The Milky Way made by an opto-mechanical system called "Super-Helios". Beautiful!

How to make a planetarium

Doesn’t the beautiful dark sky at night, full of gleaming stars, remind you of something from your childhood? Something you must have visited at least once as a kid? Come on… a planetarium, of course! GOTO INC in Fuchu city, Tokyo, is known as an esteemed planetarium company for kids nowadays. And PingMag lets GOTO INC’s Ms. Junko Kawai deal with this one simple question: “How do you make a planetarium?” Let’s take a little tour through it then!

Written by Chiemi
Translated by Natsumi Yamane

Already the font looks cyber!

Ms. Kawai, GOTO INC was established in the 1980s as an astronomical telescope maker. So what do you actually do?

Our products include “opto-mechanical” planetarium projectors, a “digital visualization system” for dome projections of any kind, and a video software called “contents” for planetarium shows. We are also involved in new businesses and services such as facility design, management, maintenance, and service as well as event organization.

Video contents for planetarium shows used to be more or less like childrens’ science programs – but are they still like that nowadays?

Some of them are requested to include some relaxing elements, while others feature entertaining characters from animations such as the Moomins and Ojarumaru. But the fundamental part of it still seems to stick to the astronomical education.

Then how do you produce those contents?

For each content, there is a number of processes including scenario planning and programming. The actual flow of those processes is similar to the making of an ordinary animation, starting with the planning, where we decide the theme and the direction. Then the writers get on with the scenario according to the project plan. With one of our staff taking care of the entire process, it takes 3 to 4 people about 3 months altogether to complete.


Scenario writer Mr. Kita working intensely at his desk.

Tubs containing some aquatic life. It “just happened to be given” to GOTO INC.

What kind of and how many scenarios do you produce per month?

Usually we write about 5 scenarios with contents changing each season. During the former planetarium boom, we used to do around 100 contents. However, recently it has gotten a habit to share contents between several planetariums. Much of the content is about comets, northern lights and space travels.

The desk of Konno-san. He takes care of the entire content making process alone. Space related books are all over the place!

Then you get on with the graphics, according to the scenario?

For facilities with slide projectors, we make original drawings and animations like this, and then capture them to make slides. The difference to the ordinary graphics is the fact that the base is drawn in black to blend into the darkness of the dome.

One of the original drawings showing the Tower of Pisa. Of course it’s hand-drawn.

There seem to be many images that aren’t space related at all.

You thought this was a record shop? There are more than 20 000 original drawings in this archive!

The Pluto section looks really old, but which category of the original drawings is the most popular?

Again, a lot of them show the planets, the sun and the northern lights. We don’t always have enough budget so we archive the pictures we’ve drawn so far and make sure that they can be located easily. Then we go: “Okay, this time it’s about the moon,” and just have to look under the moon category.

The Pluto category looks by far the oldest.

This room appears quite different from the archive for the original drawings – what do you do here?

When we make slides or graphics with our Apple computers, we need to edit the images before exposing them on to the film. Then we use this room for the process. For example, we scan the original pictures to make new images, or make slide graphics to project them on to the dome by cleaning up and adjusting colours of the photo data.

The digital working room.

An image capturing the movements of the stars. It’s not unusual to process scanned photos.

Yards of cables in the room!

Let’s go on with the tour: The next room seems to be a dark room. For what do you use it for?

We use this room to shoot drawings and the constellation patterns from the archive as well as still objects. By the way, constellation patterns are a group of lines that connect the dominant starts of a constellation. When we make slides of constellation patterns, we project a slide of a grid chart on to the dome with the projection of the night sky. Then we work out the position of the stars in the X and Y coordinates, and send the data to our head office. Nowadays, we can draw the lines using CAD. Earlier we used to place tracing paper on top of the grid chart and drew lines using pen and paper based on the coordinates. When we shoot and develop that paper, we get reversed slides of constellation patterns with white lines in black background.


Things getting more digital today, so the room hasn’t been in use so much lately.

A yellowed pinup of the actress Naomi Kawashima.

These kinds of elongated original drawings are called “skyline”.

A rather empty-looking developing room.

This drawing on the left is really long. What is it for?

This is called a “skyline” used for panoramic landscapes in 360° at planetariums. Again, we draw an elongated picture first and divide it into 8 or 12 parts, then capture them to make slides, and put them together when they are projected.

This next area looks really high-tech! Are you making animations here?

This is part of one of the more modern processes and we make digital graphics here, using various effects. Afterwards we do a studio recording. This more or less completes the whole process…

”Digital graphic editing room” for animation work.

I presume you do settings after this – and you also do “stage direction” in the actual domes. What do you actually do there?

According to the sound, we program the images from the planetarium machine at the centre of the dome and the ones from the projectors. So it’s more like the programmer has to come up with the ideas for the direction. For example, the timing of certain lights being turned on to show a specific image to the sound cue… and so on. It’s a very unique process that doesn’t exist in the making of an ordinary animation.

One simple question: how does a flat image get projected evenly on a dome shaped screen?

With digital planetarium devices, 6 projectors are placed evenly on the margin of the dome. 5 of them will project on to the curb and the last one will project on the ceiling of the dome to make one image altogether. These are all computer controlled to be projected seamlessly. Before, we just had slide projectors and used to say: “Oh, the picture hasn’t fitted in,” or: “Shift one more degree” to put the whole picture together. (laughs)


Combining the opto-mechanical system and digital graphics makes planetariums look even better!(© by GOTO/E&S, no duplication without permission)

Finally I understand how a planetarium works! Would you give us some tips about how to make a planetarium look more attractive?

Many of the digital graphics of today convert brightness by using the size of the dots, so the stars don’t appear clearly. Now we use the “hybrid” method, which incorporates the opto-mechanical system for the stars and the projectors for the digital graphics of the surrounding images.

Lastly, can you tell us where we can go to a planetarium in Tokyo?

Planetariums directly managed by GOTO INC are Star Hall in Machida and Time Dome Akashi in Tsukiji. We will also show a touching original program at the Moomin Aurora Cafe at LaLaport Yokohama opening on March 15th.

Also, it’s not a planetarium but the “Earth Room (Theater 360)”, which was exhibited at EXPO 2005 AICHI, is now open to the public at the National Science Museum in Ueno. You can have an unprecedented experience with the world’s first perfectly spherical image system of 12.8 diameters, so please do check it out!


The “Earth Room (Theater 360)” relocated to the National Science Museum. It looks like an aquarium, but it’s a spherical image system! Parts of the floor are made out of glass to give an awesome experience. If you’ve missed it at EXPO 2005, just dash to Ueno!

Ms. Junko Kawai at the entrance of GOTO INC who took us to a trip through the planetarium production rooms. She is pointing at a meteorite!

Kawai-san, thank you for your time today! If you are going out this weekend, how about visiting a planetarium to get some fresh perspective?

  • hello from paris

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  • Cpukish

    I have to go to those places when i come to Japan! Awesome stuff, thanks for the travel tips :)

  • http://teki-kun.livejournal.com/ teki

    Wow!
    I would like to visit in planetarium.
    i have programm “Planetarium” and i enjoy it ^_~

  • Cpukish

    Erm one thing, can someone point out the places in Google Maps or Earth? Thank you very much in advance!

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    This is one great article! I have selected it as the “Post of The Day” for my blog at: http://postawards.blogspot.com/

    It has been awhile since I’ve been to a planetarium and I hope I get to check up one in the future

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    Sugoi! Planetariums are some of the most romantic urban spaces in the world. Just love being in one.. thanks for the great writeup!

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