Are digital planetariums the new frontier of immersive media experiences? The organizers and participants of IMERSA Summit 2014, looking at a full house for their March 6-9 gathering in Denver, would say “yes.” With more than 175 delegates registered, IMERSA, a trade group now in its 6th year, sees validation of its message of opportunity and convergence. The Summit theme: “Shaping the future of digital immersive spaces.”
Over the past 15 years, hundreds of planetariums around the world have replaced opto-mechanical starball projectors with sophisticated multi-projector, 360 digital dome (“fulldome”) systems – quietly growing an international network of high-end specialty theaters that keep pushing the technology envelope – some all the way to 8K stereo 3D at 60 frames per second.
IMERSA was founded on a vision of fulldome’s potential to drive the future of immersive experiences for education and entertainment. “Specialty cinema niches are the laboratories where new media-based experiences are developed and perfected – eventually to be adopted into the mainstream,” says IMERSA Summit chair Dan Neafus. “’Gravity 3D’ with its multiple Academy Awards is a prime example – it’s a masterful integration of storytelling tools, science visualization and imaging techniques that migrated to the mainstream from giant screen cinema and motion rides. And right now, fulldome cinema, which is still primarily in planetariums, is a smoking hot laboratory.”
The first 8K fulldome systems and fulldome 8K content are showing up. There are about half a dozen 8K fulldome installations so far around the world, including one with stereo 3D at the Macao Science Center. The brand new 8K fulldome system at Fiske Planetarium in Boulder will be the setting of the closing sessions for IMERSA Summit 2014.
Starball projectors aren’t disappearing across the board – some facilities opt to integrate them with fulldome to create a “hybrid” system; lasers and other forms of media are being introduced as well. For planetariums, it is a time of experimentation, creativity and cross-pollination.
IMERSA Summit participants come from media production, tech, museums and the entertainment world: pano-photography, video gaming, animation, digital image capture, projection, giant screen cinema, content distribution, visitor attractions. Some of this year’s outstanding names include: Dr Donna Cox of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (keynote), Jeri Panek of Evans & Sutherland (IMERSA lifetime achievement honoree), veteran industry consultant Ian McLennan, Doug Roberts of Microsoft Research’s WorldWide Telescope, former Disney creative executive Rick Rothschild of FAR Out! Creative Direction, celebrated media producer Daren Ulmer of Mousetrappe, SIGGRAPH president Jeff Jortner, Andrew Johnston of NASM and Sky-Skan president Steve Savage.
IMERSA’s 4-person board includes 3 of the original founders: Dan Neafus, manager of the Gates Planetarium at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, Ryan Wyatt, director of sci the California Academy of Sciences (San Francisco) and Ed Lantz of Vortex Immersion, plus Michael Daut, director of show production, Evans & Sutherland. Supporting IMERSA with communications and development is Judith Rubin.
IMERSA is a professional trade association recognized as a non-profit 501 (c) (6) Corp. IMERSA’s vision: To build an international community of professionals who create large-scale immersive digital experiences. IMERSA’s mission: To advance and promote the art and science of large-scale digital immersive media, fulldome, and immersive group experiences in digital planetariums, mobile domes, themed entertainment and giant screen theaters. www.imersa.org
What is fulldome?
Fulldome is digital video projected onto, and filling, a hemispherical dome screen. A fulldome system can range from a single fisheye projector for a small portable dome, to 20+ edge blended projectors for the largest domes (up to 80 feet in diameter). Fulldome systems can play back “pre-rendered” shows, and also generate real-time imagery and navigate digital databases. The first fulldome systems grew out of the digital planetarium industry and advances in computer graphics. Fulldome systems continue to improve with advances in digital cinema and there are now systems capable of showing movies at 8K resolution, 60 frames per second and in stereo 3D.