Tales of the Maya Skies was conceived by Alexandra Hall, former Executive Director of Chabot Space & Science Center, during a visit to Chichén Itzá in 2004. Ms. Hall was struck by the beauty and astronomical alignments of the architecture at Chichén Itzá, and upon her return to the Science Center determined to create a digital dome show showcasing the astronomical achievements of the Maya. Convinced that a full dome planetarium show on the Maya would provide a rich educational experience for visitors, she applied for and received funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to produce the show and embark on research to determine the affect of such a show on learning.
While the NSF funding for the Tales of the Maya Skies project was substantial, and augmented by a generous sponsorship award from the Instituto Politécnico Nacional in Mexico City, the challenge to create highly realistic visuals—both virtual reconstructions of the buildings at Chichén Itzá and 3D character animations—within a limited budget was daunting.
We assembled a production team that included professionals in digital heritage site reconstruction, 2.5 and 3D animators, sky scene visualizers, writers, musicians and advisers to oversee the accuracy and integrity of our presentation.
The most arduous task was to laser-scan buildings at Chichén Itzá, which was accomplished by the Institute for the Study and Integration of Graphic Heritage Techniques (INSIGHT), with assistance from CyArk.
Scanning, and the subsequent processing of the digital data into models that could be textured and lighted, required an arduous permit process and the transport of dozens of people and hundreds of pounds of equipment to the site. Once on site, additional challenges included intense sunlight, white limestone surfaces, and high humidity. Returning with a massive amount of data, a public production website, www.mayaskies.net, was created to document the process and our experiences.
The script for Tales of the Maya Skies required writers knowledgeable about Maya archeoastronomy, gifted storytellers and those able to condense a massive amount of material into the half-hour limitation of planetarium dome shows. The final narrative, written over a two-year period, was reviewed and approved by our science and cultural advisers. Director Arne JinAn Wong along with producer Konda Mason assembled a great production team and brought the show to fruition.
San Francisco based Digitrove, Inc., created all of the 3D characters and vegetation and some of the 2D sequences, along with providing the show scene assembly, lighting, texturing, and final 4K rendering. Palma Vfx, also a San Francisco based company, provided 2.5D animation sequences.
ARTSLab, of the University of New Mexico, with the project from its inception, produced the stunning 2D animation of the mythical sequence in the show.
Chabot Space and Science Center provided all of the night sky visualizations.
Our show editor, Craig Thomas, worked ongoing to produce show animatics and layout reels that allowed us to track our progress. The show producers are honored to have Grammy-award winner Lila Downs, as the narrator for the Tales of the Maya Skies in both English and Spanish. As we moved into final scene assembly, Michael Sterns, who has composed soundtracks for many prominent cultural productions and dome shows, began composing the music and sound effects for Tales of the Maya Skies.
The collaboration to create Tales of the Maya Skies has included over 100 technicians, artists, advisers and administrators.
We would not have succeeded with this production without the participation of our cultural advisers and the Maya, both in California and in Mexico, who supported our efforts and inspired us to present the grandeur and accomplishments of their ancient culture, and who remind us daily that they continue to contribute their knowledge and wisdom by their strong presence throughout the world.