Click here or the white dot to watch a 30-sec video clip - if you dare!
What’s that pulsating light at the end of the dim gallery? Some visitors walk by without giving it a second thought – after all, there is much to see in the rest of the Aquarium. Others are curious, and tentatively walk closer to have a better look – but there’s no other information, so they too, move on. But those who take a moment longer to actually interact with the screen are rewarded …
Entry Submission: Interpretation Canada Awards of Excellence
Entrant name: Nicole Cann
Title of entry: Anglerfish Interactive
Organization: Vancouver Aquarium
Category: Non-Personalized Interpretation
2. Project Description
A pulsating light on a screen rewards visitors who yield to a compulsion to touch it. This results in a loud chomp, and flash of bright light, as they are “eaten” by a deepsea anglerfish. The large anglerfish animation then makes way for an explanation about what just happened, revealing to the visitor that they were just the prey in this virtual predator-prey scenario. This experience is too good not to share with others, so soon enough, a large crowd forms around the Anglerfish Interactive screen.
The Vancouver Aquarium put on an exhibit called Luminescence: A Celebration of Aquatic Light in the winter of 2013-2014. While the concept was very appropriate for the holiday season (twinkling lights and wonderment), it was challenging to tell the stories of the lives of deep sea creatures, especially since we weren’t able to display any. So, we turned to digital media to help us out.
3. Goals and Objectives
• Use an existing screen in an innovative way
• Integrate an interactive experience with the science concept we’re trying to convey
• Create an interactive that would create buzz
• Enhance visitor engagement
• Highlight an animal that uses bioluminescence
• Promote knowledge about a lesser known marine ecosystem (the deep ocean)
By interpreting a predator-prey interaction in a novel way, we were able to engage and create an emotional connection with visitors that instils a sense of wonder about a lesser-known animal. This emotional engagement will hopefully lead to wanting to protect marine animals.
The Vancouver Aquarium is a self-supporting, non-profit society dedicated to effecting the conservation of aquatic life through display, communication, public programming and education, research and direct action. By showcasing an animal species and demonstrating a predator-prey interaction in a novel way, we were able to share information that would hopefully make the visitor think twice about what goes on beyond the ocean’s surface – instilling them with a sense of responsibility to protect marine animals – even if we can’t see them.
4. Intended Audience
The Anglerfish Interactive was located in a high traffic area at the end of one of the main galleries, so we expected a lot of people to see and interact with it. The intended audience was children and teenagers, both local and visiting. This group was most likely to interact with the touch screen as they would be most familiar with “touch technology.” We felt the “surprise” element would be most appreciated by them.
Please describe in what ways your program/project reaches your target audience(s) effectively.
In this era of iPhones and iPads, we expected visitors, especially children and teenagers, to be interested enough in a pulsating light on a screen to touch it. Children and teenagers tend to be less shy and less afraid of “looking stupid,” should the screen not do what they thought it would do, so we figured they would interact with the screen instinctively, regardless of whether we posted instructions.
There was great debate in the planning process about whether there should be any text accompanying this light. The proponents for the additional text felt this inclusive gesture would attract more people to the screen. The opponents felt that the reward would be that much greater for those who stopped to interact with the screen. In the end, the “no text” side won. It was fun to watch visitors jump in their skin from afar as we monitored the effectiveness of this interactive kiosk. We then saw these visitors pull others towards the screen to share the experience. Soon enough, crowds formed in front of this screen.
The feedback was overwhelmingly positive. The decision to not add any text giving away the surprise was a good one, as visitors seemed to especially take pleasure in this element. There was no greater reward than to see someone gasp (or shriek), smile and laugh, and then grab their friends or family members to see what their reactions would be.
The one key idea that we wanted participants to take away is the effectiveness of the deepsea anglerfish’s lure, that deepsea anglerfish attract prey in the same way they attracted the visitor to the screen.
6. Fulfilling the Mandate
We fulfilled our mandate of conserving aquatic life by creating a novel and engaging way to interpret how deepsea anglerfishes lure their prey.
By developing an interactive that allowed our visitors to engage with a lesser known and difficult-to-display animal, we hoped to create an emotional connection that will lead them to take actions that conserve our aquatic world.
7. Background Information
Anglerfishes (in the teleost order Lophiiformes) are found from shallow to deep waters in oceans around the world. There are over 300 species – half of them live in the deep.
A female deepsea anglerfish has a light-organ called an “esca” dangling from its head. Bioluminescent bacteria inside the esca produce a bluish glow that attracts prey. Only the females grow into a globular shape, designed for staying still most of the time while they wait for prey (rather than swimming). The males, in contrast, don’t grow as large and become parasites of the females – they hook their teeth into a female’s skin and get nutrients to survive that way.
The anglerfish drawn for this interactive is not a specific species. We took some artistic liberties, and it’s not represented to scale – these animals are generally around the size of a teacup.
8. Demonstrating Excellence and Best Practice
We drew from Tilden’s Principles of Interpretation to guide us in creating this interactive. Tilden’s fourth principal – “The chief aim of interpretation is not instruction but provocation” – was at the heart of the interactive. We broke away from the traditional method of writing instructions and instead, let our visitors explore and discover on their own.
Tilden’s first principle – “Any interpretation that does not somehow relate what is being displayed or being described to something with the personality or experience of the visitor will be sterile.” We would definitely never be accused of being sterile with this interactive! This interactive puts the visitor in the prey’s shoes, as it were, allowing them for a moment to know what it is like to suddenly be attacked by a predator.
Beyond Tilden, Larry Beck and Ted Cable offer their principles for effective interpretation. “The interpretive presentation – as a work of art – should be designed as a story that informs, entertains and enlightens” – the Anglerfish Interactive does all three in a way, that certainly, none of the staff members working on this project had ever seen before.
In what way does the project demonstrate creativity, break new ground or lead the way in innovation in interpretation?
This interactive is a great example of how museums and aquariums are breaking away from more mundane interactives (ex. action for action’s sake) to explore more meaningful ways of sharing information. The creativity lies not in the fact that we used a touch screen but the way in which we used it. This project has been a great way to showcase the skills and teamwork of the Vancouver Aquarium’s in-house content team, and it paves the way for more intricate projects in the future.
Please provide a brief project plan, including the project milestones and a rough budget. Since submissions vary so widely between one project and the next and from one organization to the other, the judges would like to get a sense of the resources and time allotted to develop the project.
Concept fleshed out during content department meeting
Background information gathered and text written
Illustrations animated using Adobe After Effects
Touch component added using Adobe Flash
Interactive tested and fine-tuned
There were no external costs for this project, just staff time of those involved.
Specify the names of up to four individuals on the project team to receive individual named certificates in the event of an award. Another certificate will be provided for the Site/Organization/Agency to hang in a public area. Please also include the names and a description of the roles of other members of the project team.
David de Haas, motion effects designer
Neil Fisher, videographer-editor
Jeff Heywood, director of content and digital media
Catherine Po, content developer
Nicole Cann, manager of interpretive delivery
Karen Horak, project manager
11. Contact information
Nicole Cann, manager of interpretive delivery
Anglerfish Interactive advisor
PO Box 3232