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Meet the team who brought Santa to ‘Life’

What Santa Sees Planetarium Image
Life's iconic logo is featured at the entrance to the science centre.

Life communications


Children can journey to the North Pole and explore the wonders of the night sky as experienced by Father Christmas in a captivating new 360-degree dome show, which is part of Life’s festive package.

What Santa Sees is an immersive animated show where visitors can look up in the magical domed theatre and be transported to a twinkling wonderland, following Santa and his reindeer across the night sky, using stars to navigate their way.

The exclusive planetarium show, which is receiving rave reviews from visitors to Life Science Centre, has been produced by Life’s creative in-house team.

Here the Life team that created the unique show (Digital Producer Tommy Howell, Head of Public Engagement Elin Roberts and Contemporary Science Manager Ben Rutherford-Orrock) lift the lid on the creative process.

Where did it all start? 

Elin: “Ben and I started working on a script for the show in April – given that science is our USP, we started by jotting down some ideas on what scientific concepts we should include, from stars in the night sky to the Moon.”

Life already has a reputation for making science accessible to a younger audience – from creating specific areas in the science centre such as the Play Zone and planetarium shows such as Little Bear, to programming dedicated Pre-School Days. This new show is the latest addition for the under 7s audience.

Ben: “It seemed a great opportunity to introduce youngsters to some simple science through a charming story and also create something that would be enjoyable for all ages.”

Challenges of producing a planetarium show

Tommy Howell, a Film and TV graduate from Northumbria University and a former commercial videographer, explained he is self-taught in the field of 3D animation, exploring and developing his skills during Covid.

“I grew up around graphic design and I’ve always been interested in art, but my love for animation came later. When I started here at Life this May I was excited about using my newly acquired animation skills to push the boundaries of what the planetarium can do.

“While it is a niche market, as there are not many planetariums in the UK, I think that the Las Vegas sphere is raising the profile of how spectacular and immersive full dome shows can be – it’s like VR without the headset!”

Turning festive in Summer

Tommy started work on the visuals in the summer, taking the narrative created by Elin as a starting point.

Tommy: “It’s been pretty much Christmas every day since then. I created a storyboard of what Santa would look like and the world that he lived in, which has actually become one of my three-year-old son’s favourite books!”

Fresh perspective

Elin: “Tommy approached the visual side from a filmmaker’s perspective, which added a fresh take to a planetarium show and we soon realised that we had something really magical.”

Inspiration for Santa

Tommy: “He’s quite an old school Santa – I kept thinking of the main character in the film Goodnight Mr Tom, who definitely influenced me.

“But I also wanted to make a slightly younger, more active Santa too, and as he lives in the North Pole, add a bit of a Scandinavian influence to him and his home.”

Main challenges

Ben: “With any creative process, time is always going to be the biggest challenge – Christmas is not a deadline you can change.”

Tommy: “I don’t think there was a single day where I didn’t think about it – including weekends.

“I have loved every part of creating this show but probably the biggest challenge is the attention to detail you have to apply. People view the animation across a full 360 degrees so there really is no margin for error.”

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