December 5, 2012

Laserfest 2012 @ Mueller Planetarium

written by Jack Dunn
Mueller Planetarium, University of Nebraska - Lincoln.

Most of you know we did laser shows at Mueller for 27 years. And we hosted the International Laser Display Association conference twice back in the 1990s. When our gas laser died, there wasn't any opportunity forthcoming from administration to replace it.

Yes, those laser shows provided more than half our income and really boosted attendance. I would have loved to continue the shows. But our administrators now were people who weren't around during our best laser show years. The museum was struggling due to budget cuts. So, we have not done a regular schedule of laser shows since then. Instead, we have been able to borrow equipment and do a few special weekends. The technology has certainly changed - and much for the better.

But a special opportunity came along that I want to share with my planetarium friends. I know a lot of people who share the good memories I have of all those shows in the past 40 years all around the world. My son got his start doing laser shows here at Mueller and has gone on to now work for Lightwave International in Pittsburgh, PA. They are mostly known for their big events and concert lasers.

He wanted to come back and run a few shows just for old time's sake where he got started before I leave Mueller. And of course, Mike wanted them to be memorable
shows. We worked out dates that were open and so he drove straight here from Pittsburgh with a van full of laser projectors, computers and more.

In the end, I believe this was one of the largest laser shows ever done in a US planetarium in terms of the number of full-color projectors in use. There were five full-color beam projectors in the front of the room and two graphic and abstract projectors directed forwards including lumia and effects duties. The graphics ran via Pangolin's Showtime software while beams were controlled live by Mike via Pangolin's Beyond.

Remember that Mueller Planetarium is a 9.7 meter dome and each of these projectors
were doing about 2 watts full-color output. Yes it was bright and colorful. I do know of installations in Europe such as Hamburg which use even more lasers and I'd love to see them.

In the US, generally one might see one full-color graphics and maybe a beam projector or two. Certainly, the effect here was - to use the overused phrase - "immersive."

We had three days of full shows and enthusiastic audiences for "Laser Beatles", "Dark Side of the Moon" and "Laser Country" (which we did for a local country music station, which was one of our most steadfast supporters over the years).

Our theater seats 80 and final attendance was around 735. The only show that
didn't sell out came as the Husker football game was on tv and going down to the
wire. If you've ever been in Nebraska - you'd understand this!

Yes, the planetarium got some much - needed income. The results were overwhelmingly positive response from audiences. And the only negative is that I know we can never do this again at this level.

No video can ever capture the color intensity and sheer experience of having those beams over and around you.

Getting that many projectors in the dome at once from any source was a once in a lifetime opportunity. So my thanks to Mike and Lightwave for giving me one more great laser experience.

And thanks to all our ILDA friends around the world who have made great impressions
in laser light over the years. No light pollution here - just great art and fun experiences.

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