.


      RW:  To the first point...  We have an SGI Onyx that is used as one source (among many) feeding an array of seven SeOS projectors with geometric correction and edge-blending done in real time.  The integration work was not done by SGI, to the best of my knowledge; instead, much of the effort that went into creating a coherent system has been done in-house and by the folks at Trimension.  Also, the SGI is not used to run shows.  It *is* used for astronomical research, for content creation, and as a real-time feed running software created by NCSA and other collaborators.

      About SGI and the Hayden: Silicon Graphics played a key role in the development of the Digital Dome and Digital Galaxy. SGI brought their technical knowledge and extensive in-kind support to help create the Rose Center. SGI was one of a handful of companies and institutions that helped make things happen during the design and construction of the Rose Center. We had less than two years to do the Digital Galaxy and Digital Dome. With SGI’s help, we were able to achieve our goals by the Dec 31, 1999 deadline.

      That said, Ryan is correct, the Digital Dome’s integration work was not performed by SGI, that contract went to Trimension Systems, Ltd.*. Trimension worked closely with Aram Friedman’s engineering team to create the Digital Dome system 

      *During the construction of the Rose Center, Trimension Systems, Ltd. was an independent company that had its origins in SEOS Displays, Ltd. (SEOS is the world’s leading builder of displays for flight simulators.) In November 2001 Trimension became a subsidiary of SEOS. The new name of the parent company is SEOS, Ltd.


      Dennis Davidson

      Davidson Digital Design, Inc.

      104 8th Avenue, #5-FS, New York, NY 10011

      T: 212-727-1723  E: davidson3d@...

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