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Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
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When you walk into the Sant Ocean Hall, you enter the world of water. You may feel as though you have taken a dive into the depths – largely due to the beautiful, choreographed ocean footage that surrounds the upper reaches of the Hall in high-tech video. The Ocean Odyssey film projected on the Hall’s high bay walls above you will transport you into the realm beneath the waves. Take a deep breath and enjoy it as you watch whales swim by, huge schools of fish swirl about, and light shimmer through prisms of water.

Rendering of the high bay experience
Rendering of the Ocean Odyssey experience Image courtesy: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History

An Ocean Odyssey

High bay medallions
High bay medallions in the restored ocean hall space, March 2007. Image courtesy: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History

The custom-made, high definition film called Ocean Odyssey projected onto architectural medallions on the hall’s high bay walls transforms them into windows of ocean life and biodiversity. Through these windows, visitors can see original footage; eight individual shows play in the Hall’s main gallery. Each show is 21 minutes long, but all were edited so they flow together from one to the next. A whale, for example could swim around the hall from window to window. This extraordinary and immersive media experience is a signature feature of the Hall.

Filming underwater

The filmaker for this experience is Feodor Pitcairn, an experienced producer of underwater films whose aesthetic sense and understanding of the ocean environment is exceptional. To create the Ocean Odyssey film, Mr. Pitcairn shot extensively in sites around the world, including the Galapagos, Indonesia, Belize, the Channel Islands, the Azores, the Cayman Islands, Hawaii, and French Polynesia. Among some of the stunning footage he took are a massive gathering of hammerhead sharks in Galapagos, whale sharks in Belize, giant manta rays, and one very hungry turtle munching on an unfortunate jellyfish.

Whales and fish
From small fishes to majestic whales, visitors will be surrounded by the ocean's many inhabitants as they tour the ocean hall. Images courtesy: ©2007 Feodor Pitcairn Productions Ltd.

The power of images

Gathering footage was only the beginning of the process of creating the film. Unlike many other films, it is not a linear story with a beginning and an end. Instead, Ocean Odyssey is a multi-screen experience that combines different scenes and images in a way that is highly poetic. It demands a different kind of storytelling, taking the viewer on a journey of shifting mood, momentum and action.

Technology challenge

Since the film is projected onto eight different screens in the hall, it is also a technical challenge. Media planners had to make sure that light levels are appropriate and that all six projectors worked simultaneously with each other so the film flows flawlessly from one window to the next.

Creating a finished product

Rays
Rays gliding through the water and across the screens will help create the sense of being in the ocean. Image courtesy: ©2007 Feodor Pitcairn Productions

Ocean hall Core Team members gathered in early March 2007 to look at the collection of scenes Mr. Pitcairn shot and discuss which ones they wanted to see included in the final product. After that, Mr. Pitcairn and his production company began creating rough cuts of each of the eight shows, which was then reviewed, edited and approved by the team.

You will feel immersed in the ocean the moment you enter the Hall – and begin to feel its tremendous power and beauty all around you as you explore its many facets.

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