Wednesday, February 28, 2024

IMERSA 2013: Exploring Challenges of Dome Convergence

Mr and Mrs Gates
(L to R): June Gates, Belgian Prime Minister Théo Lefèvre, Charles Gates, Jr. Taken early 1960’s, courtesy Gates Corporation

by Joe Kleiman


When Denver socialite June Gates passed away in 2000, her obituary outlined a complicated, if not contradictory woman.  Her friend Marge Davis told the Denver Post, “She was very feminine-looking, a small blond who looked like she should be on a chaise lounge with a white poodle and a box of chocolates . . . But she also enjoyed something far more deadly. She was a crack shot who went big-game hunting and shot trophy animals in Africa. She was just a dead-eye dick.”

The dome industry is just as full of contradictions.  At the IMERSA Summit, taking place at the planetarium funded by Mrs. Gates’ family in Denver between February 14 and 17, members of the planetarium, digital dome, and giant screen communities will meet to explore, among other things, how to take contradictory formats and business models and make them compliment each other.

gates planetarium
Interior, Gates Planetarium, Denver Museum of Nature & Science, courtesy DMNS. Global Immersion was the integrator on the digital fulldome retrofit

In the planetarium community, digital conversion – from the traditional starball projectors to multi-projector digital systems – has taken hold much more quickly than in the giant-screen sector. Digital projection is creating a convergence of markets, technology and content, and there is a knowledge transfer taking place, actively fueled by associations such as IMERSA, working to identify and leverage the common ground with GSCA (Giant Screen Cinema Association), IPS (International Planetarium Society), ASTC (Association of Science-Technology Centers), PGA (Producers Guild of America), TEA (Themed Entertainment Associations) and other trade groups. Members of these organizations will discuss the issues surrounding convergence during the sessions Playing Together Under the Dome on Saturday, Feb. 16 and Profits, Producers, and Purists: Crossplatforming Between Giant Screen, Dome, and 3D, on Sunday, Feb. 17 at the IMERSA 2013 Summit.

1570 giant screen projector being raised to projection position within dome, Hackworth IMAX Theater, Tech Museum of Innovation, San Jose, CA.  Photo by Joe Kleiman
1570 giant screen projector being raised to projection position within dome, Hackworth IMAX Theater, Tech Museum of Innovation, San Jose, CA. Photo by Joe Kleiman

AdAlcornGiant screen has become a crossover market for leading digital dome (“fulldome”) specialists well known in the planetarium sector, such as Global Immersion, Sky-Skan, Evans & Sutherland and Spitz Inc., but the dome community has its own unique challenges separate from flat giant screen and 3D theaters. These include the increasing use of digital cameras for filming 3D features. An entire panel at last year’s GSCA conference was devoted to how filmmakers can compliment the sweet spots of both 3D flat-screen theaters and 2D domes while minimizing the compromise. Another issue that arose during that panel is that when digitally shot 3D films are projected onto a dome from 70mm film through a fish-eye lens, pixelation takes place.

As Paul Fraser of Blaze Digital Cinema Works pointed out during a presentation at the 2012 GSCA Dome Day, the issues of digital convergence between dome and flatscreen sectors are not just technical, but extend into business models and theater architecture. For example, Fraser pointed out that while most traditional planetarium domes are included with museum admission and showcase presentations shorter than 30 minutes, film-based giant screen theaters carry an upcharge or independent admission model with films of 40 minutes or longer.

Currently, according to Fraser, around thirty giant screen films have been adapted for full dome digital theaters, twenty-five of them by E&S. In 2009, E&S became the exclusive digital dome distributor for National Geographic’s award-winning giant screen film Sea Monsters. They utilized a patent-pending technology capable of warping the 4×3 image to successfully fill most of the screen in either 2D or 3D. But this easily creates another problem, as Fraser points out that fewer than 1/4 of digital domes feature unilateral seating like a traditional film theater. The majority are concentric, with all seats facing the center. The result is that usually 1/3 to half of the seats end up being unused for these types of presentations.

Sonicvision, courtesy American Museum of Natural History

While a giant screen film can be reduced in print size to 35mm or even video for exhibition, and can also be modified for presentation on a dome screen, this is much more difficult to do with a presentation designed for digital full dome due to the geometry of the presentation.  For instance, in order to maximize image size for the IMAX screen, the trailer for AMNH’s SonicVision, which played at the GSTA conference in Boston in 2006 on 1570 film, did not include the full exterior of the image. When the fulldome feature CORAL: Rekindling Venus was shown at Sundance this year, rather than being shown at a conventional theater, a portable dome was brought in with an E&S Digistar 5 projector.  And rather than being part of the main festival, CORAL was featured in Sundance’s New Frontier series, which also showcased media installations, performance media, and transmedia experiences.

Still from Sundance fulldome selection CORAL: Rekindling Venus, courtesy Felix Media
Still from Sundance fulldome selection CORAL: Rekindling Venus, courtesy Felix Media

Ryan Wyatt, currently of the California Academy of Sciences, pointed out another issue in a 2006 online discussion at the Yahoo Fulldome Video Discussion Group: “A second-run [giant screen film] print can be made available for less because the print has already been used; this, of course, makes no difference in the digital world, which means that although your 1’s and 0’s don’t get scratched or worn, they also don’t go down in price.”

Infitec 3D glasses on display at Light+Sound 2012 in Lucern, Switzerland, courtesy Infitec GmbH
Infitec 3D glasses on display at Light+Sound 2012 in Lucern, Switzerland, courtesy Infitec GmbH

According to Michael Dowling of Sky-Skan, “Unlike flat-screen theaters where a generic DCP (digital cinema package) would usually work for a certain type of system, when we distribute a program, we have to create a specialized version from the master for each individual theater, based on its screen geometry, projectors and lenses, and the placement of those projectors.” One of the newest trends in digital dome is fulldome 3D. Sky-Skan currently holds the Guinness world record for brightest 3D planetarium with its Definiti 3D installation at the Macau Science Center in China. Global Immersion also offers 3D digital dome projection through its Fidelity 3D system while E&S offers its Spherical 3D brand for its Digitstar theaters. A preferred 3D format is Infitec. In this method, also used on theme park attractions such as Universal’s upgraded Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man and Disney’s Star Tours – The Adventures Continue, one set of projectors displays the left eye image and the other displays the right eye image. Using a set of filters in the projectors, the left eye image shows the lower frequencies of the RGB colors and the right eye image shows the upper frequencies of the RGB colors. Filters in the glasses cancel the right image in the left eye and vice versa. The combined images re-join both halves of the RGB colors, providing full color fidelity and the full brightness of a single set of projectors.

Denver Museum of Nature & Science, host of the IMERSA 2013 conference, courtesy DMNS
Denver Museum of Nature & Science, host of the IMERSA 2013 conference, courtesy DMNS

By installing digital projection, an exhibitor drastically reduces the cost of equipment and prints and, in the case of a dome, is able to install a system capable of showing product, including 3D, mastered for the theater’s unique geometry.  The Denver Museum of Nature & Science, home of the Gates Planetarium and host institution for the IMERSA 2013 Conference, experienced this digital advantage first hand in 2010, exchanging its IMAX 2D projector for a new digital 3D IMAX system.

A longtime benefactor of the museum, June Gates passed away only a week after chairing its Centennial Gala.  She and her husband Charles felt strongly about experiencing the world and allowing children to experience its wonders as well.  Through the convergence of digital dome and giant screen, the world and the universe will become much more accessible for generations to come.

Joe Kleiman is News Editor for InPark Magazine and a feature contributor.  A veteran of giant screen and film-based attractions, he can also be found on the web at  
Joe Kleiman
Joe Kleiman
Raised in San Diego on theme parks, zoos, and IMAX films, InPark's Senior Correspondent Joe Kleiman would expand his childhood loves into two decades as a projectionist and theater director within the giant screen industry. In addition to his work in commercial and museum operations, Joe has volunteered his time to animal husbandry at leading facilities in California and Texas and has played a leading management role for a number of performing arts companies. Joe previously served as News Editor and has remained a contributing author to InPark Magazine since 2011. HIs writing has also appeared in Sound & Communications, LF Examiner, Jim Hill Media, The Planetarian, Behind the Thrills, and MiceChat His blog, takes an unconventional look at the attractions industry. Follow on twitter @ThemesRenewed Joe lives in Sacramento, California with his wife, dog, and a ghost.

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