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Creating the “Theater of the Future” at the Aquarium of the Pacific

Located near the waterfront in Long Beach, CA, the Aquarium of the Pacific is home to Pacific Visions, the venue’s first major expansion since its founding in 1998. This 29,000-square-foot, two-story structure designed by the San Francisco architecture and design firm EHDD houses a one-of-a-kind immersive experience that includes a theater, multiple interactive art installations, and hands-on multimedia displays.

“The aquarium is taking a bold, unconventional path with Pacific Visions. Rather than focusing on bigger exhibits and more spectacular animals, the new wing will turn the spotlight on the one species on our planet that is changing the future for all others: humans,” said Jerry R. Schubel, Ph.D., president and CEO of Aquarium of the Pacific. “Pacific Visions is the culmination of more than a decade of planning. It will challenge our visitors to examine human impact on our ocean planet and engage in the choices that will reduce that impact.”

The Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, CA, features a one-of-a-kind immersive AV experience.

The Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, CA, features a one-of-a-kind immersive AV experience. (Image credit: Renkus-Heinz)

The Aquarium of the Pacific turned to Edwards Technologies and Renkus-Heinz to provide the technology to create an impressive and impactful experience for all visitors to Pacific Visions’ 300-seat main theater.

“When we talked about the benefits, there was buy-in at a core level that we needed to use the right technology to make this truly immersive,” said Brian Edwards, founder and chairman of the board of Edwards Technologies, the integration firm that designed and installed the theater and AV and FX system at the Aquarium of the Pacific.

Within the main theater, Edwards Technologies integrated four Panasonic PT-RQ22K 4K laser projectors: three on the main screen and one for the floor screen. Signals are delivered by a 7th Sense Infinity-4-3600 media server. The screen, provided by Strong/MDI, is 140 feet wide by 320 feet tall and curved in a semicircle 72 feet in diameter. The audiovisual system also includes Blackmagic Design ATEM live production switchers and a console to support special events, a Medialon Showmaster LE show control processor, and an Extron SMP 111 streaming media processor.

Edwards commented, “The ability to integrate displays that wrap around a room—and cover more of the viewer’s visual range—truly add to the immersive component. Adding additional displays, such as on the floor, provides even more coverage.”

Other distinctive features of the theater installation include Aurasound Bass Shakers, CITC Hurricane II and Reel EFX RE5 fans, and SensoryCo scent machines.

Immersive Sound

Another component critical to achieving this immersive experience is the sound. The theater installation features multiple Renkus-Heinz products, including 29 speakers from the company’s ICLive X Series.

When looking at how the audio complements the video, Edwards said it must be viewed as a complete experience. “Without the video or without the audio, the totality of the experience is fundamentally different. The idea of the audio and video components here is truly intrinsically linked. It is a dovetailing of two components.”

ICLive X is Renkus-Heinz’s flexible and scalable solution for precision positioning of sound. The high-output, digitally steerable arrays can be arranged into combinations of up to 12 cabinets tall and feature RHAON II beam-steering and control. 

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The installation also features nine Renkus-Heinz speakers from the company’s C-Series, a QSC Q-SYS Core 510 audio processor, and a Yamaha QL-1 audio mixer.

“It’s important to recognize how everything here is connected,” continued Edwards. “We often focus on the audio and visual side of things when we look at AV integration, but this installation is a good example of utilizing all components of what we see, hear, feel, and experience. Everything down to the effects and atmospheric components are part of the AV complement in these types of integrations.”

True Immersion

Some “immersive” experiences are built by installing all the various components on their own, which Edwards says can work in many situations. “Sometimes just having the video is enough. Sometimes the audio is all you need if you’re looking at adding a soundscape to, say, a theme park.”

But when looking at the concept and overall goal for Pacific Visions, its strength is in how all the parts work together to deliver a seamless experience. “We’ve done a few integrations like this over the years, and they are always enjoyable because you can look at them and explain them as total AV ecosystems. That definitely makes an integration like this exciting and special.”

With the combination of technologies that consider all senses, those who attend a showing in the theater leave with more than just textbook knowledge of our planet’s potential future. Rather, they exit having experienced a vision of what that future might look, sound, and even smell like. The presentation encourages visitors to consider their personal impact on the planet and think about how they can reduce habits detrimental to the global environment.

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Edwards said he approaches all of his installations with the idea that stories—and the way they are told—are crucial to the human experience. A well told story spreads an idea, entertains, and inspires, he said. For the Aquarium of the Pacific, the goal is to engage with visitors in a way that immerses them in the vision of a future in which humanity innovates to solve pressing environmental concerns. “What you see at the aquarium is the application of tomorrow’s tools. Everyone is really happy with the result, and more than that, I believe this is the trend for AV and storytelling. This is where we’re going with technology, and everyone needs to be looking at it to see, and hear, how it can be done the right way.”

When discussing challenges the group had to overcome with the install, Edwards described the emerging technologies he wishes were available to integrate right now, like machine learning, artificial intelligence, and actionable data. “All of this is coming, and I know it will fundamentally change the way we work. I just wish it was here today! That said, we really had a true vision with this project, and the integration was quite effective, efficient and enjoyable.”   •