New museum update: the Digital Dome Theater

by Terry Burton, Digital Media Coordinator

One of the most exciting things we’re planning for the new museum, from my point of view, is the Digital Dome Theater. A digital dome theater is like the groovy love-child of a traditional planetarium and an IMAX theater: take a planetarium, with its ability to display shows in 360 degrees, and blend it with an IMAX theater with its stadium seating and all-digital projection and sound system, and you’ll start to get the picture.

We’ve had the digital dome in our plans since the early days of figuring out what this new museum is going to be. With ground breaking coming up in just a few months, I started recently to get serious about researching what this was actually going to mean for us. Starting from absolute scratch, I quickly realized that we had a whole lot to learn — everything from the steel and concrete considerations of architecture, to racks of workstations and digital projection systems, to understanding all the possibilities for the kinds of shows we can run in our dome. Associate Director Jason Wolvington and I have been on a crash course ever since, and I can tell you even at this early stage, it’s going to be an amazing ride!

We were very fortunate to get connected with Dan Neafus, who runs the Gates Planetarium digital dome theater at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. Dan is a real guru in the world of digital domes (also known as “full domes” or “immersive theaters”) and we’ve made a couple of field trips down to Denver to start absorbing this new world of technology. Dan has taken us behind the scenes at Gates to see the nuts and bolts, and really helped us get our arms around this thing.

Dan Neafus (second from left) of DMNS walks our staff through some architectural considerations for the digital dome theater

WAY behind (or above) the scenes at Gates Planetarium

What sorts of things can you do with a digital dome? For one thing, there’s a great catalog of movies available, designed for the 360 degree environment. Many of these shows are about astronomical subjects, a reflection of the digital dome’s roots in the world of planetariums. But there are also shows about Egyptian mummies, ancient sea creatures, the African Serengeti — a variety of subjects, with new shows being produced all the time.

A digital dome theater will also allow our Education staff to do live, interactive science presentations, literally zooming through the Universe to land on Mars or to explore the heart of the galaxy. They’re pretty excited about that!

Best of all, for me, is that we’ll have the opportunity to create our own original content to show in our theater. We’ve produced several short documentaries here at the Museum over the last couple of years, and we’re really looking forward to having this incredible new way to share the stories of our local area.

Bottom line: we are so thrilled to imagine such an amazing resource here in Fort Collins. Stay tuned.

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March 2010
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