The Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s current exhibit entitled “The Stratavator” consists of an elevator-themed installation that displays a ‘show’ at timed intervals. When visitors enter the elevator and the show is ready to begin, the doors close behind them, and their guide to the earth’s rocky layers appears on a small CRT screen at the back of the elevator. He then takes them through the different layers of rock, giving information on each of them. When the experience is over, the doors open and the visitors leave.
When I went to the museum, I was excited to see a themed experience, but I found I was underwhelmed and found I walked away thinking of ways to improve the themed portion of the experience. A few of the areas I wanted to address were the following:
- Exterior entrance to the installation is plain, unassuming
- Interior of the space is plain un-themed, and didn’t feel like an elevator. One major thing that was missing was that I didn’t feel like it was moving through space
- Display is an old CRT with a very limited viewing area
- The guide is displayed on a videotape, and visitors are unable to ask questions
A lot of the improvements I wanted to make were simply visual, but there were a few things I decided to add to make the experience more immersive.
Below are some sketches and drawings and an expanded explanation of the changes I propose to the Stratavator.
First, the theme needed to be stronger, so I reworked a lot of the visual aspects into an old coal mine shaft. The entrance became more rocky and included elements of wooden shaft supports, drawing visitors in with a light beyond the darker entrance. The elevator itself became a shaft elevator, separated from the walls to show the rocky formations around it. The elevator itself would be made from metal and painted red, treated as though it were rusty, and would be built atop a hydraulic platform that could subtly shake the elevator to simulate movement. A single pendant light would add light from above, and would have the ability to flicker as the elevator moves. Another addition was a false wall that enclose the visitors into the exhibit once the show started, completing the illusion of a full-360 degree mine shaft. There would, of course, be an emergency opening mechanism that would allow visitors to exit.
A live guide is an important part of the exhibit – while it would increase costs to have a live guide at the installation for each show, I think it would deepen the experience a lot more and visitors would be able to ask questions. The guide would be costumed in miner’s clothes, complete with a hard hat, and would operate the elevator through a turn-switch prop.
The single biggest change would be the change from a CRT monitor to a full-sized HD screen, which would show the rock formations at each level in the earth’s crust. The screen would play a video that would interface with the guide’s operation of the ride, showing a simulation of moving further down into the earth’s crust. Rather than using a small screen, this much larger screen could show detail as well as create a level of immersion that the small screen could not.