Full-dome storytelling

A creative team at the University of North Carolina’s Morehead Planetarium and Science Center is combining traditional storytelling with digital technologies from RENCI to create a fulldome planetarium show that promises to wow both adults and children when it premiers during winter of 2012.

The show captures the work of North Carolina’s Paperhand Puppet Intervention, a group of puppeteers who create giant puppets, masks and sets using cardboard, corn starch, bamboo, old house paints, and scavenged odds and ends. The new production transplants the earthy puppet characters onto the 60-foot surface of Morehead’s fulldome theatre, a system that displays images at eight times the resolution of high definition. To film the show in the highest resolution possible, its creators turned to RENCI and its 4,096-by-2,048 pixel video camera from RED Digital Cinema.

“There is no camera at our disposal that can shoot with enough resolution to equal our fulldome environment, but the RED camera gets as close as possible,” said Jason Heinz, digital production manager at the Planetarium and Science Center.

Shooting for a dome, rather than a flat screen display, also posed challenges, said Heinz. “One of the big differences is that you need to create an environment that surrounds the audience; you’re viewing area is not a rectangle in front of the audience like it is with a flat screen production.”

For the new show, the Morehead team set out to capture the organic, handmade qualities of Paperhand Puppet Intervention productions while taking full advantage of the dome and the capabilities of the RED camera. Giant puppet characters were shot in a warehouse with a green screen—a plain green background that allows the producers to overlay computer generated sets into the final film.

The production team—including Heinz,  technical director Peter Althoff, creative director Jim Kachelries student Paul Davis— in conjunction with Donavan Zimmerman and Jan Burger from Paperhand labored to create computer graphics with corrugated cardboard edges and natural fiber textures, in order to match the look and feel of Paperhand’s live shows, but in a 3D digital environment.

The result is “The Longest Night: A Winter’s Tale,” the story of a young girl with a traveling troupe of puppeteers who embarks on her own adventure while gathering firewood in the forest.  She encounters a wise old woman and a dragon who has lost her fire, and learns lessons life and death that come with the changing seasons, and the importance of giving.

“It’s a story about giving for the season of giving,” said Heinz.  And it’s made possible by a continuing collaboration between Morehead and RENCI.

“It would have taken us years to get our shows to where they are now without the help we’ve gotten from RENCI, including the use of the RED camera,” said Heinz.

The production will premier in November and will continue through February.