Fulldome production news – issue 4

In the 4th issue of the Fulldome production news I will give some examples of the work flow for a specific scene in the Summer Sky show I created here at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center’s Heikoff Dome.
The tools I will be using are After Effects, Photoshop, 3DStudio Max, Maya and Sky-Skans Digital Sky.
In the studio I will use Protools and some Native Instruments plug ins.
First, of course is the concept, script and story board. Our console supervisor, Eileen Best, avid astronomer and voice of the theater, wrote the script for this, and many of our sky shows.
I recorded the voice-over, and made some rough edits to get the timings for the voice, giving enough space for the visuals and for the music.
I have to try hard to avoid excessive narration, leaving time for the audience to see and appreciate the beauty of the night sky, and to not throw up too many facts. This can be a challenge when you are passionate about a topic, as I am about astronomy. I make a note of the time for each sentence, and specific words in sentences that have a lot of visual cues.
I place the script in a spreadsheet with columns for the narration, sound effects, music, visuals, time and frames.
Visual planning tool for Summer Sky 2013
With just the voice recorded I start up our astronomy software. I program the sky position for the season, and use the timings to bring up the constellations at the correct point in the show to match the narration. Then I render the sky section. Since I work at 4K resolution, this is very time consuming. I usually start it in the evening when I leave for the night.
For the Summer Sky show I downloaded 2 models from NASA: the Chandra X-Ray Telescope and the James Webb Space Telescope. These were placed in 3DStudio max, lighted appropriately considering the distance from Earth, location of the Sun and a rotation was added for the duration of the scene. I used After Effects to place the frames of the rendered models in the right spot. Lots of models are available here:
Using a variety of sources I create a landscape of 4,000 X 2,000. There are many options: photography, Bryce, 3DStudio Max, and an array of algorithmic landscape generation programs. I do not use a fish eye camera lens for this, that can be applied later in the process. Using Photoshop I make a selection along the horizon and create 2 layers; one is the sky, and the other is the land. I also create a black mask mask for the land. These elements will be used later in the process.
I start Adobe After Effects with a 4,000 X 4,000 pixel composition and place the landscape, sky, and mask in the time-line at the point in time where the script’s timing indicates.
The star-field is placed behind the landscape.
I apply the Fulldome plug-in from Navegar to all the layers and make the settings exactly the same. This powerful tool compensates for the distortion from the dome. In one mode, it can take an image and make it wrap around the dome. A color matte effect is placed on the mask so that the black sky area is transparent. The mask is placed behind the landscape so that it prevents the stars from shining though when the landscape is faded out. Losing track? Me too, so here are the layers, from nearest to farthest, and a screen shot of the composition from top to bottom. There other layers are for the elements of the show that come in later.
Blue sky and clouds.
Land mask.

After Effects composition showing layers.
In the After Effects image above, the diamonds are key-frames: the points at which I made adjustments in opacity, position, or any of the other parameters.
You could simply place the landscape into the composition without all the layering, but I like to finesse things a bit. The sky and clouds are on a separate layers so that I can move them slightly during the scene. I also fade them out slower than the land to makes a nice effect; the clouds fade out as the stars peek through them, slowly moving across the sky and leaving a nice clear area to see the stars.
The mask for the land keeps the stars from shining through the land, and leaves an irregular horizon after dark, hinting at the terrain the Sun illuminated as twilight fell. Leaving the brightness of the land at 3 % gives the horizon a little bit of texture also.
Here is what the landscape looks like before the Fulldome plug-in is applied:
The layers with the Fulldome plug-in and the stars:
Summer_sky_landscape-with fisheye
With resolution this high, and a variety of source materials, watching the composition play in real-time is tough. I make a low resolution version to check timing, and for mistakes such as an incorrect opacity setting. I’ve uploaded a video of the first 30 seconds to YouTube: http://youtu.be/FnNR2KDjn40
Layering is an essential tool for building a realistic scene such as this. Pay careful attention to the selections between graphic layers, remembering that your image will be seen in a very large format, and any mistakes will be magnified quite a bit.
John Young
Audio Visual producer
Reuben H. Fleet Science Center

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