MuseumNext finds out more about how the American Museum of Natural History’s “Invisible Worlds” exhibition was brought to vivid and immersive life, ahead of its 4th May launch.
Marc Tamschick, Founder and Creative Lead of design agency Tamschick Media & Space (TMS) explains how some of nature’s most awe-inspiring but hidden features were visualised in a project that combined stunning architecture with immersive technologies and interactive features.
“A project like this feels like a new invention at the very beginning,” says Marc Tamschick, casting his mind back six and a half years to the days when his company, Tamschick Media and Space, first tendered for the Invisible Worlds project. At that time, construction hadn’t even begun on the Richard Gilder Center, which was to house the exhibition, and nobody had even heard of the term Covid-19.
Marc says, “When looking at the RFP (Request for Proposal), you have to ask yourself what the possibilities are for creating an exhibition in a venue such as the AMNH.
“The ideation period always feels like you are almost waiting for a spark – something that makes you think why a project would be worth doing and what it would offer the world. Of course, we have to look at what the core message is within the project and how we can approach it in a way that is new and unique.”
Nearly seven years later and all the hard work put in by Marc and his team at TMS has finally come to fruition – a labour of love and creative endeavour. As Marc explains, the remit for his team at the American Museum of Natural History was to enable visitors to experience elements of science that are often confined to research labs, graphs and Excel spreadsheets. He says,
“Scientific research has the potential to be inspiring and incredible. But our job was to bring to life the stories and the images captured within complex information.”
Described as “An immersive experience based on authentic scientific data visualised like never before”, the Invisible Worlds exhibition is a feast for the senses. Transporting visitors from Brazilian rainforests to New York cityscapes to ocean ecosystems, the scale and majesty of the world we know is brought to life, thanks to Marc and the wider team, which included architectural partners Boris Micka Associates.
A 360-degree media-driven and multi-sensory immersive experience, Invisible Worlds not only projects stunning images onto every surface of ‘the bowl” – the name given to the exhibition space – but also responds to the motion of visitors with an array of interactive elements. The 12-minute looping experience is said to “dissolve perceptions of time and scale”, supported by carefully selected audio.
Asked how advancements in technology shape a project over a lifespan of nearly seven years, Marc says, “We always have to start with the idea. Only when we know what we want to share with the audience do we look at technologies to carry that message. I think that projects should never be driven by the hardware; instead it should always be driven by the content.
“That gives us greater ability to choose how we want to progress the project. In saying that, we are also fortunate in our line of work to collaborate with experts who can see what technologies are coming in the future. In this instance, that helped us to understand that what wewanted to visualise was only going to become more precise and more high quality as the project developed.
“We also planned the project in such a way that, if the technology improves significantly in the next five years, the museum could simply upgrade the hardware but deliver the same content.
Scientific tools becoming the artefacts
There is inherent beauty in nature. And the data that can be pulled from it – be it measurements of distance, populations, densities or temperatures, for instance – has its own ability to inspire awe and wonder. Visualising these elements involved close collaboration with many of the 200 scientists employed at the museum. As Marc explains, “We wanted to use this data as the building blocks for narration, connecting ideas and creating a story arc in many cases.”
But how to bring this to life using digital tools? Digital technologies were used extensively within Invisible Worlds to capture scale in a way that can’t be discerned typically using the human eye. Whether it is peering into the synapses of the human brain, zooming into the world of microscopic plankton or accelerating the pace of evolution, the AMNH’s exhibition is designed to immerse visitors in natural phenomena of all shapes and sizes.
Marc suggests that where other immersive experiences may be contemplative experiences or learning opportunities, the aim of Invisible Worlds is instead to create an environment visitors can explore in an authentic way.
“We hope that people will connect with topics they didn’t know they were interested in before. People may never have considered what happens when you shrink to the size of a molecule or sink to the depths of the ocean.”
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