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The Dome Commeth
Richard S. Wright Jr.'s Blog

Seeker-Dome or Seeker-Pro (we haven’t quite decided what to call it yet) is coming soon. I’ve spent more time on dome rendering than I ever thought I would. Another case of… “yeah, that looks pretty easy…” – NOT.

Steve of course didn’t have nearly as much trouble with a dome retro-fit of TheSkyX. He has spent quite a bit of time on a dome “console” to make it easier for planetarium personnel to work it. Once you leave the planet though, Seeker needs to kick in. I read several papers on this topic, looked at some sample code, and in truth, it’s not really that hard to make a 3D immersive environment in a fisheye projection. My biggest challenges were text, 2D overlays, labels, and stars. There were several assumptions based on camera position and direction that had to be refactored… but it was mostly straight forward, just a lot of details I didn’t think of ahead of time.

Stars are a pain. There is just no substitute for an optical star projector in a planetarium. Unfortunately, for space flight, that isn’t quite as practical. I had a devil of a time with stars, but I’m finally pretty happy with a hybrid approach I came up with myself. Working without a dome is also impossible. We have a beta site in Houston playing with the dome version of Seeker, but feedback is nothing like seeing it yourself. Steve has a small dome that he can test on, and I found a local company (thank you AVI) in Orlando that is letting me come out and use their dome. They resell the “Media Globe” planetarium projector, and at least I know for sure that Seeker will work with that!

Pretty much any fisheye projector will do, but the dome version can also produce truncated projections, and the new mirror dome projections (which are gaining popularity). We can do this real-time as you fly around, and the new Seeker can render out QuickTime dome masters up to 4096x4096. In addition, it can create “normal” projections and stills at that resolution as well. The first action this new code saw was in a recent press release that Loch Ness Productions asked for some help with. Carolyn created the view she wanted with Seeker, and then I used the new Seeker to create a 4kx4k snapshot without the stars that was composited into the final image. You can see it here:

Steve and I have both been to one planetarium show each in different parts of the country. We have two really good partners helping us make the transition to this new territory, and we are both going to be at the Triple Conjunction planetarium conference next month in West Virginia. We had planned to have a booth, but it appears they under booked the facilities and they were turning vendors (including us!) down a month before the dead-line. If you find me or Steve, I’m sure we can accommodate in person requests for demos ;-) Actually, there is a very good chance you can catch our new stuff in the e-planetarium booth on their portable dome, or lurking around with Mark Petersen at the Loch Ness Productions booth.

We are very excited about getting into this new field. A first grade visit to the planetarium in Louisville, KY on a field trip set my mind on fire, and I have been in love with astronomy, and the planetarium format every since. The medium however seems to be suffering from a dearth of tools and content tailored for their specific needs. Well, that’s where we are coming in! We are also committed to remaining neutral in regards to hardware projector systems, so anyone who can throw video on their dome is a potential customer, and we hope to deliver some tools to make their job easier, and foster the next generation of space and astronomy enthusiasts!

Posted 09-18-2007 12:42 PM by Richard Wright


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