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Interactive and Immersive Exhibits at San Diego Zoo - Coming in Early 2022

Ideum creates digital and physical exhibits for the new Wildlife Explorers Basecamp at the San Diego Zoo.
Authored by
Jim Spadaccini
Founder & Creative Director

After nearly four years of initial planning and development, our partnership with the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance (SDZWA) and Architects HGW is about to come to fruition. Early next year, the new Wildlife Explorers Basecamp at the world-famous San Diego Zoo will open to the public. We helped design and build more than 20 exhibits for the Zoo’s indoor spaces. This work includes a number of projection and screen-based exhibits, custom fabricated microscope stations and touch tables, and over 50 digital sign monuments, all controlled by a comprehensive content management system (CMS).

Below is the press release announcement along with some of our renderings. We will be sharing photos and videos of the installation as we get closer to the opening in early 2022. Blooloop is also covering the story, Ideum enhances San Diego Zoo with exhibits for new buildings.


November 11, 2021


Ideum, a leading experiential design firm with deep expertise working with zoos and museums, has designed and built a series of interactive and immersive exhibits with the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance (SDZWA) opening early next year.

Corrales, NM—Scheduled for opening early next year, the new Denny Sanford Wildlife Explorers Basecamp at the world-famous San Diego Zoo is an innovative and dynamic play/learning environment for children. Working closely with the Zoo and Architects HGW, Ideum has developed more than 20 exhibits for the Zoo’s indoor spaces. Ideum designed and built a range of interactive experiences that appear in two brand-new buildings: the Herpetology and Ichthyology building (focusing on reptiles, amphibians, and fish) and the Invertebrate building (insects, arachnids, and crustaceans).

“Ideum is excited to create this next-generation zoo experience with our clients in San Diego. Zoos are changing! More than presenting species in their habitats, today’s zoos provide hands-on science activities and creative, participatory experiences. In the Herpetology and Invertebrate buildings, visitors get eye-to-eye with stick insects and iguanas behind glass. Multimedia in these environments enhances exploration beyond what can be seen in this way. Visitors zoom in to see a beetle’s wing or a snake’s skin, and then create artworks inspired by the unexpected details they discover. They zoom out to observe systems, and, through trial and error, help sustain ecological health for interconnected insects and threatened amphibians. Multimedia enlivens context and interactivity supports learning goals around the ecological importance of insects, reptiles, amphibians, and fish. The experiences we share help build empathy for these sensitive populations,” said Rebecca Shreckengast, Ideum’s Director of Creative Services.

The Ideum team developed a wide range of experiences for the Invertebrate building, including the stunningly immersive Migration exhibit. Here, a room with a domed ceiling will feature projected insects as they fly above visitors’ heads, and a tall, dynamically lit meadow scene stretches around the edges of the space. Visitors will see migrating butterflies, flashing fireflies, and other creatures as this dynamic setting changes from day to night. Surround sound and the smell of flowers and grass make visitors feel like they are truly part of the action.

Additionally, there are multiple interactive exhibits in this area, including the hand-drawn, hand-animated Stick Insect exhibit spanning two large high-resolution multitouch displays. At this exhibit, visitors learn how stick insects use camouflage to avoid predators, with living stick insect species featured in nearby enclosures. Additional exhibits include a large display featuring timelapse images of orb-weaver spiders building webs, and a surprising Mole Rat Encounter experience—partially hidden and made especially for the youngest visitors to discover.

In the new Herpetology and Ichthyology building, visitors will find themselves under a river of light when entering the first floor. The Living River exhibit is an immersive LED light sculpture that spans most of the ceiling. This sculpture has a large bank of computer-controlled lights and animations that bring a sense of movement and dynamism to the space. Visitors will see crocodilians and fish in partially submerged enclosures along the course of the “river.”

Both new buildings will feature unique fabricated interactive exhibits as well. Ideum designed and fabricated two multiuser Microscope Stations, complete with embedded touch displays and software that allow visitors to examine objects up close, take a snapshot of their specimen, add notes and drawings, and share their observations—just as a naturalist would. In addition, two Volunteer Stations feature custom touch tables with RFID capabilities developed in Ideum’s fabrication studio. These stations run custom software developed by Ideum that will allow volunteers and keepers to share multimedia as they interact with visitors. When presenters are absent, visitors can play games that help them learn more about conservation.

“What a thrill it has been to work with such a fantastic team! It has been great to partner with the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance and Architects HGW. This unique blend of traditional zoological displays and immersive and interactive media is a compelling vision. There’s really no comparative example at any other zoo anywhere. We can’t wait until visitors get a chance to explore,” said Jim Spadaccini, Ideum’s Founder and CEO.

All in all, over a dozen new exhibits and more than 50 digital species IDs will be installed in the two new buildings at the Wildlife Explorers Basecamp. This collection of brand-new experiences is one of Ideum’s largest installations to date. Prior to this project, Ideum helped develop a series of interactive digital exhibits for the Penguin Chill habitat at the Albuquerque BioPark in 2019. Penguin Chill had an immediate impact, as visitation to the BioPark increased by 80% over the same period in the prior year. The Albuquerque Journal reported that that exhibit helped make the BioPark "the state’s No. 1 most popular attraction."

Learn more about Ideum's interactive projects and its unique hardware products.

About The San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance

San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance is an international nonprofit conservation organization with two front doors. We integrate wildlife health and care, science, and education to develop sustainable conservation solutions. Conservation is at the heart of everything we do. And it starts with that connection we make with people and wildlife every day. Because when wildlife thrives, all life thrives. To learn more, please visit sandiegozoowildlifealliance.org.