learn / 2014

Griffith Observatory--A pLAnetarium for 2050 now!

Griffith Observatory--A pLAnetarium for 2050 now!

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by Friends Of The Observatory (FOTO)

Create a new digital-animation planetarium show for live presentation that will inspire cosmic perspective in learners of all ages.


Please describe yourself.

Solo actor (just us on this project!)

In one sentence, please describe your idea or project.

Create a new digital-animation planetarium show for live presentation that will inspire cosmic perspective in learners of all ages.

Which area(s) of LA does your project benefit?

  • Central LA
  • East LA
  • South LA
  • San Gabriel Valley
  • San Fernando Valley
  • South Bay
  • Westside
  • Griffith Observatory serves not only our local community, but also visitors from around the world and from across the nation.

What is your idea/project in more detail?

Friends Of The Observatory is seeking funds to create programs and experiences in the Samuel Oschin Planetarium that will help to bridge the gaps that exist in formal learning by providing a variety of informal learning experiences that are accessible to children, youth, and families in an environment that is inclusive and inspiring to lifelong learning. Planetarium shows provide a cosmic perspective for our audiences. Cosmic perspective inspires the asking of big questions about who we are and what we think about ourselves and the rest of the world. It can have a positive effect on our choices and behavior. Thus, the knowledge and information shaping imaginations at Griffith Observatory is actually shaping future lives and culture.

What will you do to implement this idea/project?

Funding from LA2050 will be used to hire animators and special consultants required to create the thrilling visuals that inspire cosmic perspective in our audiences. These technical experts will enable Griffith Observatory’s graphic staff to re-imagine the School Field Trip planetarium show, Water is Life, and to create a brand new planetarium show on the intriguing, popular topic of life in the universe.

Having the tools necessary to translate complex astronomical information into compelling and accurate programs, and being able to deliver those to eager minds of all ages in an enticing environment is important to our community and the future of our culture.

These planetarium shows will utilize a new, state-of-the-art , digital 8k projection system. The combination of the new equipment and a professional quality animated show guarantees a high quality audience experience. This is critical because our scientific stories vie with Hollywood commercial productions for the visitor’s attention and memory.

How will your idea/project help make LA the best place to LEARN today? In 2050?

Our national economic prosperity and security require that the USA be a world leader in science and technology. We must develop the ideas to transform and strengthen the economy, ensure a skilled workforce for American industry, and guarantee that American students have access to the educational resources and tools necessary to fully participate in the science- and technology-based economy of the 21st century. According to the National Science Board, the earlier children are exposed to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) concepts, the more likely they are to be comfortable with them later in life. Improving the extent and quality of elementary STEM education should be a priority. But in California, students in elementary school have less than 15 minutes of science a day on average.

In addition, a study sponsored by the National Science Foundation reports that experiences in informal settings can significantly improve science learning outcomes for individual groups which are historically underrepresented in science, such as women and minorities. This study recognizes that learning is broader than formal classroom schooling. Informal science environments and experiences play a crucial role. These experiences can jump-start and sustain long-term interests that involve sophisticated learning later in life. In fact, research has shown that interest in sciences during elementary school is a better predictor than test scores of which students take advanced math courses in high school and college.

Planetarium shows at Griffith Observatory help to bridge the gaps that exist in formal learning by providing a variety of informal learning experiences that are accessible to children, youth, and families in an environment that is inclusive and inspiring. In an era that often substitutes superficial contact for knowledge and insight, and confuses entertainment with inspiration, Griffith Observatory avoids fashionable jargon and empty impact and continues to promote meaningful experience. Griffith Observatory is unique in being able to have a major impact on both individuals and on the economic health of the community.

Whom will your project benefit?

Over 300,000 visitors, not only from the greater Los Angeles region but also from around the world, see a planetarium show at Griffith Observatory each year. A visitor survey identified a demographic profile almost identical to the State of California: 43% Caucasian; 36% Hispanic; 9% Asian American; and 6% African American. Underserved audiences make up nearly half of the Observatory’s visitor base.

In addition, over 26,000 fifth-grade students, most from Title 1 schools, attend special field trips that support fifth grade California educational science standards. The staffing and material costs are funded by FOTO so that all students may attend FREE. In additions, a “bus scholarship” may be requested to fund transportation.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

The only confirmed collaboration at this point is with the Fiske Planetarium at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Fiske already has installed the 8K planetarium dome projection system we will be purchasing. Until the Observatory system is purchased and installed, Fiske has agreed to let our graphics team view their work on the Fiske dome in exchange for being able to perform our new life in the universe show live in Boulder after it premieres in Los Angeles. Conversations have begun with biology and other visualization experts to identify a core group of animators to support the development of the new planetarium show. Conversations are also being held with different groups of Disney animators to assist with animation. Visualizations from NASA/JPL are likely to be incorporated. Also, a variety of scientific experts are partners to ensure accurate, authentic information.

How will your project impact the LA2050 “Learn” metrics?

  • Informal learning experiences such as planetarium shows inspire the future, one imagination at a time by motivating students and lifelong learners to go out and read a book, ask a question, or stay in school.

Please elaborate on how your project will impact the above metrics.

Griffith Observatory is unique among Los Angeles institutions as a place where a broad range of demographic audiences, including students and adult lifelong learners, may be inspired by interesting, accurate scientific information in a state-of-the art immersive environment. This kind of inspiration may motivate people to take the next step, stay in school, major in math, or complete that degree to get the job they want. Plus there is a “community contribution.” Certainly the exposure to cosmic perspective often influences everyday decision making to be our best.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project.

The best way to judge the success of a planetarium show is through qualitative measurements that capture audience attitudes. For example, anecdotal research tells us that many of the scientists and engineers now working at JPL were first inspired by a visit to Griffith Observatory. Also, fifth grade school teachers routinely send us thank you notes from their students describing how thrilled and grateful they are to have been to the Observatory and what they learned. This kind of evaluation is ongoing, including daily conversations with visitors, and scanning of social media.

What two lessons have informed your solution or project?

First, the literature and teacher feedback support Griffith Observatory’s focus on the importance of informal learning experiences. The way to have the broadest impact is through a planetarium show. Second, the subject of our next show, life in the universe, was chosen because of the virtually daily discovery of intriguing findings, including the hundreds of Earth-like exoplanets and the possibility of water on Mars, all begging the question of “are we alone?” and needing an authentic, accurate exploration of the question: what is life?

Explain how implementing your project within the next twelve months is an achievable goal.

The planetarium show already has a treatment and is ready to go to the story board phase. Testing animations of key scenes is underway. Animators skilled in specific areas of visualizations are being interviewed. The new projection system and components are close to being specified. Fundraising for the necessary equipment is underway. All these elements point to a re-imagined school planetarium show being ready by the end of 2015 with the premiere of the new show to follow.

Please list at least two major barriers/challenges you anticipate. What is your strategy for ensuring a successful implementation?

The first major challenge is to negotiate a working relationship with the City of Los Angeles’ technology department. The computers, software, render farm, etc. required to produce a planetarium show reflecting Griffith Observatory’s standards of excellence must be operated and maintained by knowledgeable people. Key members of Observatory, FOTO, and Department of Recreation and Parks management are working together to devise a plan to ensure that this expertise is in place for the full duration of show development.

The second major challenge is coordinating the complex timelines required to raise the funds for equipment and consultants, coordinate the installation of the new systems to minimize the impact on regular Observatory operations, revamp existing shows to fit with the new equipment, and produce a new show for this completely new environment. A detailed schedule is in development and biweekly management meetings already are in place to track progress against goals. A daily “red flag” stand-up meeting is also in place for show development.

What resources does your project need?

  • Money (financial capital)
  • Volunteers/staff (human capital)
  • Technical infrastructure (computers, etc.)