October 15 2008

Here’s where we spent our afternoon.

Nehru Planetarium

Nehru Planetarium Mumbai

We means myself, Paras (pictured), Suman, and Gopa Kishore prabhu, who took these photos. Gopa Kishore is the devotee who did all the animations on the Mother Ganga film produced by Bhakti Vaibhava Swami a couple of years ago. At that time he was known as Bhakta Ezequiel Guerisoli, from Spain. He has worked for TV in Spain and he did a lot of visuals for Yadubara prabhu on his excellent Following Srila Prabhupada series.

He is a good photographer and while we were waiting for our hosts, he wandered around shooting a few pics. of the locals including this sequence of  a butterfly:

butterfly 1  butterfly 2 butterfly 3

butterfly 4  butterfly 5

He and I were just introduced yesterday. He is keen to work on the exhibits for the TOVP and put his extensive film making abilities to use for the planetarium.

At the Nehru we were met by Scott Niskach, international sales representative of Evans and Sutherland in India.

 Scot Niskach

E&S are one of the largest manufacturers of planetariums in the world. They were the first company in the world to develop computer graphics, i.e. using computers for drawing pictures, way back in 1968 and made a good living making flight simulators for commercial and military use. They made the first digital planetarium in 1983 so they have extensive experience in the field.

Some of you may recall my blog entry from June 10 describing our exhibits team meeting.


That day we viewed a presentation from another company, GOTO, on their hybrid opto-mechanical/ digital system. Now we are looking at purely digital systems, having decided that we really don’t need the opto-mechanical advantage. It cuts the price by about a half also.

So for three hours Scot and E&S local rep. Abhijit Shetye, demonstrated and explained all the different aspect of E&S’s Digistar 3 system. The director of the Nehru Dr. Piyush Pandey, kindly allowed us to use the planetarium for a half hour between scheduled shows so that Scot could show off some of the programs they have developed.

The Nehru boasted the biggest dome in India at 23 meters when it was opened in 1977. It seats over 600 persons in some of the most uncomfortable wooden tilt-seats you have ever experienced. 

 main console and seating

Since their opening they have upgraded their projection systems, and currently use CRT projectors. CRTs are the same technology as TVs and the old computer screens. They project light in 3 different colors

 CRT projector

which is focused through a lens and projected on the dome. The resolution is poor because their bulbs are only 200 lumens and a 23 meter dome is really a bit too big for the technology, and the colors in the programs we saw were washed out. But the system we are looking at doesn’t use CRTs but rather digital laser techonology with 10,000 lumen bulbs.

We saw a few trailers plus some locally programmed content, and I even got a chance to sit at the controls for a couple of minutes and project some of the films onto the dome. It was surprisingly easy–point and click like a regular computer.

projectionist for a minute

The company supplies the full range of equipment, dome structure, programming and maintenance service and they have a maintenance man stationed in Kolkata. Or you can opt to have a full time maintenance guy on site.

It will cost about $2m to buy the system we are looking at, including a 20 meter dome which will seat very comfortably 200 persons. On top of that, it costs between $300,000-$500,000 to commercially produce a 20 minutes show. If we can find devotees with sufficient expertise we can hope to reduce those costs of course, and that’s where an experienced man like Gopa Kishore comes in. It turns out that the main software that they use for their programming is the same that Gopa Kishore uses, appropriately named Maya.

On the way out we stopped off in the main lobby. It was a large circular open space, dimmed and apparently not used. I commented to Scott that it seemed a waste of space.


“Not when you have a few hundred school kids waiting to go in,” he replied. And it serves several useful purposes. First, by keeping visitors waiting there for 10-15 minutes, they have a chance to cool off in the airconditioned area. This reduces their body heat when they go into the domed theater. Heat rises and too much heat blackens the surface of the dome.

Second, the dimmed light helps visitors to adjust their eyes ready for the shows. If you go in straight of the street, your eyes can’t adjust properly and you miss half the visuals.

Third, a small screen shows some preliminary teasers for the shows. And fourth, situated around the periphery there are some dioramas and in the ceiling in the center  there is a simply mechanical orrery:


So what I thought at first glance was a poor use of space turns out to be intelligently designed. Everything has a purpose (that’s our philosophy!)

We had a good afternoon looking into the workings of a planetarium. Now we just have to find the money…

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