The Tiny Drifters exhibit at the Aquarium showcases the myriad of plankton species adrift in our oceans. Sabertooth was in charge of creating the 'river' of tiny creatures that flowed across the exhibits walls, projected from multiple HD projectors installed in the ceiling. The 'magnifying' lens gives the visitors a close up look at the detailed creatures adrift in the water.
Another aspect of the exhibit is an interactive 3D touchscreen. You can see it on the photo below (the large circular glass screen on the left). The specially made massive circular touchscreen interfaced with an interactive Unity program created by Lindsay Digital. The plankton models used in the animated 'river' were available for visiting children to touch, move and spin around while displaying scientific information on the organism. In today's touch-centric world of phones and tablets the ability to interact with exhibits is an expectation from visitors.
The plankton 'river' that's being projected across the long wall presented a number of challenges. First of all the individual critters had to flow across the space in a believable fashion. Secondly, the animation has to loop. We initially started off using a fluid simulation in Maya to produce the particle flow. Detailed design drawings were used to approximate the actual dimensions on the exhibit so the plankton could 'flow around' all the tanks and screens in the wall. We put collision objects in the fluid simulation where the physical touchscreen, tanks, and 'magnify' screens were, matched up to the actual dimensions of the exhibit. The fluid simulation effect worked quite well, but we weren't able to make a flawless looping animation out of it. What we ended up doing is using a lattice deformer in Maya to move particles across the wall and around the structures, matching the fluid simulation as close as possible.
The points from the lattice animation were brought into MODO from Maya as an Alembic file. In MODO the points were used as a replicator source for dozens of individually animated image sequences...each sequence with a slightly different creature tumbling around in a seamless loop. Additional 'hero' critters were animated streaking here and there (some of the zooplankton can move at astonishing speeds for their size).
For the magnification window numerous 'hero' plankton models were rendered in high resolution flowing and tumbling across the circular 'porthole'. All of these hero critter were then brought into After FX and composited into the plankton 'river'.
Ian Williamson of Whateverdigital was tasked with syncing all of the projectors used to play the plankton stream across the vast exhibit space. The final effect was startlingly beautiful. Thousands of tiny, glowing, tumbling, creatures flowing across the vast darkened exhibit walls.