Check out Omnidome…

When  I was putting together Neptune, the dome for the Modular Art Pods show, my biggest struggle was to sort out how to project in my dome on a budget. A very tight budget.

I was thinking that it would be best to come up with a solution that let me put together multiple small computers and send signal to all of those computers so that I wouldn’t have to buy a big, expensive computer to run the show on.  I wrote code obsessively for about a month, when I wasn’t at work – got a network switch, and hit a wall when I realized I don’t know the first thing about networking and didn’t have time to learn about it AND create content.

There are solutions out there that work (Blendy Dome VJ  exists, and it’s great – but if you don’t have a budget, you can’t buy neat things.)

About a month before I had to install the dome at the show, this lovely little piece of software called Omnidome came out.  It’s free. It’s powerful and It works very reliably.

What it does, specifically, is split up the video for multiple projectors. I run my video in QLab, but you can use any softare that has a Syphon output. I should also note, that I’m using a Mac for all of this.  (You can use it for flat mapping as well as spherical. It’s pretty handy.)

If you’re using Omnidome, you’re going to need to either have a computer with multiple VGA, DVI or other outputs OR get a Matrox Triplehead. This device allows you to fool your computer into thinking that it has one extra wide monitor – and the device actually splits it into 3 different images for 3 different screens… or in our case, projectors.

I use VGA in my dome. It may seem like that’s antiquated – but if you don’t have a blazing fast computer and your outputting to 3 projectors, you can’t handle HDMI.  (I’m a big fan of the “get the darned thing running even if it’s not perfect and super cutting-edge” approach to things.)

You need to learn a little about how cables work. There are a billion types of DVI cables, it seems. Some pass an analog signal along and some do not. If you’re trying to work with DVI and VGA out of the Triplehead, you HAVE to pass an analog signal across your DVI cable or it’s not going to work.

The computer I used for the show was a 2008 iMac that I picked up for slightly over $200. Is it fast? No. Does it run the show fairly reliably and am I ok with leaving it in a place where the public may potentially mess with it? Yes. If it got damaged in transport, would I be upset? A bit. Am I going to get something faster as soon as I can? Absolutely.

The bottom line: you can spin up a planetarium of your own for under $500, and Omnidome can run the thing very VERY well.

I’ll get into the interface a bit more in my next post.


Greetings from SXSW Create!

(by Jenn)

What a crazy journey.

Phil and I made the drive to SXSW in Austin, Texas to take a little 5′ planetarium to SXSW Create. Somewhere in Western Tennessee, my little silver Honda Fit decided that it wasn’t going over 55MPH. What we should have done is ditched the car in Memphis and picked up a rental.

What we did instead was keep going.

We didn’t want to be late – or to miss out on sleep – so we pushed as hard as we could. Uphill grades were a battle. Semis honked and passed us as we chugged along in the middle of the night. It. Was. Exhausting. We were supposed to get in at 12-12:30AM. Somewhere after 6AM we ended up making it to Austin.

Our mini-dome at SXSW Create

We napped in the parking lot for a few minutes, then got ready to set up the dome.  It’s little. Maybe 3 people can comfortably fit in there. The structure is a 5V geodesic dome, made out of the material that you’ve seen waaaaay too often in peoples yards during election season.

We installed a leap motion inside so folks could play with the visuals in the dome.

Why did we travel over 800 miles for this? Because we think planetariums are amazing and that they’re underutilized. We think there’s a lot of opportunity for crazy visuals and interactive art in these spaces – and the tools are better and better to do these things. Because we build immersive spaces and are working artists who want to push the medium, do things others haven’t done yet and make transformative experiences for everyday people to enjoy.

What’s a Dome Lab/Dome Club?

Dome Club was started in Ft. Collins, Colorado. It’s a regular meetup for folks who are interested in producing content for fulldome. (Fulldome basically means half a sphere – so you can see content all around you.) Learn more about Dome Club…

COSI Columbus started Dome Lab in 2016, and they’ve got a crazy mix of filmmakers, game designers, artists and other folks who are passionate about making content for their domes. This is Phil’s home scene.  (And I moved from there… so I’m kinda jealous now.)

I’m now a Nashvillian. (Which gives me joy because I have “villian” in that title. I always wanted to be an evildo-er of good.) And there, we have the Sudekum Planetarium at the Adventure Science Center. It’s tried to bring artists in, but hasn’t really succeeded in engaging the community in producing a lot of content .

SO – my crazy idea is to put it into my home makerspace, Make Nashville. Not a full-sized planetarium, but a little one. The little one we took to SXSW, in fact. Why? You can’t get into a planetarium 24/7 to work on your project, and having that sort of setup at home is a little crazy. (Your significant other may not be alright with having a plantarium in the living room. And honestly, if they’re not… what are you doing with them anyhow?)

Anyhow – If you’re a makerspace member, you can work there any time. We can hack in there day and night, teach some workshops and partner with the Sudekum to host shows. And then take that content to other places.

Back to the SXSW Adventure…

We got it set up. In time. Not everything was perfect (and it never is at live events. We ran it all through Create and we had a blast. (Not to worry, I got a rental and I’m going to sort out getting a new car when I get home – so for now, things are ok.) But we kept going. And when it comes to being a professional artist, it’s all about how you figure out how to make something really amazing when things don’t quite work out, go your way, add-up or make sense.

Stay tuned. I’m going to talk about a few other details… like Omnidome and our setup and the crazy things I didn’t know when I got started in all of this, in the coming days.