FEED Issue 23



Griffith Observatory finds a rendering solution in AWS Thinkbox for its latest planetarium show, Signs of Life

he planetarium at Griffith Observatory has come a long way since Jim and Plato sought refuge in its seemingly

Niemack and Dawn Fidrick have pledged to “stay true to the science while creating an emotional cinematic experience”. The team behind the show spent a few years developing its script along with 3D previs, before launching the highly meticulous task of modelling, texturing and developing 253 CG assets with a variety of 2D and 3D software. Led by VFX supervisor Gee Yeung, the team grew to 20 astronomical artists, who animated, lit and rendered each of the 44 shots that make up the show. “Implementing established tools and workflows from the VFX industry to a dome show was a true growing process. As our studio, pipeline and culture solidified, brilliant and stunning visuals started to become reality and a compelling new planetarium experience in LA emerged,” Yeung says. Attached to the Satellite studio is a small building that was constructed specifically

for this project in 2017. Affectionately named the Mini Moon, it hums round the clock with electricity and an ample supply of air conditioning to house the team’s render farm, which is the infrastructure made up of computers, cables, servers and digital storage. The render farm was designed with support from GPL Technologies in Burbank, CA, and maintained by show production technology administrator, Benjamin Roudenis. The team renders 8192x8192 dome masters, which are fisheye lens images projected on to the planetarium’s 76-foot dome-shaped screen via six Christie Boxer projectors. The Zeiss Universarium Mark IX star projector steals the show when it rises from the centre of the planetarium to illuminate the dome with its highly impressive optical LED-illuminated starfield. processing power to turn the visual effects artists’ work into beautifully rendered CG images, so it was essential the team had a rendering management system that could easily integrate with the digital content creation applications alongside Autodesk’s Shotgun pipeline tools and and be flexible STAR SCALING It takes a phenomenal amount of

endless night sky back in the 1955 youth- gone-wild melodrama, Rebel Without a Cause . They watch a presentation called A Trip to the Moon , featuring zodiac constellations and the destruction of the universe, which is coupled by sound effects, flashing blue lights and dissonant strings to simulate a world destroyed “in a burst of gas and fire”. And, although Jim and Plato are stunned by the explosion, it is irrefutably linked to the film’s underlying message of man’s small existence – and not the special effects. The latest show in the Samuel Oschin Planetarium, Signs of Life , has a very different delivery. It is a fusion of art and science, based on what is known about the universe and cinema. Producers Bob


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