- The Washington Times - Monday, December 4, 2006

BALTIMORE — NASA and science museums nationwide are putting a new high-tech spin on theater in the round.

“Footprints,” a 16-minute film that gives an astronaut’s view of the Earth, moon and Mars, will be released nationwide Thursday on new suspended spherical screens that show the planets as they might be seen from space.

The system consists of four projectors spread equally around a six-foot fiberglass globe.

A computer controls how the image is divided among the projectors, giving the appearance, for example, of a rotating Earth, even though the screen does not move.

“Footprints” shows hurricanes skirting across the Earth, how satellites collect data in orbit, and close-up views of the moon and Mars.

“It really doesn’t matter where you are around the sphere or in the room,” said Chris Cropper, senior marketing director for the Maryland Science Center. “It really is a very interesting notion that you can sort of stand anywhere in the room and everyone is essentially seeing the same thing.”

“Footprints” producer Michael Starobin said the new medium can do more than show planets, although a new approach is needed for spherical filmmaking.

For example, a standard scene in which a police officer on the left interviews a subject on the right would have the backs of their heads touch where the two edges of the image join at the far side of the sphere, Mr. Starobin said.

However, the two could be shown from above with the camera rotating around the pair during the interview.

“You have to re-conceive how to have a scene like that behave,” the producer said. “This has tremendous potential for development. I don’t know that I would want to put ‘Desperate Housewives’ on a sphere, but I do think there is an entirely new way to tell stories. There is a new film vocabulary available.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration first developed the projection technology, dubbed “Science on a Sphere,” to project satellite data so scientists and educators could better view how Earth’s atmosphere and oceans were changing.

“Footprints” is the first film of its kind.

A press preview at the Maryland Science Center quickly gathered a crowd of children.

“They’re all saying, ‘Cool. That’s cool. How does it do it?’ ” Mr. Cropper said.

“Footprints” is showing at the visitors center at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, where the film was created.

In addition to the Maryland Science Center, the film willbe shown at the National Maritime Center in Norfolk; the Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul, Minn.; the Bishop Museum in Honolulu and the Imiloa Astronomy Center in Hilo, Hawaii; the Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose, Calif.; the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Alpena, Mich.; and the Planet Theater in Boulder, Colo.

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