The 'Jellyfish Dome' exhibit was an ambitious project whose goal was to put visitors 'inside' a jellyfish swarm while simultaneously educating them on what jellyfish blooms are and why they happen. A spherical half-dome with a diameter of about 10 feet was build in the exhibit space with a high resolution projected mounted at the top. The projector had a lens that was able to project the video at a 180 degree angle, filling the half-dome with video.
The critical aspect of the project was to pre-warp the projected video file in such a way that when it was projected at the extreme 180 angle it would 'unwarp' into a perfectly undistorted projection. Using a custom plug-in for Adobe After FX Sabertooth had to calibrate the warping algorithms to work flawlessly with the projector's lens. It was an extremely time consuming process, even with exact measurements. The images below show Sabertooth's Greg Leuenberger slaving over the warping software on a Mac Pro while the Aquarium's Director of Interpretive Media Eric Nordone looks on.
The 3D animation depicts a bloom of moon jellies forming in the open sea. Moon jellies are plankton eaters and a bloom of millions of individuals can dramatically upset an ecosystem by eating all the plankton in the area.
Once a 'hero' moon jelly was approved by the aquarium, Sabertooth replicated it into a giant swarm using The Foundry's MODO. The replicated jellies were given randomized scale and rotation values to give them some individual variation. The animation was timed out with the voice over track provided and ultimately rendered on a renderfarm. The thousands of jellyfish combined with the high-resolution of the file (greater than 2K in each dimension) equated to a lot of render time. The jelly's surface texture (lots of subsurface scattering and blurry refractive and reflective features) added to the long render times. Once all the 3D files were ready they were brought into Adobe After FX for audio, color correction and pre-warping.
Below you can see the original square aspect ratio animation that came from the 3D render. The warped, wide-aspect animation to the left is the 'pre-warped' file that was played out of the projector. The extreme projector lens 'un-warped' them image back to the correct dimensions when it was projected onto the half-dome.