Thursday, December 01, 2011

Animation Tests for the Local Planetarium

The Challenge
The intermediate animation class (ANIM235) at Kellogg Community College was given an assignment to determine whether an animation could be developed for use in a planetarium, with the result being a potential entry for the annual Grand Rapids Art Prize festival.
The planetarium in place at Battle Creek’s Kingman museum uses hardware identical to that currently in place at the Chaffee Planetarium inside of the Grand Rapids Public Museum. After making contact with the Battle Creek coordinator, the class was given its initial assignment. If the project can play in Battle Creek, it should work in Grand Rapids.
We initially did a collection of animation samples at different resolutions: (in pixels) 800x800, 1000x1000, 1200x1200. The use of a "square" shape could then be the basis for a circular design that would then fit the format of a planetarium dome.
After some research, we found that the suggested resolution from the manufacturers of the planetarium system (the Evans and Sutherland ‘Digistar 4' projection and computer device) was 1344x1200.
Ultimately, we used the three initial resolutions, then employed the fourth to complete the first test for the project.
As it was only a test, the animations created ran only 10-15 seconds, with the emphasis for the action to be in the center of the screen. The animations were completed in Flash, and then they were saved in *.fla format for archiving, and *.mov format for the projection test and for creating a DVD version.

The First Attempt - November 7, 2011
Upon arrival at the Kingman museum, we discovered that the planetarium coordinator was experienced in the specific system there, but did not have a lot of information about how the projection files were created. Nevertheless, we continued with running our test.
The *.mov files had to be loaded onto two separate computer drives, labeled GP1 and GP2. Audio for the project had to be on a third computer, labeled GP3. Audio files had to be in *.wav format only. As this was not the layout for our project, the initial test was projected in a silent version.

Initial Result
The limitation of the Macintosh network at KCC for *.mov format output from Flash quickly became apparent. The images did project, but the pixellation in the projection made for an unacceptable experience.
Upon further research with the manufacturer, the planetarium coordinator relayed to us that the *.mov files we created would not be acceptable for their hardware system, and that the files had to be in HD format for the images to be fully appreciated by the spectator.
This meant that we would have to create the movies at the KCC lab in *.fla format, then take the raw Flash files to a different system that could then convert the images into HD.

Reworking the Files - the Process
The class then created a new series of short experiments, this time only using a resolution of 1344 x 1200 pixels. The image was further restricted to a circular area based on a 1200 pixel diameter. The sound being used, a public domain recording of "Flight of the Bumblebee" from 1920, was then mastered out as a *.wav file.
Two experiments were created to devise an HD format of the test.
The first took the *.fla files, for CS4 Flash, then rendered them as an uncompressed *.mov format using the Flash software on a different platform (a PC was used for this test). The one minute experiment took approximately 32 gigabytes of hard drive memory.
The second experiment took the raw *.fla files, again for CS4 Flash, and rendered them out as a series of sequential images using the Flash software.
These sequential images were then brought into another program for video editing, Sony Vegas, Version 9. Each image was brought into the software with approximately 2 frames for each, then exported silently as an HD format for Sony, a variety of mpeg4.  Overall, using the sequential images as source material was more useful, since it eliminated the troublesome artifacts inherent in creating *.mov files from the Flash environment.

Second Experiment Result
The results for this second series of experiments is pending our being able to schedule another afternoon’s access to the Kingman museum’s planetarium. We expect this to be accomplished before the end of December, 2011. (in actuality, it will be on Monday, 5 December - watch this blog for further results)

The following DVD demonstration will show the animation sequences created for each experiment, based on the first and second attempts.  These mp4 files are from the Vegas 9 software and were generated for this example; HD files were generated for the planetarium experiment.

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