30 June 2011

Creating immersive digital cinema experiences for science centers & planetariums: Interview with Martin Howe of Global Immersion

The "digital starball" effect in the Grainger Sky Theater. Photo: Adler Planetarium.
A convergence is taking place among the giant-screen cinema, digital video, planetarium and themed entertainment communities. Here, we look at several examples - new theaters and guest experiences at two of the world’s oldest and best-known planetariums, Chicago’s Adler Planetarium and Russia’s Moscow Planetarium - as well as the Taipei Astronomical Museum, the Peoria Riverfront Museum, and the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in San Diego. All these projects feature Global Immersion systems.

Later this year, Martin Howe, Global Immersion chief executive, will speak about the Adler Planetarium project on the panel “Digital Dome Stories,” at TEA’s SATE ’11 Orlando conference on Experience Design, Sept 22-23. I interviewed him for InPark Magazine. Here's an excerpt:

JR: The Adler Planetarium was one of the first to install a permanent digital dome or “fulldome” theater in the 1990s, which it upgraded 3 years ago (the Definiti Space Theater on the lower level). That makes the Global Immersion system in the 21.6 meter diameter Grainger Sky Theater (opening to the public July 8) the third generation of digital dome video projection that Adler has adopted. What particularly distinguishes this new installation?

MH: The Grainger Sky Theater at the Adler stands out on two fronts: technology and visitor experience. Both reflect the client’s vision, as it emerged and was shaped during the concept stage and the ensuing design/build process.

We call it the “world’s first digital starball” because the upgrade included removing the old opto-mechanical starball and replacing it with our Fidelity Black 8K™ system, with a 20-channel hyper-array of  Zorro® projectors from Rockwell Collins in a custom configuration with custom-built lenses. It has enough contrast and resolution to compete with the contrast and clarity of a starball while providing all the advantages of digital. We believe the Grainger Sky Theater is now the highest resolution digital theater in the world. It’s not a stereoscopic system, but it feels very 3D with the configuration and the high contrast. There is a lot more to 3D than just stereovision - I’ve written a few papers on the subject. I like to think it sets a new benchmark in immersive theater layout and also a new standard in planetarium systems...