Archive for the ‘Production’ Category


Research continues

February 20, 2009

I’m going to have a TON of research to do on this show before starting the script, and it’s actually a little intimidating.

There’s going to be lots of constellations in this program, and I want to hightlight them visually as well as historically, but I’m struggling to break out of “list” mode—I don’t want the show to just be a monotonous list of the constellations and their features.  I’ve tried that, and the results were embarassing.

Orion bash!

Orion bash!

A big aspect of these constellation featurettes in the show will be whether they’re an ancient or modern constellation.  The majority of the 88 official constellations we have today come from two sources: The Almagest, by Ptolemy, circa 2nd Century; and Uranometria, by Johann Bayer, published in 1603. Later, in the 1760s, a book by a French astronomer named Nicolas Louis de Lacaille added a handful of new southerly constellations.

And yes, the constellations set up by Bayer in the early 1600s are considered “modern.”  Modern-er than the 2nd Century, at least.

Ptolemy’s list contains most of what people in the Northern Hemisphere think of as the “normal” constellations—Ursa Major, Orion, the Zodiac, etc.  They’re mostly Greek and Babylonian in origin, and typically have mythological stories surrounding them.

The newer images are distinctly more modern, and contain things like a microscope (Microscopium), a furnace (Fornax), a clock (Horologium), an easel (Pictor), etc.  They’re also mostly southish patterns; those lazy Greeks and Babylonians couldn’t be expected to travel so far south of the Equator just to see the stars over the far side of the world now, could they?  But by the 1600s colonization had worked its way into the southern latitudes, and knowing the stars and constellations definitely helps sailors find their way around.

Anyway, I want to keep away from dry, boring, information-overload as much as possible in this script, so I’m kicking around some gimmicky ideas that may sort of bring it all together into more of an experience and less of a lecture.  I’ll start outlining a script next week, and start in on a first draft as soon as I’m comfortable with the flow.


Show production starts this week

February 16, 2009

Well, meetings concerning grant funding and sizable donations that will help renovate my theater have been pushed back to mid-spring, and therefore we’re going forward with production for an original show at the Blank Blank Planetarium.

I thought it would be neat to outline the production process here at BS, from start to finish.

I’ll be keeping with my mysterious (and probably unnecessary) habit of not referring to the proper name of my employers or my institution, so this actually may not be very easy…  I’ll try to give as much detail about what I’m doing as I can, without giving away anything notifiable.

This show will actually be a tie-in with an exhibit that’s (probably) coming to Blank Blank for the summer, and I’m guessing that opening day for the both of them will be somewhere around Memorial Day.  I can say that it’s a constellation show, and has an interesting overarcing theme that I’ll discuss later.

Tuesday I’ll go into full-on research mode, finding trustworthy sources and royalty-free or Creative Commons licensed images.  In addition to the usual public-domain NASA/ESA images that make up a big part of any planetarium show, I’m going to be commissioning some original artwork for this work.

Once I’ve got enough base material, I’ll start on a show outline and rough script.

I’ll keep posting updates, following my production progress.  Production is one of my favorite things to do, and I’m excited to get back into.

More to come!


Geek vs. Veg

January 20, 2009

If you’ve never read (one of my favorite authors) Neal Stephenson’s treatise on the concept of geeking out versus vegging out, you need to.

If you’re lazy, here’s a summary, transposed from Stephenson’s original Star Wars editorial to an equally explosion-ridden piece of celluloid:

If you watched Transformers and the whole time were saying,

“Though Michael Bay’s visual image of Optimus Prime is drastically different than the Generation One blue and red Autobot leader, allowing the venerable Peter Cullen to voice the character lends it a distinct air of the traditional 1980s cartoon portrayal of Optimus as the utilitarian, grizzled yet caring battle commander.”

then you were geeking out.

On the other hand, if you watched Transformers and the whole time you were saying,

“Woah, dude!  Giant fighting robots and explosions!  Sweeeeeeeeeet!”

then you were vegging out.

Now most likely, a significant portion of the people watching Transformers (or at least the ones near my age), did some sort of combination of the two.

This is an extreme example of the concept.  Obviously, it’s typically much more subtle than that.  It’s also much more diverse: one could geek out over the CG renderings, or because of a favorite actor, the musicianship of the score, whatever.

In a planetarium, the opportunity for both veg and geek is high.  Too far on the geek side, and you end up with a dry astronomy lecture with high bore potential.  Too far on the veg side, and you end up with something that’s pure entertainment with little to no educational content.

This isn’t to say that people won’t like something that is radically geek or ridiculously veg.  There are folks who might appreciate a straight-up astronomy lecture—they’re called astronomers.  Likewise, pure entertainment has its place—Laser Floyd anyone?

I truly believe that good entertainment needs to be a combination of the two houses, bi-partisan if you will, and educational entertainment especially needs to be a very cultivated blend of geek and veg.

For example, you could show the audience a still diagram of a solar system orrery to demonstrate the orbits of the planets, and that might get your point across just fine.  An image like that has high geek potential, because people that have the order of the planets memorized will be happy to see something that they’re familiar with.

Now, up the veg factor by animating that same image so that the planets revolve around the sun, tracing their orbital path.  Typically you’ll need a video or laser projector to carry something out like this, and if done right, it can look really spiffy.

Take another step: animate the image in three dimensions*, so you’re able to change the audience’s perspective.  Spin the orrery so that you can see it from the top, the bottom, the sides, etc.

Go further into veg-land by doing away with the proscenium that is the TV frame: blow up the orrery so that it covers the entire dome, with the sun at the apex and Pluto (yes, I include Pluto) with its tilty orbit at the edge of the dome.  This kind of image is really cool; the audience has to look around the theater to take in the entire picture.

Finally, you can take an orrery to its logical extent by breaking the laws of physics and actually flying the audience through the solar system as if they’re on a spacecraft, buzzing the planets as you go, maybe showing actual Hubble images of each, along with all the fixin’s like rings and moons and asteroids.

At this point, you’ve got major “Oooh!” and “Aaah!” generation going on—so much in fact that the audience may be vegging out so far that they’re too caught up in the scene, totally ignoring the announcer or not even listening to the narration, missing the entire point you’re trying to get across with the orrery demonstration to begin with.  Crossing that line can be easy with so many cool toys to play with.

When producing a show, I try to present a mix of geek and veg, like an oscillation between info and wiz-bang.  I also try to build up towards the first big presentation of a veg-worthy scene, so that you don’t “give it away on the first date,” so to speak—by the time I do a big nausea-inducing spin of the stars or a relativity-ignoring planetary flyby, the audience feels like they’ve earned it.

I also puncturate very important educational points or themes by going dark.  That is to say, if there’s something in the narration that the audience absolutely, positively must know when they leave my theater, I’ll kill all images and stop all movement, so that there are no distractions—they’re forced to listen without their minds wandering.

The next time you find yourself sincerely enjoying a movie or TV show, think about the balance between geek and veg, and how it can really make a difference in audience attention and reaction.