Destination Mars: The New Frontier – Watch the Trailer

Ever wonder what it would be like to fly to Mars? NASA – and others – have their sights set on the Red Planet and they’re building the technology to get us there! Destination Mars: The New Frontier gives you an up-close look at humanity’s most epic endeavor.

Explore the work being done around the globe to help make the dream of getting humans to Mars a reality. Fly through the International Space Station, where astronauts are already living and working in space, and follow the rockets and vehicles that will take humans beyond the Moon and, one day, all the way to Mars! Travel along as we imagine this remarkable journey.


Narrated by former NASA astronaut Mae Jemison and Emmy-award winning actor Keith David. Includes original music by Claudio Ragazzi, a Grammy Award-winning professor at Boston’s Berklee College of Music.

  • Running time is 30 minutes.
  • Available for unidirectional and concentric dome formats.
  • Suitable for family audiences and school groups. Includes a comprehensive educator’s guide.
  • Distributed by Sky-Skan, Spitz, K2 Studios, and Loch Ness Productions.

This material is based upon work supported by NASA under grant number NNX16AM21G. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the Museum of Science, Boston and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Exploring Render Engines for Fulldome Production

In recent years, the 3D industry went from very little support of fisheye rendering and now every modern render engine fully embraces it. I think we can thank the rise of VR for helping to shine a light on immersive production.

We recently had a chance to upgrade the render engine that we use in Maya for producing our fulldome shows. We were also able to add some computers to our old 10-node render farm. Many thanks to the Charles Hayden Foundation for the grant that made this vital tech leap possible.

With the recent introduction of GPU render engines, things are a bit more convoluted when considered alongside CPU render engines. Yet each render engine is unique and excels at different aspects, so it makes comparing them tricky work.

And so I thought it would be useful to hear from the fulldome community…

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Using Real Pluto Imagery – From Dream to Discovery: Inside NASA

In producing From Dream to Discovery: Inside NASA we made the exciting but perilous decision to include the New Horizons mission within our story. So we made an early bet that the mission would be a success…

As you well know, New Horizons has given us an amazing close-up look at Pluto. And so we are excited to announce that we have updated the show to include the latest real images of Pluto and Charon!

DJ Spooky: The Hidden Code – Performing in the Dome

My love for live music in the dome is undeniable. The idea is simple but powerful: Allow the synthesis of live performance and astronomy visuals to create a uniquely awe-inspiring experience.

Having thrown a series of live music events, each with its own custom dome visuals, we now have a collection of 4k dome material. So when DJ Spooky approached us with the idea of partnering to create a live fulldome show, it felt like a natural match. And the premiere of the show is just a few weeks away.

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From Dream to Discovery: Inside NASA – Watch the Trailer


Experience the challenges of the next generation of space exploration in this brand-new Planetarium show. By using exciting real-life projects like NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope and the New Horizons mission to Pluto, the show highlights the extreme nature of spacecraft engineering and the life cycle of a space mission – from design and construction to the rigors of testing, launch, and operations. Blast off and take the voyage with us!

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Jupiter Bands Simulation

Just a few days ago, I found out about a MIT competition called The Art of Astrophysics. Naturally my interest was piqued. The only problem was the deadline… 24 hours!

As a back burner project I’ve been experimenting with creating jupiter cloud bands that are truly fluidic. It’s very difficult to keep the multiple bands separate, so I’ve been testing the interaction between just two bands. The Kelvin–Helmholtz instability is a fascinating topic to focus on, but it’s heavy to simulate and difficult to predict.

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Background Stars v2

example_render(This post is an update to Background Stars v1. It will provide some context.)

A while back I shared a ‘star globe’ which has the night sky mapped onto a sphere. This can be used to completely surround a maya scene with stars. Andrew Hazelden and I often collaborate on various fulldome projects and he had an idea of how to re-engineer the star globe into requiring only 1 surface and 1 file texture. This allows for a vast improvement in rendertime. For instance:
— 4-poly & 4 texture star globe – 1m 40s
— 1-poly & 1 texture star globe – 30s

A bunch of other improvements are included:
— Fixes the grey blurry line glitch since it uses a Mental Ray texture network.
— A 2k texture for previewing in the Maya viewport. Then 8k texture used for renders.
— Other lights in the scene will not affect the star globe.
— Star globe never casts shadows.
— Star globe will automatically show up in reflections & refractions.
— Renders faster since the 1 texture needs much less initialization and poly is reduced.
— Here is a detailed explanation of these things are achieved.

DOWNLOAD
maya scene (using mental ray) – star globe
(also available in the Domemaster3D toolset)

starglobe_screenshot_20131113

Fake Ambient Occlusion

JWST-occ-test-render

Ambient occlusion is quite a helpful effect in easily achieving some realism. But the default render layer occlusion setup in Maya (using Mental Ray) is somewhat render intensive. And when you’re doing lots of render tests, well you just want to see it quickly.

fake-ambient-occlusion-tutorialSo we can speed up the render process by instead using Final Gather to computer the occlusion and then use the mib_fg_occlusion utility shader to make it grayscale. Then by adjusting the Final Gather render settings we can affect the render times. This is really helpful if you are doing a test render where the render quality is not paramount, but later you can increase the settings for the final render.

To the right is a tutorial of how to get the mib_fg_occlusion node setup within a surface shader. You must use mental ray since that is what Final Gather requires.

You can also learn more in depth about the mib_fg_occlusion utility shader and how to get a texture with transparency to be recognized.

kepler-occlusion-render-pass

The Nebula Challenge

One of the most difficult types of space imagery to create is a volumetric nebula. There are three main styles of nebulae to imitate: diffuse nebulae, planetary nebulae, and supernova remnants. The fluid framework within Maya is extremely flexible but it can be very tricky to just get a fluid/emitter set up with settings that are repeatable.

So to ease the cumbersome setup, below is a maya scene for the interactive creation of a fluid nebula. While experimenting with the attributes it’s important to have a real nebula reference image in mind; or else you’ll just continue tweaking attributes without any real measure of when it’s done. With fluids it’s quite easy to run down endless rabbit holes… There are just so many attributes that are interlocked. But it’s not impossible to tame fluids, you just need to have a goal in mind.

The nebula maker template is initially set up to have the look of a supernova shell because it’s actually more useful to experiment with. But I’ll share how to adjust the opacity ramp to create a diffuse nebula.

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