California Academy of Sciences
The Morrison Planetarium at the California Academy of Sciences is the world’s largest all-digital planetarium. The Academy writes, directs, and produces their own planetarium shows in-house, which cover a variety of topics. Each show includes a live element, with a speaker starting on stage to introduce the audience to the show’s agenda.
Since the last upgrade in 2008, the Academy realized they weren’t able to achieve the color, contrast, or resolution that they wanted. They needed to ensure seamless switching between live and prerecorded content, with gentle fade-ins and fade-outs. Furthermore, the current technology choices were not as energy efficient or sustainable as they would like. The Academy enlisted the help of renowned and respected consultation company TEECOM to plan the upgrade. TEECOM determined that their only available window to upgrade was between September and October of 2016 due to the Academy’s aggressive scheduled programming and expected visitors. Any delays would push the upgrade timeline back two years.
The Academy’s needs for the upgrade required them to look for a technology partner rather than just a vendor to ensure all deadlines and technology expectations were met. They decided their ideal partner would have expertise in complex visualization solutions and would plan for immediate and long-term success.
The Academy partnered with Mechdyne Corporation in May 2016 to upgrade the Morrison Planetarium technology due to our capabilities and relationship-driven approach. Through a highly collaborative process, Mechdyne and the Academy selected Sony 4K projectors that would help improve image brightness, color, contrast, resolution, and black level performance. To ensure the solution would perform perfectly at the Planetarium, Mechdyne creatively staged the solution at a nearby science center in Des Moines. Mechdyne performed both staging and installation activities after hours to avoid disrupting visitors’ experiences.
The solution also included proprietary components developed specially for the Academy. The technology’s high resolution and refresh rate created a challenge for smooth transitions during pre-recorded and live elements of each show. At the time, no known products on the market would support a smooth transition. Mechdyne’s engineers created Dome Display Managers, or DDMs, that would provide a smooth fading transition between different video sources or PCs.
The Morrison Planetarium was back up and running in October 2016, well within the Academy’s expected deadline. The Academy measured the project’s success based on timelines, increased efficiencies, and a polished, professional show they could be proud of. At the completion of the Morrison Planetarium upgrade, the Academy was thrilled with the results of Mechdyne’s solution.
“The benefits from the upgrade are immediately evident,” says Michael Garza, the planetarium and production engineering manager at the Academy. “We’ve eliminated so many of the challenges that we had in our previous system. Our experience with Mechdyne has been great. We’ve found that they’ve been a great partner for us.”