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DOUG ROBERTS chief technology offi cer

What is the theatre’s layout?

We want to give people the experience that they’re on the deck of an intergalactic space ship and can see as much of space around them as is possible. We had to stay within the existing archi-

tecture. Because the fl oor’s fl at the dome could only go so high because we had some interior infrastructure. We’ve arranged the seats in a general

curving arc in one direction, facing forward. Stadium seating is fi ne, but it disconnects guests from each other. On a fl at surface you’re always aware of people around you, as you have to look over their heads – that’s what it’s like watching the stars with a group of friends in your back yard. If we’d had more freedom, we may not have come to this solution, but it’s fantastic. The original theatre had an optical

mechanical projector made by Zeiss, which had been designed in the 1920s. It gave the illusion of looking up through a well at the night sky. We’ve brought the dome to the fl oor, raised the fl oor and taken out the big projector in the centre of the room, so when you’re in your chair fac- ing forward, it really feels as though you’re on the deck of a ship looking out to space

– there’s nothing in your way. There’s space for 220 chairs, but when

we’re not busy we’ll take out some seats so only the best 120 centre seats are left.


The Welcome Gallery’s curved architecture has been designed to look otherworldly

those images together so it appears as though a single image is being projected. The illusion is much stronger than any

What were the challenges?

A big part of the experience is the visual and the technology, which we had to cre- ate. We explored the option of motion fl oor or motion seats. Given our building’s age, it wasn’t clear how we’d get the hydraulics in, plus it would have cost a lot to reinforce the fl oor. We decided instead to use audio and have the best visuals of any theatre in the world. Anyone can have high resolution by getting together enough projectors and adding up enough pixels to be the biggest in the world. But it needs to be done in a way where it feels like one seamless image, and you want to produce the night sky as accurately as possible. If you have projectors that aren’t true

black, you start having edge overlaps. If you’ve got 20 projectors, then the entire dome is edge overlaps with twice the brightness on the overlap parts. The way you fi x that is by increasing the brightness on the non-overlap parts. Then you’ve basi- cally taken a black sky and turned it grey to make things uniform. That’s a compromise that breaks the illusion of outer space. We use 20 projectors called Zorros.

They’re expensive, but are designed to be run 24/7, so are very reliable and confi g- urable and really make true blacks. Those 20 projectors are outside of the dome and project through portholes up onto the dome. The computers stitch the edges of

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other planetarium that any of our team has ever seen before – it really does feel as though you’re in a space.

What fi lm is shown?

The fi lm is The Searcher. It’s the most ambitious planetarium show that’s ever been created because it’s being done at the highest resolution. Running for 23 minutes, it tells the story of an alien that’s billions of years old. It leaves its home galaxy to travel, but when it returns, its home has been combined with another galaxy. Its people have gone, so it has to fi nd out where they are. It sounds simple, but it’s a very compli-

cated presentation as it uses a tremendous number of data-driven visualisation. Artists and scientists have worked together to turn that data set into something on screen that looks like, for example, two galaxies fi ghting. We have a tremendous number of sequences that are using these data sets. We have to render them all out at 8K resolution, which is four times more than the traditional 4K system. Until recently a 4K system was considered ambitious, so going four higher is a pretty big deal. We’ll update the fi lm every 18 months.

The show is meant to be an engaging, inspiring experience. We’re not making it so factual it goes over the heads of kids or too basic that it bores adults. We aim to inspire people so they then go on to other areas of the planetarium to learn more.

AM 4 2011 ©cybertrek 2011

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