Friday, December 1, 2023

Message to the Smithsonian: We’ve got some dino designers for you

Available Light provided this image from a 2009 exhibit designed by Gallagher & Associates (and lit by Available Light) for the The Natural History Museum and Gray Fossil Site in Tennessee. Photo: Tim Becker

InPark Magazine posted a news story about David Koch giving $35 million to the Smithsonian for a new dinosaur hall, and it created a flurry of online discussion.

Many exhibit designers, it seems, dream of doing a dino hall. You might say it was the equivalent of playing Hamlet for a thespian. Having a $35 million budget to do it with is the icing on the cake.

Smithsonian: Take note. You have excited the creative imaginations of the exhibit design community. They have many suggestions about how to make this a great dino hall, especially concerning the use of soundscapes and media. At the very least, we hope you will inform these designers about the RFP.


John Meyering, President of ARCHISPHERIX • This would complete the renovation of the ground floor of this museum, as all other spaces have been rebuilt and modernized. I have enjoyed the dinosaur exhibits of Natural History since 1961, and every year since have watched new children discover them for the first time.

Jonathan Trueman, freelance writer • The important thing is that the text, AV and interactive segments should be scripted in England. By me. What they do with the other $34m is up to them… 😉

Speaking as a writer who’s done a couple of small ones, dino exhibits are a real challenge because it’s such a well-trodden path. The source material is fascinating, but you have to find something new to do with it if you’re going to stand out. It’s not so much Hamlet as it is 12-bar blues…it’s easy to do something halfway decent – it’s not so easy to be BB King!

One of the exhibits I wrote for built the soundscape layer by layer. As the script unfolded the detective work that let palaeontologists form a clear picture of how the area had looked all those millions of years ago. Lapping waves gave way to stridulating insects, followed by the splash of a turtle slipping off a log and so on. We saved our scaly Sunday punch for last!

Donald Gunn of Donald Gunn Design • I’m with Jonathan. Myself and the team here on Salt Spring Island, BC will happily take care of the velociraptor exhibit and there will there will be plenty left over for the other bits and pieces that they feel they need to include. I always wanted to do a velociraptor exhibit!

Lisa Schneider of Industrial DVD • Take a look at the New York Metropolitan Museum Of Art!! They just completed an amazing exhibit. 🙂 I would be grateful to earn this business with respect to our HD2600 industrial DVD player for looping content as well as our media players and interactive control board and trigger buttons for digital content.

Sarah Ford, project designer • Wow, sounds amazing. Yes, definitely up there on the top of a designer’s to-do list in my book!

David Johnson, President, Mind Opera • Caveman like do exhibit. Caveman no like real Dinosaur.
It does seem like a dream project. Will there be an RFP? How could a company from the West Coast be invited to bid? I would love to throw Mind Opera’s spear into the ring before the ice age comes… What could be more chilling… and educational, than the sound of a great big dinosaur lumbering within feet of you. Hopefully it wouldn’t be too immersive – otherwise you might have grown adults in the fetal position on the jungle floor.

Joe Iacuzzo provided this image from a permanent exhibit that his company, Leonardo Project LLC, recently opened at the Las Vegas Natural History Museum.

Joe Iacuzzo, Leonardo Project LLC • My company just developed and installed a SMALL dinosaur exhibit for our local natural history museum. It was designed to expand with additional content that will follow the exhibit story as the museum expands into new space next year. The exhibit has some unique content that focuses on the amazing technology utilized in the study of the dinosaur, along with enough exciting video and still imagery of dinosaurs to capture visitor’s attention. There is significant web based content that can be accessed on or off site to greatly expand the experience. Integrating the technology elements creates a wonderful bridge between an “old” science and technology that is quite relatable by many of the younger visitors.

Integrating sound into dinosaur exhibits can be challenging. Integrating it successfully as an interactive provides a great visitor experience. We placed subwoofers into the base of a large allosaur skeleton (a 40 foot meat-eater) that had the luxury of having its own display room. There were literally grooves in the carpet at the doorway where some kids would dig in their heels and parents would have to drag them in to see the “scary” dinosaur. We ended up having to place chairs in the room because the combination of dramatic lighting and sound kept some visitors there, looking at a single skeleton, for quite some time.

Charlie Morrow, Charles Morrow Productions LLC • It is important to be able to experience immersively the sonic world of the dinosaurs – the changing atmospheres and weather, their foot stomps, tail whomps and vocalizations, the sounds of other life-forms.

Ken Lonyai, Screenplay Interactive • We’ve wanted to use some of our electronic technologies to let children play with physical replica bones in a paleontological discovery scenario that lets them feel like they are unearthing dino bones.

Steven Rosen, Available Light • Hey! Let’s not forget a little light to set the stage. We lit the Ocean Hall exhibit next door so we know where the bathrooms are; that’s gotta account for something!

Lynn Baum, Jan Crocker Museum Associates • In the smaller dinosaur exhibits I have worked on we created an immersive environment with large murals depicting scenes from the different dinosaur periods, leaf-patterned carpet tiles and with wooden case-work and railings, some of which were bone-shaped.

Pat Bradley, Pat Bradley Animation & Illustration • A few years ago I created a dozen animations for the evolving planet (dinosaur hall) at the Field Museum in Chicago and I’m working on a new animation for the T-rex “Sue”. At what point in the process do you consider audio visual components or illustration for the exhibit? I would love to talk to anyone about doing any kind of work with the Smithsonian… especially a project like this!!

Tana Green, Tangible Places • I worked on the 3D design for temporary dinosaur exhibit while at RAA in Dallas. (As temporary as a fully fossilized T-Rex and a reproduced hanging quetzalcoatlus can be, that is.) Kids got to dig through sand underneath to discover other reproduced fossils. A very tangible experience!

The conversation continues!

Click the link to see the full stream of commentary on the LinkedIn Museum Design group (you may have to join the group first).

Judith Rubin
Judith Rubin
Judith Rubin ([email protected]) is a leading journalist, content marketing specialist and connector in the international attractions industry. She reports on design and technical design, production and project management, industry trends and company culture. From 2005-2020 she ran communications and publications for the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA). In 2013, she was honored with the TEA Service Award. She was development director of IMERSA and publicist for the Large Format Cinema Association, and has contributed to the publications of PLASA, IAAPA and the International Planetarium Society. Judith joined World’s Fair magazine in 1987, which introduced her to the attractions industry. She joined InPark in 2010. Judith earned a BFA from Pratt Institute. She has lived in Detroit, New York, Oakland, and now Saint Louis, where she is active in the local arts community.

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