Thursday, May 13, 2021

Spontaneous Fantasia at the Fujitsu Planetarium

J-Walt and the "anitar."  Photo by Joseph Gutierrez.
J-Walt and the “anitar.” Photo by Joseph Gutierrez.

By Joe Kleiman, InPark News Editor

On October 11, I was joined by photographer Joseph Gutierrez ([email protected]) and Silicon Valley systems engineer Deborah Dressler at the Fujitsu Planetarium at De Anza College, Cupertino, CA, USA, for a live performance of Spontaneous Fantasia.

Debbie discovers the planetarium's Laser Fantasy control board.  Photo by Joseph Gutierrez.
Debbie discovers the planetarium’s Laser Fantasy control board. Photo by Joseph Gutierrez.

Over the years, I have witnessed many performances on the dome of an artistic nature – from the pre-rendered, such as Dome Fest, Jena, and SonicVision to live presentations, like Laserium, Laser Fantasy, and the work of SAT and IAIA.  But there was something unique about Spontaneous Fantasia, the brainchild of Oscar winning artist J-Walt.  Instead of sitting at a console in the back or the front of the room, staring at a monitor, he appeared in the middle of the planetarium, joining us, the audience.  His monitor was the very dome canvas upon which we enjoyed his ever-changing visualizations.

Photo of a Spontaneous Fantasia dome performance by Steve Savage of Sky-Skan.
Photo of a Spontaneous Fantasia dome performance by Steve Savage of Sky-Skan.

J-Walt didn’t sit.  He stood, like a rock star center stage with his “anitar,” a guitar for animation, slung over his shoulders.  On one end, a touchpad for drawing.  On the other, a joystick for movement.  Between the two, an interface to a mixing board.  He began by asking for simple shapes.  He drew these shapes as the heads of two-dimensional stick figures.  Then they began to dance and rotate in 3D over an ever-changing background. At another point, giant floating sculptures resembling abstract candelabras and chandeliers floated above us, their arms growing longer and in new directions with each passing moment.  And as colored rings flowed over the screen, yet more rings flew from the sky, as J-Walt threw glowing wristbands into the audience.  We then all waved them above our heads, becoming one with the show and extending the imagery beyond the screen.

Photo of a Spontaneous Fantasia dome performance by Steve Savage of Sky-Skan.
Photo of a Spontaneous Fantasia dome performance by Steve Savage of Sky-Skan.

In his masterpiece of the night, J-Walt took us to a planet in his imagination, creating mountains and oceans, populating it with trees and wildlife, and giant Olmec heads suspended in the night sky upon serpent’s tails.  That’s how it appeared to me, but the visuals are so complex and abstract that they can be interpreted in many ways.  One of the downsides to this complexity was that the edge blending wasn’t always there for the images. Karl von Ahern, Technincal Director of the Fujitsu Planetarium, gave us a tour of the equipment and explained that the Sky-Skan definiti system J-Walt was hooked into uses two SONY SXRD 4K projectors, each with four channels.  The amount of data that J-Walt was pushing through was simply more than the planetarium hardware was used to handling.  In fact, at one point J-Walt mentioned that the performance might crash the planetarium’s computers.

One of two 4K Sky-Skan definiti projectors at the Fujitsu Planetarium.  Photo by Joseph Gutierrez.
One of two 4K Sky-Skan definiti projectors at the Fujitsu Planetarium. Photo by Joseph Gutierrez.

After the show, I asked J-WALT if he was using pre-rendered background with live animation.  The answer was no.  Everything he was animating – foreground and background – was being rendered live.  J-Walt performs his amazing show both flat in 3D (his next performance is in Surat, India on October 23) and in Sky-Skan digital fulldome theaters.

Visit www.spontaneousfantasia.com to learn more about this unique performance artist and upcoming performances.  For more information on the Fujitsu Planetarium at De Anza College, visit planetarium.deanza.edu.

Special thanks to J-Walt, Karl von Ahern and the staff of the Fujitsu Planetarium for their kind hospitality.

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