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AV Behind the Scenes: Georgia Aquarium

LED walls simulate an underwater experience at the Georgia Aquarium

Located in Atlanta, Georgia Aquarium houses and cares for hundreds of species and thousands of animals across its seven major galleries, all of which reside in more than 10 million gallons of fresh and saltwater. Georgia Aquarium is the largest aquarium in the United States and in the Western Hemisphere, and it was the largest aquarium in the world from its opening in 2005 until 2012.

Christopher Anderson

Christopher Anderson, Georgia Aquarium’s manager of audiovisual, views AV technologies as a crucial tools of education, inspiration, and engagement at this remarkable venue. “Georgia Aquarium really shows the world how animals impact the world, on screen and off,” he said. “We are a non-profit organization that’s committed to inspiring awareness and preservation of our ocean and aquatic animals worldwide. These amazing animals come from all over the globe, and we try to tell their stories in videos, digital signage, commercials, or even on billboards.”

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AV Advances

COVID-19 has been hard on attractions like Georgia Aquarium. But the enforced limits on attendance have only heightened management’s faith in AV as an effective way to connect with guests.

In fact, Georgia Aquarium is engaged in a number of new AV initiatives. For instance, “we are currently working on a huge projection-mapping project using two Barco 40K-lumen projectors in our Atrium that will be an amazing sight to see,” Anderson said. “As part of that project, we are upgrading our lighting and adding some lasers as well.” 

Georgia Aquarium is also collaborating on a “very special project with Kennesaw State’s Wind Symphony, directed by Dr. Debra Traficante,” Anderson said. “Kennesaw State’s Wind Symphony will be recording some cover songs of the aquarium theme that we will use throughout our facility.” 

The AV team recently installed six 55-inch LG monitors on Peerless-AV mounts—a big success, by all measures. The Aquarium has also created its first mosaic video wall in the Atrium, and is enhancing the digital signage system. “We’ve had our current digital signage platform for about a year, and we’ve had great results,” Anderson said. “We are now implementing a system called Trax to our digital signage platform, which is a database of our fish. Trax will allow us to put up any information about any fish in any given location at any time.” 

The AV team recently installed six 55-inch LG monitors on Peerless-AV mounts.

The AV team recently installed six 55-inch LG monitors on Peerless-AV mounts.

An AV Answer to COVID-Like Challenges

Before COVID-19 hit, the Georgia Aquarium hosted 2.8 to 3 million visitors a year. Christopher Anderson is looking forward to regaining this attendance level after the pandemic has passed.

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This said, “now that there is light at the end of the tunnel with COVID-19, every organization must think about the possibilities of ‘What if it happens again?’” Anderson said. “How do you maintain some type of connection with the guest or clients in this situation?”

Georgia Aquarium Atrium, which will soon host a projection mapping display.

Anderson sees AV as the logical answer to this question. “I truly believe that a lot of companies will either develop some type of app or ‘VR experience’ that guests can purchase to feel like they are a part of an actual environment,” he said. “I think having the ability to put yourself in a space that you can’t physically go to would be a great standby if something like COVID-19 were to come around again.”  

Deeper Interactions

Even without the specter of a COVID-like pandemic looming in the future, Anderson believes that advanced AV applications such as projection mapping and virtual reality offer customer-pleasing options for any business that relies on mass audiences. Among his thoughts: “Could you imagine if we as fans could put on virtual reality headsets and root for our favorite team like we were in the stands?” 

Anderson also believes that the audio side of AV offers untapped customer engagement possibilities. “I think we get carried away with large screens and flashy lights, when sound can really make a difference in a room,” he said. “Working at Georgia Aquarium gives us a chance to really test out different sounds and to see how guests interact with these sounds in our exhibits.”

AV Expert, Always Learning

Originally from Milwaukee, Christopher Anderson grew up operating the audiovisual equipment in his church. He continued with his technology career as a telecommunications professional for nearly a decade, with five of those years being in management. “I started out as a cable television service tech and worked my way up to manager,” he said. 

Georgia Aquarium continues to invest in cutting-edge AV technology and software to better communicate with and connect to its guests.

Georgia Aquarium continues to invest in cutting-edge AV technology and software to better communicate with and connect to its guests.

That path led him to Atlanta, where he began working with pro AV in hospitals, traveling all over the country installing audiovisual technologies and systems in operating rooms. “I think that after all the fast food and hotels, I decided I wanted to come off the road, and the Georgia Aquarium has been my home for the last six years and counting,” he said. 

His diverse mix of experience, having “done a little bit of everything in AV”—from mega churches to hospitals, large arenas to homes—gives him a unique lens into technology procurement and management. “It has been a great learning experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything,” he enthused.

A Path Forward

Looking ahead, Georgia Aquarium’s AV manager foresees additional AV opportunities for his venue as technology continues to advance. “We see 8K coming; we already have televisions that are as thin as wallpaper, and now every meeting space will have to be set up to host Zoom calls,” Anderson said. “I’m excited as to what the future holds, because AV technology is forever evolving.”

As for the team, Anderson couldn’t be happier. “I am really proud of our AV team,” he said. “We are a small crew, and these guys do the hard work—day in and day out.”

In the meantime, Georgia Aquarium continues to invest in cutting-edge AV technology and software to better communicate with and connect to its guests. The investment this attraction is making now during the pandemic will definitely pay off when life returns to normal and its annual millions of “fish fans” return.

Margot Douaihy, PhD, teaches at Franklin Pierce University.

 

Margot Douaihy, Ph.D., is a lecturer at Franklin Pierce University.