"Traveler's Guide to Mars" for the Carnegie Science Center's Buhl Planetarium


For their premier fulldome show, the Carnegie Science Center's Buhl Planetarium chose the age-old subject of life on the planet Mars, but the idea was to bring the story to life in a new way. The dramatic immersive view of fulldome video, when done well, can take the audience anywhere, real or unreal. For this reaseon, real NASA MOLA data (elevation data gathered by orbiting space probes) was employed to create accurate Martian terrain and the stars of the show, animated astronaut explorers were brought to life using motion capture techniques in a studio.

Home Run Pictures' animators teamed up with motion capture specialists, Cinemanix Productions to create an expedition team of future astronauts searching for signs of life on the red planet. Dividing up the complex production work to meet a tough eight month schedule, scenes were modeled and animated using both Maya and Softimage software with final compositing handled in Shake. Some sequences contained millions of pologons to create realistic looking terrain and required weeks of render time even with a large render farm. Motion capture was handled on a 30x30 stage employing 24 optical cameras.

A fleet of Mars exploration vehicles... spacecraft, shuttles, airplanes and rovers were created based on potential NASA designs along with futuristic "concept" space suits. During their explorations the astronauts use an iPod-like "tour-guide" device as they search the planet looking for signs of past life, the live action "guide" explaining current scientific understanding and future possibilities. The most recent NASA imagery was used during portions of the show to detail what we know today about Mars and introduce questions yet unanswered.


The 20 minute story was based on the book, "A Traveler's Guide to Mars" by William Hartmann who served as scientific advisor. The fulldome show will be licensed by the Buhl Planetarium to facilities world-wide who have the new fulldome video capability.

Click here for Quicktime movie of various Mars sequences

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