Life! Beginnings, an Interactive Exploration of Conception, Development, and Birth, Opens at the California Science Center

Client

  • California Science Center

Location

  • Los Angeles, California

Year

  • 2019-2021

Technologies

  • Unity
  • 3D modeling
  • motion-sensing cameras

by Hugh McDonald, Executive Producer July 5th, 2021

Ideum was honored to partner with the California Science Center in Los Angeles to create a suite of innovative and fun interactive exhibits for Life! Beginnings, a new exhibition that opened in June in the Science Center’s World of Life gallery. Aimed primarily at families with children 4-14 and conceived and developed by the Science Center, Life! Beginnings tells a story in which we all play a part: how organisms are conceived, how they develop in the womb, and how their genetic inheritance interacts with environmental forces to shape the adult beings they become.

The compelling story of how life makes more life is told through 3,000 square feet of exhibits focusing on genes, fertilization, embryology, comparative biology, parenting, and other key topics in the development of life. Ideum’s role in the project focused on the design and development of interactive audiovisual media, and our contributions relied on a wide range of our capabilities, including experience design, animation, 3D modeling, UI/UX design, software programming, and content development.

Child and adult interacting with exhibit about spiders.

For example, the Ideum team worked with Science Center staff and other partners to create Make your move, a full-body interactive at which visitors learn strategies employed by disparate species, such as a colorful peacock spider and a charming blue-footed booby, to attract mates. Ideum artists researched the intricacies of these mating dances to create accurate 3D models of the creatures while keeping the experience exciting and engaging. The exhibit includes motion-sensing cameras that capture guests’ movements as they mimic these enticing attempts at finding a partner.

Child and adult interacting with exhibit about spiders.

We also worked with the team to develop Build-a-bird, a digital-mechanical exhibit focusing on how parental genes influence the colors and patterns seen in offspring. Here, visitors mix and match the genes of adult pigeons, which exhibit a wide array of genetically-linked traits, to see how different combinations of genes affect the baby’s coloring and other characteristics. Content and artwork for Build-a-bird was originally developed and produced by the Genetic Science Learning Center at The University of Utah for their online game Pigeonetics.

Child and adult interacting with exhibit about spiders.

In addition, Ideum collaborated on Guess as they grow, where visitors test their ability to correctly match developing animals with their adult counterparts--a surprisingly challenging enterprise, because, especially early in development, embryos of very different species are actually quite similar. Ideum developed the interactive media that brings this experience to life.

Child and adult interacting with exhibit about spiders.

Ideum also developed It takes two, a multiplayer experience designed to let visitors explore the factors that affect how gametes meet in the womb. This gamelike exhibit puts visitors in control of either egg or sperm, revealing the active role each plays in setting the stage for fertilization.

Child and adult interacting with exhibit about spiders.

We also worked with Science Center curators and other team members to create experiences that let guests track the development of living sphinx moths from caterpillar to adult (they can grow to the size of your hand!) and watch in wonder as all sorts of animals are born.

All exhibits in Life! Beginnings are presented in both English and Spanish. Additional experiences in the exhibition were designed and developed by Cortina Productions and the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. Evidence Design in Brooklyn, NY, developed the exhibition and graphic design. Ravenswood Studio in Chicago, IL, fabricated the exhibition’s mechanical elements, and the audiovisual hardware integrator was BBI Engineering in San Francisco, CA.

“We were very excited to work with such a talented and thoughtful team at California Science Center and all the project’s other partners to develop these unique and compelling experiences,” said Ideum Executive Producer Becca Shreckengast. “Finding creative ways for visitors, especially young ones, to be able to engage and have fun with complex ideas like genetics and fertilization was a wonderful challenge.”

This project is the latest example of Ideum’s experience in creating cohesive exhibitions with multiple interactive experiences. In 2019, we collaborated with the New Mexico BioPark Society on a set of hands-on experiences at the Albuquerque BioPark’s Penguin Chill exhibition—which, according to the Albuquerque Journal, is the state’s most popular attraction. And we worked with the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum on Moving Beyond Earth, a set of compelling interactives highlighting the science and technology of space exploration.

All photos in this article courtesy of the California Science Center.