Astrocinematography Road Trip (2012)

Hobart to Carnarvon Route – 5,787km

I’ve been commissioned by the Gascoyne Aboriginal Heritage and Cultural Centre of Carnarvon, Western Australia, to produce a fulldome program that illustrates elements of Indigenous Australian astronomy. This will feature visualizations displayed upon a looping program that runs in a walk-in/walk-out 4 metre horizontal dome at the Centre. The exhibition design is being undertaken by Scott Watson Design of Perth, W.A. Paul Bourke is also consulting on it for the mirrordome system and related software.

The astronomical stories are derived from oral history recordings of local elders, gathered by anthropologists Mary-Ann Jebb and Malcolm Allbrook.

I’ll give more detail as the project develops, but an initial issue was the relative brevity of the recordings – we needed to fill out the program with extra content: the visualizations will be created in the Nightshade Astronomy Simulator, and be significantly augmented by fulldome astrocinematography shot on location in the Gascoyne region, Western Australia;¬†encompassing some of the important starscapes, skyscapes and landscapes that are meaningful to the five language groups that live there. This will provide a rich experience for audiences and bring the authentic experience of place to the dome.

However, instead of flying over and hiring a vehicle to drive to Carnarvon, I thought: I’ve always wanted a 4WD, and I’ve always wanted to shoot fulldome (or something that would capture this remarkable, immersive space) across the Nullarbor¬†- so why not just do it? I asked my colleague in crime, Chris Henderson, and he was all for it. Amazingly, a good friend of mine was selling his 4WD just at this time – so that’s how I came into possession of ‘Major Tom’ – a type of spaceship, more commonly identified as a Mazda Bravo 2.5l turbo-diesel dual-cab 4WD. We’ve done a lot of work on it – including extensive electrical system modifications to charge our many battery systems.

Major Tom – before

Chris and I have been building experimental camera platforms for a few years now – since we built a system for use in Antarctica over 2 years ago (at Mawson’s Huts) – and they have become increasingly sophisticated. We can now run multiple camera dolly/track systems shooting fulldome (on Canon 5DMkII cameras with Sigma 8mm circular fisheyes), that are fully computer controlled or from custom control systems that Chris has magicked up. They can produce stereoscopic and HDR content too – with multiple degrees of freedom in camera motion – all precisely controlled, along with exposure and focus settings. And we have a whole panoply of other camera systems: KAP rigs, remote-control helicopter rigs, odd hacked GoPro HD Hero2 systems, cameras running CHDK, a Panasonic AG-3DA1 fullHD stereoscopic video camera – and much much more.

Far too much for two people to run, so Chris’ wife, Sally Hildred is joining us. She seems to have been everywhere else in Australia – just not the Nullarbor, so that worked out very well. I’m also very fortunate in that they are both widely experienced at remote area travel and are both medical doctors (GPs), so I have the best company imaginable.

So, we leave Tasmania this Saturday 7th January and will drive across the Nullarbor, arriving in Perth on the 15/16th January. This self-funded part of the work will really give us a chance to thoroughly test and debug our systems – I’ve always found that the very best way of doing that is in the field, on a project – you just have to be very well prepared for uncertain eventualities, be adaptive and, most importantly, be imaginative. Then, after a couple of days there and we’re off to the Gascoyne to work upon the main object of this commission – the remarkable environment and skies of the Carnarvon region. But it’s a big place: ~138,000 square kilometres with 10,000 people living in it – and more than half of those in Carnarvon. It’s very big and very empty. Perfect.

Here are some of our notional objectives:

By the time I return to Tasmania in early March, I should have covered well over 10,000kms.

I’ll post some updates as we go along – if and when I can. It’s pretty remote. It’ll be a good story to tell.

About Peter Morse