Visual Acuity returns to San Francisco for ‘Earthquake’

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International technology consultancy plays key role behind major new exhibit for California Academy of Sciences

Last Updated: June 8, 2012 6:02 pm GMT
(Brighton, UK--June 8, 2012) After its landmark involvement with the design and construction of the California Academy of Sciences’ planetarium in 2008, Visual Acuity is proud to announce that it has returned to the San Francisco facility to assist with the design of its latest attraction.



Titled simply ‘Earthquake’, the new attraction occupies the entire west hall of the Academy and opened to the public on May 26. Designed to take visitors on a kinetic journey toward understanding super-seismic phenomena and how they fit into the larger story of our ever-changing planet, ‘Earthquake’ comprises a number of installations, including a walk-through model of the Earth, an interactive space designed to teach earthquake preparedness, and a quake simulator resembling an old Victorian house.

Prior to entering the simulator, visitors enter an immersive ‘mini-dome’ to watch a three-minute introductory film. Produced by the California Academy ofSciences’ Visualization Studio, the film links the concepts of geological time (plate movements over millions of years) and human time (earthquake activity, specifically in the San Francisco Bay Area). It is this ‘mini-dome’ experience that the Visual Acuity consultancy has made a key contribution to, as Blair Parkin, company founder and managing director, explains: “The mini-dome is a 20ft-diameter hemisphere tilted 30-degrees which represents our planet using immersive video projection and is designed to help visitors understand the science behind seismic shifts and the events they bring about.

“The film contextualizes earthquakes as a small part of much larger processes, while all around them the ‘surface’ of the planet appears to shift in a time-accelerated version of what happens in real life over millions of years.”

To create the immersive mini-dome, the exhibit uses digital dome technologies from a range of suppliers including immersive audio from Meyer Sound. projectiondesign® FL32 LED-based projectors are seamlessly edge-blended onto a domed projection surface, with content being derived from 7thSense Design’s Delta media servers, and image processing and calibration from Scalable Display Technologies. Visual Acuity acted as the independent technology consultant for the project, effectively reprising the role the company performed in the original design of the Academy’s planetarium. Systems integration was performed by local AV systems company BBI Engineering.



“We worked closely with the Academy from an early stage in planning what is their most significant new exhibit since opening four years ago,” comments Parkin. “We helped to support the design concept for the mini-dome by proving the technical concept for the film would work, and then managed the technology manufacturers forthe mini-dome to ensure that the Academy’s requirements were met.

“It is fantastic to be back at this wonderful building, working with a fantastic group of professionals and seeing the Academy continue to use projection-based exhibits as a way of bringing science to life. Seeing as the Academy is now the world’s largest building to have Double Platinum LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, it is very important for the Academy to deploytechnology that is energy-efficient and environmentally responsible.”

Coinciding with the opening of ‘Earthquake’, the Academy is launching a newly programmed 25-minute show on the subject of seismic activity at its Morrison Planetarium. The show has been crafted by a team led by Ryan Wyatt, Director of Morrison Planetarium and Science Visualization at the Academy, and is narrated by Emmy-nominated actor and San Francisco Bay Area native Benjamin Bratt.

Images credit: © California Academy of Sciences.

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