SUN: LightPool Festival
360° & VR, Events, Science Communications, Visitor Attractions
A world premiere, SUN is a partnership between public artist Alex Rinsler and Prof. Robert Walsh, one of the UK’s leading solar physicists. Join us as we detail the project and our journey through visualising the Earth's closest star.
She watches over us every day. She dictates the light, warmth and energy that falls upon our World. She is worshipped by many, adored and feared by some. She is a star. She is unwavering in her strength, and plays the role of Queen in our Solar System. She is glorious and mysterious, but her beauty is admired by all. She is of course, our majestic Sun.
Considering the Sun is our closest star and one we see every single day, it’s also a star that is steeped in mystery and misunderstanding. Her treacherous conditions have meant to date, scientists from the likes of NASA have struggled to get satellites close enough to understand her surface conditions and other fascinating details relating to her hot exterior. But that mystery has only increased humanity’s obsession with the Sun, and with the 2019 Lightpool Festival fast approaching, Creative Director of SUN, Alex Rinsler and Prof. Robert Walsh of UCLan came to Pufferfish to do what we do best. Visualise.
The Lightpool Festival in Blackpool is an annual event that is a mixture of live performance and light-based art installations based on the resort’s heritage of world famous illuminations. So, when the brilliant minds of Artist, Alex Rinsler and leading UK Solar Physicist, Prof. Robert Walsh came together, they knew what the festival needed. An awe-inspiring exploration of our most mysterious star. And so was born, SUN.
With Alex’s background in light, in experimenting with light sources and lighting design, in curating thrilling experiences centred around light and creating emotion and reaction in such experiences, then visualising a dynamic, large scale star like the SUN was a great fit. For Prof. Robert Walsh it was about driving excitement in and engagement with science, to educate and to spark interest around Astronomy from audiences of all ages. The project was born from the premise of wanting to explore a dynamic, awe-inspiring star, in engaging audiences with the centre of our solar system, and doing so with the combination of art and science.
With the desire to visualise the Sun in a way never seen before, to use real space-based data and ensure visitors to the festival were inspired, moved and key information about the star would be remembered, Alex knew who to call – Pufferfish Chief Technology Officer and Co-Founder, Will Cavendish. With over 15 years’ experience visualising global data, telling potent stories relating to our galaxy’s unexplored corners, and changing the way scientific information is used, viewed and understood; Pufferfish were the technical support that SUN needed to get off the ground.
The first hurdle was to get access to detailed satellite data on the Sun so any animation or visualisation of the star would form an honest, detailed, full 360° picture. Besides, if you are to be so ambitious as to take on the Sun, the scale and atmosphere must be of the utmost attention. Though we may not realise it here on Earth, our Sun actually rotates, taking about one month to make one full rotation. When viewed from our Earth-bound position, we only observe one hemisphere or side of the star at any one time; so it was clear, this would be a project of creative innovation and experimentation to create a 3D Sun.
Using a selection of five wavelengths of light available from NASA satellite images, our GIS Cartographer Heiko Lang had to stich those images together to create a hemispherical image that would then form part of the complete 360°spherical projection.
To visualise a 28-day rotation of the Sun for the festival, a 14-day image sequence of the Earth-facing side of the Sun was duplicated to create the full rotation to the far-side of the star. This meant real data could be used to project an honest visualisation, and allowed features like the Sun’s extreme ultraviolet light, varying surface temperatures and dynamic textures to be showcased. Once the composite of those images was finalised and seams removed, thanks to the expertise of our Motion Graphics expert - Marcus Wheat, it begged the next question was... How would this spine-tingling content be displayed?
Next came the challenge of building a spherical screen that could not just honour the detail of the content being visualised, but could embody the magnitude of the Sun’s prowess. With our largest solutions, the PufferSphere Pro range, reaching 4-metres in diameter, Will and Alex felt SUN should showcase a larger sphere at 7-metres in diameter; and so the custom process began.
Being the biggest screen Pufferfish would display to date, sourcing new materials was essential.
With a screen that large and projection coming from the centre of the screen (this allows for the seamless, 360° projection Pufferfish are known for) it was essential to find a material that would be light enough to be rigged from a temporary roof (typical for festival environments), could inflate to ensure it could easily travel to future events, and a material that could also remove any seam shadowing which would jeopardise the projection.
And all while considering it needed to be durable enough to withstand conditions outside of a closed studio’s control, particularly adverse weather!
With Will and our Head of Design, Bjorn Hulman experimenting with new manufacturing techniques and building on relationships built from their long career in the spherical display industry, they sourced and tested a host of materials, finally settling on a new polyurethane coatedfabric needed to ensure the 7-metre sphere would fit the part.
The new coating would also allow for high-definition projection, exceptional visual acuity, even pictureillumination, and even outdoor durability.
And so, the SUN was born.
The result was a sensory exploration of a star that has fascinated mankind since the birth of our very existence. The SUN creative team introducedsmoke design features, thanks to Matt Askey of Arcadia fame, that added dimension and enhanced the radiant light streams, live operatic singing to curate an almost spiritual atmosphere, and being set in the 140 year old Blackpool Winter Gardens, the location allowed for mind-blowing scale and a truly awe-inspiring environment. Ultimately, with the addition of information boards and the wider festival surrounding education, the Lightpool Festival gave insights into the SUN that have never been seen before, and with over 8000 visitors in 10 days!
“This continually evolving globe reveals the Sun in extreme ultraviolet light, a part of the electromagnetic spectrum beyond human sight. Specialised image enhancement techniques highlight the finer details and texture of our solar neighbour, which would otherwise be lost. Cycling through different ranges of temperature from a cool 4500 degrees to an impossibly hot 10 million degrees, SUN reveals our star in a completely new light.” (Visit Blackpool)
This thrilling project will continue to travel to future festivals and events, and we sincerely hope the incredible partnership between Alex Rinsler and Prof. Robert Walsh continues. What they curated was an unforgettable SUN-filled experience; and with the technical production of Pufferfish, we were able to feel one step closer to our admired Sun.
For more information on future installations of the SUN project, or how you can utilise a large format sphere for a custom project like this, don’t hesitate to get in touch! We make digital real, even the Sun.
BIO FOR PROF. ROBERT WALSH
Prof. Robert Walsh is a Professor of Solar Physics in the Jeremiah Horrocks Institute for Mathematics, Physics and Astronomy at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan). He is a leading expert on the analysis of space-based solar observations of the Sun. He has received a number of national awards for science communication during his career including the Royal Institution award of “Scientist of the New Century”. Currently Robert holds a prestigious fellowship from the Science and Technology Facilities Council to work with schools in Blackpool, using astronomy and astrophysics as means of increasing interest in science. He is also the UK National Outreach Coordinator for the International Astronomical Union.
BIO FOR ALEX RINSLER:
Alex Rinsler is a cultural producer and public artist based in London. He specializes in large-scale public work projects internationally, including the world’s largest squirrel, standing 13m high and weighing 12 tons. He is Artistic Director for Love Light Norwich (2020) and a Clore Leadership Fellow.
CREATIVE TEAM CREDITS
Sound: Ebe Oke and Feargal Mostyn Williams
Special Effects: Matt Askey
Production Manager: Netty Miles
Solar Physics Researcher: Daniel Gordon Gass
With support of public funding from Arts Council England and the Science and Technology Facilities Council.
- The Lightpool Festival
- Light Up Lancaster
In Partnership with:
- Winter Gardens Blackpool
- Access Fylde Coast of Disability First