In Tune with Nature Lets Young Visitors Play and Explore Cycles in Nature

Client

  • Cayton Children’s Museum by Sharewell

Location

  • Santa Monica, CA

Duration

  • 2018-present

Technologies

  • Unity3D
  • projection mapping
  • motion sensing

by Jim Spadaccini, Creative Director September 19th, 2019

Ideum collaborated with the Cayton Children’s Museum in Santa Monica to create In Tune with Nature, a playful interactive room thoughtfully illustrated to immerse visitors in an animated mountain meadow scene. In the space, children play with butterflies, dragonflies, fireflies, and other creatures as the scene moves through cycles of dawn, dusk, night, and daylight again.

The room’s ever-changing animations include a wide range of natural cycles. For example, the sun and moon rise at different locations as the experience unfolds, clouds move across the sky, stars twinkle overhead, and the occasional shooting star appears in the night scene. The butterflies, dragonflies, and fireflies react to fast motion and loud noises, leaving the scene if children are too active. A more contemplative child, perhaps sitting quietly, will be rewarded as butterflies and fireflies flock to their location.

Two girls in daytime panorama with butterflies.

The experience is based on the overarching concept that we can control some elements in nature, but others are beyond our ability to change. Children see their own activities as active elements in the scene, such as their ability to chase away (or attract!) butterflies and other creatures—even a frog on a lilypad. At the same time, there are larger, unending cycles in the background, such as the daily passage from day to night and the steady wax and wane of the moon.

The highly detailed scene is based on actual flora and fauna found in Arkansas’s Ozark Mountains. Butterflies land on milkweed plants, and the trees, fireflies, and other elements in the scene are all native to the location. The sound design for the exhibit is also geographically accurate and represents local insects, frogs, and birds.

While the plants and animals are accurately but artistically presented, the progression of time is sped up in the experience, with day lasting four minutes and night lasting two. The duration of the daily cycle, along with the number of butterflies and other parameters, are editable using an application management system. This allows Cayton Children’s Museum staff to tune the exhibit based on visitor feedback.

Girl in night panorama with mountain, trees, and stars.

Ideum worked closely with Museum curators, OfficeUntitled Architects, and S2 Associates on the design of the space. Ideum designers and developers illustrated and animated all of the elements in the experience, using Unity3D to program the interactions. We used the Orbbec Astra Pro depth sensor for motion recognition and audio capture. For audio, we used an ART 4-channel power amplifier with JBL Control speakers arranged in an immersive quadrophonic setup.

Ideum used Christie Digital short-throw projectors and the images are blended with Pandora's Box hardware and software to create a seamless panoramic experience. Ideum is a partner with Christie Digital and has collaborated with them on numerous projects, including Exploring Pueblo Pottery, the National Cowgirl Museum’s Western Design Room, and others.