Everything that we’ve covered thus far has been about how to create an automated, in-the-can, movie-style, Sky Tonight show. We, of course, also do Live Sky Tonight shows as well. Both the Live and Auto versions of the Sky Tonight show are two very different beasts, requiring different methods of production.
We won’t cover the Live show, but it does cover the same ground the Auto version covers. Both versions are broken down into scenes, but the Live version is a page consisting of several buttons. Each button is programmed to do a certain task. A Live button could be as simple as turning off a light or it could be incredibly complex with thousands of lines of code. The button may be simple looking, but nestled within that button could be other buttons meant to continue a task.
Basically, the Live show contains much of the same scripting lines that go into creating the scenes that make up what Digital Sky renders. But these scenes are then broken down even further into smaller parts so the button can do actions according to what you want to talk about. Of course, there are many ways to organize and accomplish a live planetarium show, but the way I like to do it is by creating a page that deals with all the information I want to cover for a particular season. That page is then broken down into scenes and those scenes are then put into sections. The sections then contain buttons. The buttons contain scripts that do certain moves on the dome. This could be whatever I want. And still, at any time, if I want to go off script and do or show something, I have the freedom to do so.
What’s good about a Live show is that it can be tailored for time. Let’s say a school group shows up late and only have time for a 5 minute Sky Tonight and a 45 minute long show. That means I can just cover the constellations in the Autumn sky and then can move onto the feature to keep the school group on schedule to where they need to go next.
Certain sections of the live show need to be pre-rendered. Any fulldome animations, for example, need to be rendered separately so they can be pulled up in real time. This means that after I render the full automated Sky Tonight, I have to go in and separate out certain key scenes and render those individually for the live show. This can be a simpler process as I can get away with rendering a 2K video file that doesn’t need to be sliced. However, for particularly beautiful scenes, I’ll go through the trouble of actually doing a separate 4K render.
But that’s all about the Live show. The automated show is now finished slicing and encoding. This means it’s time for us to watch it for the first time on the dome.
Now I have to move all those slices from the slicing PCs to the actual Digital Sky computers. As I said before, I have one master computer that controls 8 video computers and 1 audio computer. The 8 video computers each get their own slice, which goes into a new show folder for the new show.
You may have been to the planetarium and wondered where all this stuff is at. Where are all these computers?
Well, for the most part, they’re actually under your seats.
There’s an area underneath the seating area of the planetarium that acts as our control room. In that room is our Cove light PC, the slicing PCs, the breaker boxes, and all the Digital Sky PCs. And, of course, all these PCs feed wire up to the dome and in to their respective areas. This control room is climate controlled and needs to be kept at a certain humidity and temperature to ensure that everything stays up to working order.
With all the slices moved to their PCs and with the finished .AC3 file moved to the audio PC it’s time to create a show flow to control this final Sky Tonight. A series of buttons will control the lights, the sound, the house music, the pre-load of the show, the feature presentation, and anything else we may need to run our daily programs.
And with that we have a finished planetarium show.
We run these Seasonal Sky Tonight shows before our astronomy-based programs in the planetarium. Come on in to check out the finished product. Here’s a small example from a Sky Tonight Update for the upcoming Draconids Meteor Shower.