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IMERSA

Designing and producing programmes for commerical success was among the themes at the IMERSA 2014 summit, as consultant Ian McLennan reports

By Ian C McLennan | Published in Attractions Management 2014 issue 2

In a world of ever-increasing specialisation, it’s refreshing that an organisation exists to serve a wide variety of interests, from educational to experimental to cultural to commercial, and everything in between. IMERSA (Immersive Media Entertainment, Research, Science & Arts) started with a small group of individuals whose activities in existing vehicles, such as IPS and International Planetarium Society, was deemed restrictive in terms of innovation in a rapidly evolving digital age. The common element among the people who first gathered under the IMERSA umbrella was that almost everyone was involved in designing and producing programmes for audiences to experience and enjoy under domes or other immersive environments.

Conference agenda
In March, the fifth IMERSA conference was held – once again at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science (DMNS) – under the watchful eye and guiding hand of Dan Neafus, operations manager at DMNS’s Gates Planetarium. Neafus likes to say the real purpose of these annual gatherings is to bring a bunch of his good friends together, but that belies a significantly more ambitious agenda – namely to advance the cause of promoting widespread use of dome and other immersive spaces in a variety of institutional, artistic and commercial environments. IMERSA has positioned itself as a group not only to promote that idea, but to foster educational opportunities for people to learn from each other, and to establish a culture of best practices. It’s striking how many of the sessions involved codifying best practices, as well as providing common language and other base-line nomenclature and standards by which delegates can go back to their home domes with greater abilities and greater confidence. A prime example is Neafus’s comprehensive paper The Language of Immersive Cinema, which he authored in anticipation of the IMERSA conference and which will doubtlessly be widely circulated.

Increased attendance
One of the best indicators of the niche IMERSA is filling is the attendance, which this year topped 200 people from six continents. Some delegates grappled with the challenge of multiple, portable domes as arty, yet commercial, operations in urban settings. Other attendees pondered the dilemma of creating fulldome productions on a relatively epic scale, but without the budget of blockbuster films like Gravity, which get seared into the mass audience consciousness every once in a while (this happens often enough to beg the perennial question as to whether we’re collectively pushing a rope uphill or are we actually making a difference out there in the educational and cultural world?).

That dilemma was highlighted when an ambitious new production by a talented, enthusiastic and determined filmmaker, Robin Sip, was premiered. Dinosaurs at Dusk was shown to an appreciative, but naturally critical audience. No one could be anything but impressed by the level of detail involved in creating this live-action educational fantasy and Sip was exceedingly generous in sharing many of the behind-the-scenes production details.

To me, there was a problem with the way English dialogue was structured, as well as with some of the stilted acting. To my taste, the same effort and refined production intensity might have resulted in an end-product that was less forced, and therefore more comfortable and natural. To be fair, some of my Japanese colleagues found the dialogue and acting “very cute” and they thought it would be quite marketable in their domes. So, what do I know?

Another ambitious production aired, though not shown for the first time, was Dream to Fly by Copernicus Science Centre, Warsaw. The film has stunning visual effects, but suffers from a few curious content choices – specifically, graphically horrifying scenes of war planes dive-bombing ships at sea. Not the regular planetarium fare, but the producers are no doubt attempting to do away with stodgy programming often associated with “boring” planetariums.

No place like dome
One interesting experiment was the transferring of a large format (Imax-style) production Flight of the Butterflies into the dome environment. This is a lovely human drama with a compelling storyline, super photography and pretty good acting.

Canadian producer Jonathan Barker attended IMERSA and talked about how he and his team at SK Films had re-rendered the large-format film specifically for the dome environment – making a plea for others to proactively do the same. This is one of the rare times I’ve seen a tender human-scale story well told and presented in a planetarium-like environment. It’s commercial success has led to the production of a range of themed shower curtains. When was the last time a planetarium or dome show achieved something like that?

One of the common elements in this new style of immersive presentation is rapidly expanding access to science visualisation databases. These can be adapted, modified and integrated into complete productions, or (as I’d prefer to see in terms of taking advantage of a unique medium) presented with well delivered, authoritative, live commentary for immediacy, relevance to audiences and timeliness.

Dr Donna Cox, a leading luminary in computational science – especially astrophysics, earth sciences, engineering and related data domains, continued this theme with her keynote speech. She held us all spell-bound – as she and her colleagues have with audiences worldwide with Hubble 3D and other significant contributions to public understanding of the universe.

Mark C Petersen walked us all through the Loch Ness Productions database of worldwide dome theatres. Available online, it’s a valuable resource, not only as a snapshot in time, but for spotting trends in the medium. Dario Tiverton from Italy has also compiled a fulldome data base.

It’s a truism that there’s no higher honour than to be recognised and celebrated by one’s peers. This was true for Jeri Panek, long time representative of Evans and Sutherland Corp, who received a lifetime achievement award. At least a dozen speakers paraded in front of the open mike at the closing banquet to express appreciation for Jeri’s indomitable spirit, for the many contributions she has made in the field, and for her legendary ability to make and keep friends, even among fierce commercial competitors. Jeri told some priceless stories and needless to say, she received a prolonged, standing ovation at the closing banquet.

I have it on good authority that the next summit IMERSA will again be held at Denver Museum of Nature and Science in 2015. IMERSA’s board is actively involved in collaborative agreements with several like-minded, parallel organisations (including IPS, GSCA, ASTC and Ecsite) and recognises that the time has come to expand the board to take into account age, gender, geographic, topical and other currently under-represented areas.

Visit to Fiske Planetarium

During the conference, delegates visited the newly refurbished and upgraded Fiske Planetarium in Boulder, Colorado for an event hosted by Dr Douglas Duncan, planetarium director (see interview on page 44).

The old Zeiss Mark 6 projector has quaintly taken its place among old-style displays that adorn the exhibition area of the planetarium. Now, inside the planetarium’s 20m (66ft)-diameter dome theatre, there’s a technological transformation with a brand new Megastar II star-ball projector, capable of projecting some 22 million stars. This is complemented by a state-of-the-art Sky-Skan 8K (8,000 X 8,000 pixels resolution) digital video system, with added SCISS astronomical data sets.

The 8K system produced some dazzling, crisp, clear, and bright images, although some (not all) were dogged by the persistent dome cross-reflection problem that tends to wash some scenes out.

It’s difficult to fathom why some scenes are more susceptible to that phenomenon than others that appear to be similar in content. Well, it’s an art as much as a science.

Annette Sotheran-Barnett was able to see her own production To Space and Back for the first time in an 8K projection dome, and was moved to see the production as she imagined it should be seen, under ideal conditions.

After a brief retro-laser show in the new theatre, there was a panel talk with Chris Maytag (Fiske Planetarium), Mark Webb and Patrick McPike (Adler Planetarium), Andrew Johnston (Smithsonian Institution), Steve Savage (Sky-Skan), Michael Daut (E&S) and Staffan Klashed (SCISS).



Ian C McLennan,
Ian McLennan Consulting
Tel: +1-604-681-4790
Email: ian@ianmclennan.com

The challenge is to create compelling fulldome content without the budget of blockbuster films such as Gravity Credit: ©2013 Warner bros. entertainment inc.
Dinosaurs at Dusk filmaker, Robin Sip, shared his production tips with delegates
Natural history drama Flight of the Butterflies has been a huge large format hit
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3D/4D/5D
IMERSA

Designing and producing programmes for commerical success was among the themes at the IMERSA 2014 summit, as consultant Ian McLennan reports

By Ian C McLennan | Published in Attractions Management 2014 issue 2

In a world of ever-increasing specialisation, it’s refreshing that an organisation exists to serve a wide variety of interests, from educational to experimental to cultural to commercial, and everything in between. IMERSA (Immersive Media Entertainment, Research, Science & Arts) started with a small group of individuals whose activities in existing vehicles, such as IPS and International Planetarium Society, was deemed restrictive in terms of innovation in a rapidly evolving digital age. The common element among the people who first gathered under the IMERSA umbrella was that almost everyone was involved in designing and producing programmes for audiences to experience and enjoy under domes or other immersive environments.

Conference agenda
In March, the fifth IMERSA conference was held – once again at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science (DMNS) – under the watchful eye and guiding hand of Dan Neafus, operations manager at DMNS’s Gates Planetarium. Neafus likes to say the real purpose of these annual gatherings is to bring a bunch of his good friends together, but that belies a significantly more ambitious agenda – namely to advance the cause of promoting widespread use of dome and other immersive spaces in a variety of institutional, artistic and commercial environments. IMERSA has positioned itself as a group not only to promote that idea, but to foster educational opportunities for people to learn from each other, and to establish a culture of best practices. It’s striking how many of the sessions involved codifying best practices, as well as providing common language and other base-line nomenclature and standards by which delegates can go back to their home domes with greater abilities and greater confidence. A prime example is Neafus’s comprehensive paper The Language of Immersive Cinema, which he authored in anticipation of the IMERSA conference and which will doubtlessly be widely circulated.

Increased attendance
One of the best indicators of the niche IMERSA is filling is the attendance, which this year topped 200 people from six continents. Some delegates grappled with the challenge of multiple, portable domes as arty, yet commercial, operations in urban settings. Other attendees pondered the dilemma of creating fulldome productions on a relatively epic scale, but without the budget of blockbuster films like Gravity, which get seared into the mass audience consciousness every once in a while (this happens often enough to beg the perennial question as to whether we’re collectively pushing a rope uphill or are we actually making a difference out there in the educational and cultural world?).

That dilemma was highlighted when an ambitious new production by a talented, enthusiastic and determined filmmaker, Robin Sip, was premiered. Dinosaurs at Dusk was shown to an appreciative, but naturally critical audience. No one could be anything but impressed by the level of detail involved in creating this live-action educational fantasy and Sip was exceedingly generous in sharing many of the behind-the-scenes production details.

To me, there was a problem with the way English dialogue was structured, as well as with some of the stilted acting. To my taste, the same effort and refined production intensity might have resulted in an end-product that was less forced, and therefore more comfortable and natural. To be fair, some of my Japanese colleagues found the dialogue and acting “very cute” and they thought it would be quite marketable in their domes. So, what do I know?

Another ambitious production aired, though not shown for the first time, was Dream to Fly by Copernicus Science Centre, Warsaw. The film has stunning visual effects, but suffers from a few curious content choices – specifically, graphically horrifying scenes of war planes dive-bombing ships at sea. Not the regular planetarium fare, but the producers are no doubt attempting to do away with stodgy programming often associated with “boring” planetariums.

No place like dome
One interesting experiment was the transferring of a large format (Imax-style) production Flight of the Butterflies into the dome environment. This is a lovely human drama with a compelling storyline, super photography and pretty good acting.

Canadian producer Jonathan Barker attended IMERSA and talked about how he and his team at SK Films had re-rendered the large-format film specifically for the dome environment – making a plea for others to proactively do the same. This is one of the rare times I’ve seen a tender human-scale story well told and presented in a planetarium-like environment. It’s commercial success has led to the production of a range of themed shower curtains. When was the last time a planetarium or dome show achieved something like that?

One of the common elements in this new style of immersive presentation is rapidly expanding access to science visualisation databases. These can be adapted, modified and integrated into complete productions, or (as I’d prefer to see in terms of taking advantage of a unique medium) presented with well delivered, authoritative, live commentary for immediacy, relevance to audiences and timeliness.

Dr Donna Cox, a leading luminary in computational science – especially astrophysics, earth sciences, engineering and related data domains, continued this theme with her keynote speech. She held us all spell-bound – as she and her colleagues have with audiences worldwide with Hubble 3D and other significant contributions to public understanding of the universe.

Mark C Petersen walked us all through the Loch Ness Productions database of worldwide dome theatres. Available online, it’s a valuable resource, not only as a snapshot in time, but for spotting trends in the medium. Dario Tiverton from Italy has also compiled a fulldome data base.

It’s a truism that there’s no higher honour than to be recognised and celebrated by one’s peers. This was true for Jeri Panek, long time representative of Evans and Sutherland Corp, who received a lifetime achievement award. At least a dozen speakers paraded in front of the open mike at the closing banquet to express appreciation for Jeri’s indomitable spirit, for the many contributions she has made in the field, and for her legendary ability to make and keep friends, even among fierce commercial competitors. Jeri told some priceless stories and needless to say, she received a prolonged, standing ovation at the closing banquet.

I have it on good authority that the next summit IMERSA will again be held at Denver Museum of Nature and Science in 2015. IMERSA’s board is actively involved in collaborative agreements with several like-minded, parallel organisations (including IPS, GSCA, ASTC and Ecsite) and recognises that the time has come to expand the board to take into account age, gender, geographic, topical and other currently under-represented areas.

Visit to Fiske Planetarium

During the conference, delegates visited the newly refurbished and upgraded Fiske Planetarium in Boulder, Colorado for an event hosted by Dr Douglas Duncan, planetarium director (see interview on page 44).

The old Zeiss Mark 6 projector has quaintly taken its place among old-style displays that adorn the exhibition area of the planetarium. Now, inside the planetarium’s 20m (66ft)-diameter dome theatre, there’s a technological transformation with a brand new Megastar II star-ball projector, capable of projecting some 22 million stars. This is complemented by a state-of-the-art Sky-Skan 8K (8,000 X 8,000 pixels resolution) digital video system, with added SCISS astronomical data sets.

The 8K system produced some dazzling, crisp, clear, and bright images, although some (not all) were dogged by the persistent dome cross-reflection problem that tends to wash some scenes out.

It’s difficult to fathom why some scenes are more susceptible to that phenomenon than others that appear to be similar in content. Well, it’s an art as much as a science.

Annette Sotheran-Barnett was able to see her own production To Space and Back for the first time in an 8K projection dome, and was moved to see the production as she imagined it should be seen, under ideal conditions.

After a brief retro-laser show in the new theatre, there was a panel talk with Chris Maytag (Fiske Planetarium), Mark Webb and Patrick McPike (Adler Planetarium), Andrew Johnston (Smithsonian Institution), Steve Savage (Sky-Skan), Michael Daut (E&S) and Staffan Klashed (SCISS).



Ian C McLennan,
Ian McLennan Consulting
Tel: +1-604-681-4790
Email: ian@ianmclennan.com

The challenge is to create compelling fulldome content without the budget of blockbuster films such as Gravity Credit: ©2013 Warner bros. entertainment inc.
Dinosaurs at Dusk filmaker, Robin Sip, shared his production tips with delegates
Natural history drama Flight of the Butterflies has been a huge large format hit
 


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Hitchin, Hertfordshire SG5 1DJ Tel: +44 (0)1462 431385

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