Earlier this month, Seattle’s Pacific Science Center launched its first new permanent exhibit in over a decade, and DigiPen Institute of Technology helped make it happen.
Titled “Professor Wellbody’s Academy of Health and Wellness,” the 7,000-square-foot exhibit invites visitors of all ages to learn about everyday healthy living through a variety of interactive games and installations.
At the giant “Sneeze Wall,” a sensory combination of large, slow-motion video and overhead mist demonstrates the importance of covering up during sneezes and coughs. In another room, a sushi-belt conveyor system lets visitors build a virtual meal, using an interactive computer system that tallies up calories, fat, and other nutritional content.
For six of the interactive stations, DigiPen staff, faculty, and alumni worked with the center to provide to various art, animation, and design components.
One of DigiPen’s main contributions was in creating the “Exergames” station, designed to encourage both physical activity and social interaction. As visitors move across a rectangular dance-floor-like surface, an infrared camera and projector system creates a series of colorful shapes and particles that track and follow individual bodies.
“The whole idea of the interactive was just to get people to move,” DigiPen senior executive Raymond Yan says. “It’s kind of like when I walk my kids across the street and you see those lines on the cross walk. My kids might hop from line to line. Or they don’t step on the crack. Or they do step on the crack.”
As opposed to creating a rigid story or set of rules for participants to follow, the exhibit was designed to be open to interpretation. The range of behavior it elicits is interesting to observe. Some groups of children, Yan says, start moving together in a circle — their individual particles spinning in accompaniment.
“For me, the cool thing is that you just do it,” Josh Warren, Exhibit Media Developer for the Pacific Science Center, says. “When new people come on, they kind of learn from one another.”
Some of the other stations built with DigiPen’s help included the animation work for a Professor Wellbody “Hygiene 101” video, as well as a digital spin-wheel game in which participants match up various foods with their associated nutrients and health benefits.
While the exhibit’s official Dec. 1 opening is still a few days away, a “beta launch” version has been open to the public since early November. That testing period has allowed Yan and others to tweak and refine the individual installations based on early audience behavior.
“It’s always a fine balance between providing the information that you’re trying to convey and realizing that with kids, their attention span is short,” Yan says. “So how do you create something that is going to compel them to stay a little bit longer?”
In the case of the Exergames station, Pacific Science Center employees observed typical interaction times ranging from five to 20 minutes. In the museum business, Warren says, a standard exhibit will retain a viewer’s attention for only about a minute or two.
“What’s funny is when I came and observed, there were adults who were like, ‘What am I supposed to do?’ And I’d say, ‘Well, I don’t know. What do you think you’re supposed to do?’” Yan says. “But the kids, they just race out onto it and don’t even think about it.”