Now, as visitors board beneath the belly of the Utah Aquarium’s giant claw, they’ll be greeted by crew members and EECO’s daughter, Ava, a smaller version of EECO. A welcome video will prepare passengers for their “flight”.
According to Anderson, EECO was an ongoing dream when the Flamm Family Foundation came forward to help fund the project. Exhibition rates and visitor loans will also support the new virtual reality experience.
The aquarium worked with three vendors to bring the virtual reality vision to life, says Heather DoggetCOO for Living Planet and Project Manager for EECO. Red Rayon, an Italian CGI studio specializing in media attractions, provided the virtual reality videos. Based in California MediaMation provided the motion effects.
Robinson says the team researched beforehand, trying out various virtual reality experiences from malls to other museums. They tweaked their findings and put them together to get the results they were looking for.
Anderson says he and Robinson worked tirelessly with storyboards to perfect the vision before issuing tenders to hire the contractors. “He’s brilliant,” Anderson says of Robinson. Robinson, who has worked at the aquarium for 21 years since he was 15, unabashedly calls Anderson “a true visionary.”
Doggett, who has been with the association for four and a half years, said the team aspect of creating EECO was amazing. The EECO structure itself, considered a work of art, engenders that “moment of wonder” when first seen and contributes greatly to the whole virtual experience.
“As technology evolves, it provides new opportunities and new ways to challenge ourselves and our team on what we can do and how we can leverage it,” says Doggett. “But I also think the community demands this integration because it’s fun and interesting.”
Not only is EECO’s spacecraft structure eye-catching, but so is the virtual reality show. According to Doggett, more and more museums and aquariums are planning to bring virtual reality to their patrons, but most only have a few seats. To his knowledge, the Living Planet is the only nonprofit aquarium with two 32-seat virtual reality rooms.
The new virtual reality experience will impact millions of people and countless school children. According to Anderson, more than 80,000 school children visit the aquarium each year, along with one million people a year who come mostly from Utah and surrounding states.
The future is bright for EECO, says Anderson, and it’s not the end of the vision at all. He plans to create new experiences every year and a half or so. He even envisions other nonprofits around the world sharing their virtual reality experiences with each other, increasing the library of options.
In the future, Anderson envisions virtual rides that could include space travel or journeys inside human DNA. “Anything science-related is possible with this virtual reality,” he says, “and that means we can continue to grow without having to physically acquire more land and physically construct more buildings. We can do that. numerically.
Even though his dreams are big, Anderson says he’s already reaping the rewards of his vision when he walks around the aquarium. He listens to his favorite sound: “the sound of children who are excited about something”.