March 23, 2012

[Fulldome stories] The birth of SpacePark360  

Imagine hurtling along in a roller coaster car at enormous speed; the surrounding vista, a 360 degree smear of color and contrast. High over head, gigantic balloons support the fragile track that is the only thing stopping you from plunging nose first into a sloppy lake of frozen methane. Are you enjoying the latest ride at Disneyland? No. Perhaps Cedar Point? Nope. As you take a moment to catch your breath, you notice hanging low to the horizon is the planet Saturn! Where are you??? Well, you're experiencing SpacePark360 in a fulldome digital theater, the brainchild of Dome3D's Matt Mascheri, Jason Heaton and Michael Narlock.

The genesis of SpacePark360 centered around a pool table at the Triple Conjunction Conference held in Wheeling, WV in late 2007. Mascheri, Heaton and Narlock, each veteran planetarium producers, pondered why there was a lack of original entertainment-based fulldome productions. While educational shows were the bread and butter of planetaria, for decades many theaters had run laser shows to help generate revenue and entertain audiences. Was there a market for a new type of entertainment show? What would set this show apart from the rest? How could this show be priced so that virtually all fulldome installations could afford it?

The idea of producing this unique fulldome entertainment show persisted, and by early 2008 various concepts were pitched during weekly online meetings. The trio determined that the focus of the show should be on having fun with the fulldome medium. The storyline for the show didn't have to be complex or engrossing, all it really had to do was give the show a reason for being and provide the connective tissue to get the audience from one ride to the next.

Once the narrative of the show was clear, the focus shifted to the star of the show... the rides. Pouring over online resources, the first ride choice became obvious... a roller coaster. But with a great ride, comes the need to place it somewhere equally as amazing. What locale could immediately set this show apart from what had been done before? The choice was simple... hang the roller coaster over an exposed vent of magma on Io. Casting aside the plausibility of such a vent even existing, the visual impact would be amazing.

SpacePark360 Fulldome Show ReviewWith the initial ride and location selected, the next steps involved creating the scene in 3ds Max, animating the motion and post production using the Adobe Master Suite and then rendering, rendering, rendering. The Io Coaster made its debut at GLPA 2008 in Milwaukee, WI as a test to gain reaction from the planetarium community. The response was overwhelmingly positive and reaffirmed the concept that thrill rides on the dome could work. So, what ended up being the final ride in the finished show, was actually the first ride completed!

The majority of production took place between late 2008 and early 2010. New rides, based on real-world thrill rides from around the globe, were created. Exotic locations from around the solar system were “scouted” based on their unique features. Rides were then matched to a planet (or moon) to enhance the overall “feel” of the experience. Mixing science with artistic license, the trio created colorful, immersive environments.

As the show was in development, it still needed a title. The working titles were Roller Coasters in Space or Solar Coasters, but rides other than roller coasters were being developed as well. Eventually SpacePark360 was settled upon to indicate that this show was about thrill rides in a 360 degree environment. On the business side of the creative process, another concept was beginning to emerge, and it would prove to be the key ingredient that would make SpacePark360 unique among virtually all other fulldome shows, modularity.

SpacePark360 Fulldome Show ReviewModularity allowed SpacePark360 to become a flexible, affordable and customizable experience for fulldome theaters. By selling the show as both a 38 minute nine-ride experience as well as selling individual rides (about 4 minutes each), SpacePark360 could be sold at a lower up-front cost. It also allowed rides to be sold prior to the completion of the full show. This innovative selling technique also allowed theaters to apply the amount paid for individual rides towards the price of the entire show.

SpacePark360 Fulldome Show ReviewFresh off of recording Heaton as the narrator of the show, and after months of rendering and encoding, the complete version of SpacePark360 premiered on February 26, 2010. It was a cold and snowy night, 40+ people braved the elements to catch the shows world debut at Cranbrook Institute of Science in Bloomfield Hills, MI. As the lights dimmed and the show began, it was clear that SpacePark360 provided the sort of thrilling experience that the Dome3D trio had hoped for... there was clapping, laughing, cheers and howls of enjoyment, even a request for an encore ride.

During production, and after the initial launch of a few of the SpacePark360 rides, Mark Petersen of Loch Ness Productions approached Dome3D with the idea of a custom soundtrack for the show. This collaboration resulted in SpacePark360: Geodesium Edition. Mark created new Geodesium music and it debuted at SEPA 2010 at Bays Mountain, TN.

In 2011, the Atlanta based rock group A Burning Century wrote their first album to the visuals of SpacePark360 which resulted in SpacePark360: Lucid Dreaming Edition. This new edition was screened at SEPA 2011 at the Tellus Science Museum in Cartersville, GA. During WAC 2011, Dome3D announced the first SpacePark360 Track Pack which consists of three new rides accompanied by new music from A Burning Century.

SpacePark360 Fulldome Show ReviewWith years of hard work under the banner of Dome3D, three friends created an entertainment show that has spanned the globe. With help from other artists, contributors and friends, SpacePark360 is now playing in over 30 theaters, at fulldome festivals and conferences. It has made the cover of newspapers, magazines and been the focus item in many articles.

The sounds of a screaming audience in a packed dome is music to our ears, and it never gets old! SpacePark360 is just plain fun, and the show packs the house!

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