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SA firm wins at new US science museum

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South African design consultancy Formula D interactive has been awarded the contract to design an interactive display at one of the US’s leading museums later this year, to create awareness about the conservation of local wetlands while exploring the topics of environmental science, ecology and hydrology.
The project, called River of Grass, will be unveiled at the new Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science (formerly known as the Miami Science Museum) in Miami, Florida. The installation will be designed and produced by the Cape Town-based agency, Formula D interactive.
“This is our second project for the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science,” says Michael Wolf, founder and creative director of Formula D interactive.
“We help our clients to tell a story and engage their audiences by creating rewarding and memorable interactive experiences. Our first project for this museum was an 18-metre audio-visual installation that represented the Gulf Stream, a powerful warm ocean current off the coast of Florida. When the museum opens its new facility later this year, this installation will fit alongside the museum’s aquarium facility to educate visitors about the importance of the local food chain, fish schooling behaviour, and the impact man has on this important ecosystem.”
Formula D interactive’s next assignment again focuses on the protection and conservation of the local natural ecosystem.
The River of Grass, a permanent exhibition which will be located in the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust Gallery of Frost Science, will introduce young children as well as their parents and other caregivers to the importance of water in the Everglades, a very important ecosystem in South Florida.
“Named after a poetic phrase created by Everglades conservationist Marjorie Stoneham Douglas, this immersive environment will help young visitors to explore the relationship between water levels and the animals and plants of this special place.  It is also designed to engender a sense of both wonder and empathy, with the intent of encouraging people to want to help conserve these wild places and better understand their importance,” says Gillian Thomas, president and CEO of Frost Science.
“Exploring the interaction between water levels and the animals can reveal the fundamentals of ecology, biodiversity, hydrology, environmental science, and environmental stewardship — all crucial themes in understanding not only the jewel that is the Everglades, but in protecting the environment in the future,” she explains.
Wolf says: “We’re trying to bring across a message about the dynamics of water as a central component of the ecosystem. The installation includes a wall projection of about 20 meters in length and about 45 square meters of projected floor space. The massive projection area will comprise of a total of 14 high-definition projectors, which will be blended together into one seamless environment.”
Flowing water is the key to life in and around the Everglades; it sustains a variety of habitats and the animals living within them. By engaging with water in several ways, young children will learn how water moves naturally through the 300-mile flowing “river of grass” that is the basis of this unique ecosystem. Children will be able to interact with a three-dimensional animated water system by building dams with log-shaped cushions on the floor which redirect the projected, virtual water streams depending on where they are being placed by the children.
The simulation software will then respond by changing water levels, plant and animal life accordingly. Children will also be able to interact with typical Everglades animals such as water birds, otter and Florida panther, and of course the alligator.
To achieve the highest level of artistic accomplishment, Formula D interactive collaborates with other experts on the project. The unique illustration style has been developed by New York-based company Design I/O, and the challenge to convert two-dimensional illustrations into moving three-dimensional characters is being successfully mastered by Cape Town-based animation studio Black Ginger.
“Whereas our installations might look like fun games for children, the message we try to convey is critically important. Our children need to be made aware of the urgent need to protect important ecosystems,” says Wolf.
A half-size mock-up of the River of Grass project will be presented to the museum for final approval in June this year, with the final installation set for Miami towards the latter half of 2016.
The museum will at the same time reopen in its new home in downtown Miami’s Museum Park, a massive cultural development project in South Florida.