Mindi Lipschultz, Emmy and Thea Award-honored media producer, continues her tradition of innovative digital works, with the new “Eco Challenge” exhibit, that opened in September at the Discovery Science Center.
Santa Ana, Calif. USA — “Eco Challenge” at the Discovery Science Center is a three-part immersive, media-based experience that uses interactive video game technology as a medium to educate children about environment-friendly choices in food shopping and recycling. Mindi Lipschultz, under contract to exhibit producer Cinnabar Inc., created media to help realize Discovery Science Center’s concept design for each of the three zones within Eco Challenge (Discovery Market, Race to Recycle and Eco Garage). Mindi’s work included developing and creating six distinct, life-size digitally animated, 3D-rendered characters that appear, reappear and interact with visitors throughout the experience – showing up on a variety of digital displays from 52″ vertical monitors down to 15″ shopping cart screens.
|Visitors meet “Susie” in Meat & Seafood.|
“Mindi’s attention to detail and inventive spirit helped produce an exceptional product that fulfills the goals of the exhibit and serves the museum’s mission in a fresh, modern and original way,” said Cinnabar President Jonathan Katz. “We were brought into this project and given the project’s vision,” explained Katz. “With the museum’s guidance, we completed the design/build work, assembled a team to accomplish the completely integrated project, including Mindi – a longtime Cinnabar collaborator – as media producer, and BBI Engineering for A/V systems and mechanical interfaces.” The exhibit comes out of a partnership between DSC and OC Waste and Recycling.
Discovery Market is a life-size recreation of a grocery store, complete with touch screen-enhanced shopping carts and interactive scanners. It is where most of the animated characters are found. At the entrance, “Sandra,” an animated greeter character prompts visitors to grab a shopping cart. They choose a shopping list from the cart’s built-in monitor and move around the store, where they respond to questions posed on the screens, select products and scan barcodes from the shelves to submit their answers.
|Eco Crew member “Courtney”|
Interactive media production
“Interactive media production isn’t just about compelling images or unusual formats. The producer’s role extends beyond the media per se to the entire visitor experience,” says Mindi. In the case of Eco Challenge, which is highly interactive, Mindi oversaw the development of custom software (provided by Wall Street Productions) for the Super Eco-Shopper Game. The custom software integrates automatic responses to visitor activity into the experience such as triggering a camera to photograph players and instantly transmit their pictures – so that those who excel appear on the Super Shopper Wall (a bank of monitors), and if they get all the questions right, the system also directs a token dispenser to reward them with a custom coin. The tokens are embossed with the faces of the six characters and kids are encouraged to play numerous times and collect them all.
“The exhibits teach the kids about eco-choices, and they go home and teach their parents,” noted Mindi. “I like that – it builds a better future and a better now.”
The museum allowed Mindi latitude in developing the personalities and looks of the characters that populate the exhibit. “I wanted to create characters that kids could identify with and remember,” explained Mindi. “We made them quirky and memorable.” “Courtney,” for example, awakens from her Zen-like, kaleidoscopic meditation of floating fruit when visitors summon her by pushing the “Help” button in the produce department while “Susie,” a forceful young clerk with purple-streaked hair emphasizes her points with a meat cleaver in hand and rails against Styrofoam packaging. Mindi brought Artifact Design onto the team to provide character animation.
Media design + environmental design
Beyond the personality of the characters, much time and attention were given to the digital environments in which the characters reside.
“The worlds of the animated characters needed to blend seamlessly with the built environment in order to make the experience feel as real as possible,” explained Mindi. She worked closely with Cinnabar, passing digital images back and forth to ensure the animation mirrored the Cinnabar-fabricated physical products kids see and touch in the store. Additionally, walls, countertops and other aspects of the digital environments were carefully crafted to match and flow into the real ones (also fabricated by Cinnabar). “It was a true blend of media design and environmental design,” said Mindi. A body of museum work
Mindi Lipschultz and Cinnabar have collaborated in their respective roles of media producer and exhibit producer in the past, such as on the California Academy of Sciences which reopened to great acclaim in 2008. There, Mindi produced some 31 pieces of digital media including the Insect Collecting Game in which visitors use a handheld wand interacting with images onscreen to learn how a field scientist works. “The Insect Collecting game was an important example of how gaming technology can be applied for educational exhibits that appeal greatly to children,” says Mindi.
In 2010, Mindi worked with BRC Imagination Arts to develop media for a handheld interactive device for the Information and Communications pavilion at the 2010 Shanghai World Expo. Members of the audience used the devices to make individual choices and also to interact with large screen projections, experiencing the show on both a personal and a group level in what is termed “mass customization.” The “ICT” device was honored with a Thea Award for Outstanding Achievement by the Themed Entertainment Association.
Mindi sees her work on Eco Challenge as building upon much of her prior work – over 20+ years of pioneering digital media production. “Eco Challenge takes the interactivity of the Insect Collecting game at the California Academy of Sciences and makes it mobile, allowing kids to move around the store, scan items and receive instant feedback on their progress. Moving through the different levels at Eco Challenge at their own pace and ability, visitors enjoy a mass-customized experience – shades of what we did at Shanghai. And Eco Challenge’s high-quality digital characters hearken back to my work as a television animation producer.”
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