Chp. 8: Training, Training, Training!

Chapter 8 – Training, Training, Training!


Whether you are a staff of one or a staff of several, you will need training. Training in operating and maintaining your new system should be included with the purchase of your new system. You may, however, want additional production training and perhaps even general digital graphics training -particularly if you are transitioning from slide projectors with very little experience in digital graphics production.


Your vendor will likely provide training to get you started in learning fulldome photography and digital graphics production, but where and how far you take it is up to you. There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to training! 


Using Your New System


As soon as the system is installed, you will want to get hands-on training for using your new system. This may involve a trainer from your vendor who visits your facility, or it may involve traveling to the company’s location for the training. You will want to include yourself and as many other users and potential users as permitted by the class size approved by your vendor. Even if you are a staff of one, you might find someone else at your facility that may be able to help you later on.


Your trainer will likely have a curriculum outlined with tutorials to teach some of the many features of your new system. Follow the tutorials, but have some fun with it. Try on purpose to click the wrong buttons or type the wrong programming commands, or drag and drop media assets to a wrong location. Finding out what errors look like and how to address them is an important part of getting to know your system. Breaking things on purpose can be a great way to learn how they work!


Before your system use training, make yourself a list of all the cool things you enjoyed doing with your previous technolog,y or things you’ve seen other fulldome users demonstrate at conferences. Many of these things will be covered in the training course, but make sure to ask about them if they are not. If your request is unusual, your trainer will likely be able to help you find a way to make the same or a similar effect. 


Maintaining Your New System


Even if your future budget allows you to sustain a maintenance contract, you will still want to be able to handle routine and emergency maintenance yourself to the best of your abilities. Knowing your hardware to the best of your ability will aid the troubleshooting process when working with your vendor over the phone or through email to solve a problem.


At an absolute minimum you will want to know how to change projector lamps and how to keep your system components as cool and dust-free as possible.


If your vendor provides additional maintenance training, make sure that you and/or at least one staff member can attend. If you will be assisted by someone from your IT department, try to include that person as well. 


Additional Training – Computer Maintenance


You may find it helpful if you or someone else on your staff have additional training in computer hardware, computer operating systems, and computer networking. The ability to safely dig into a computer to swap out components such as video or networking cards will be a definite plus for troubleshooting or making quick swaps until proper repairs can be made.


This training can be self-paced from books, online lesson,s and even YouTube videos. A nearby college or university may have non-credit or extension classes in these subjects.


At their heart, all modern fulldome systems are fairly standard computers. They might have beefy processors and graphics cards to handle the content, but basic knowledge of working with computer hardware and software will go a long way to being able to support and service your planetarium system.


Additional Training – Production


Unless you are planning to use only built-in functions and purchased fulldome video movies, you will want to include your own content, or content from a variety of sources.


The next chapter will address the conversion of your existing content into formats you can use with your new system. Still, whether you plan to create all new content or reuse and/or modify your old content, additional training in production will prove helpful. Knowledge of software tools for working with images, video clips and audio recordings will not go to waste.


Your system vendor may have additional production training available. If so, you will want to take advantage of this training. Whether you are producing fulldome movies or automated shows that load images and video in realtime, knowing how your specific system handles digital media will come in handy.


There are plenty of free and paid online courses for these subjects. Most address using a particular piece of software, while others are more general. Free tutorials in written and video form are also available.


If you are already familiar with a particular brand of software for editing and/or creating images, video or audio, by all means stick with what you know. You can always attempt to transition to additional software packages later should the need arise.


As stated earlier for computer maintenance, nearby college or university courses dealing with digital graphics, audio production and basic 3D graphics production may be available. Another option is to attend workshops. Some are held at specific times of the year by vendors or production companies, and some are offered as a part of a conference, or held as a pre- or post-visit activity. Workshops presented at planetarium conferences can be especially useful, as most are presented by colleagues, many of whom have been through the same technology transition.


A Final Thought


The real strength of fulldome video is the unlimited potential to get what’s in your imagination on the dome. The only barrier that stands between that is how well you and your staff master the technology. The more you understand about working with your system’s software and additional programs you might need to use with it, the more your final productions will meet (or exceed!) your original vision. The more you understand about your system’s hardware, the better you’ll be at avoiding downtime and able to keep it running smoothly and looking great day in and day out.