Video Kiosks: New Dimension for Animal Dioramas

When visitors want to know about the museum’s intriguing wild-animal dioramas, they can now travel to the Arctic, the Kalahari, India and Central America with the tip of a finger.

Vanderbilt photo by Maryann Zakshevsky Visitors try out the new Stoll Wing video-information kiosks
Vanderbilt photo by Maryann Zakshevsky
Visitors try out the new Stoll Wing video-information kiosks

Details, images and narration on the screens of the new Stoll Wing kiosks teach visitors about the animals, where they live and what they eat – and offer videos of them in their native habitats. The kiosks were custom-built for the museum by Ninjaneer Studios of Winter Springs, Florida.

Just installed, the kiosks are part of the ongoing Stoll Wing restoration and modernization, made possible by recent gifts from Lynnda Speer through the Roy M. Speer Foundation that total $200,000.  The gifts endow the future of the Stoll Wing animals and dioramas. Lynnda Speer is the granddaughter of museum trustee and benefactor Charles H. Stoll (1887-1988) of Long Island, a noted explorer, naturalist and big-game hunter.

Stoll financed the eight strikingly detailed dioramas that feature wild game he and his wife Merle brought back from around the world between 1922 and 1969. The wing opened in 1970.

“We wanted to attract a wider audience of visitors, including younger people who expect to interact with technology when they go to a museum,” said Chris Brown, a partner in the Ninjaneer Studios. “Here, it’s an interaction with history. We try to identify where technology can be used in an existing museum exhibit. Our goal is not to compromise, but to enhance what’s there and to make it engaging to all visitors.”

Ninjaneer Heather Knott said they designed the kiosks specifically to fit the subject matter and the physical space: “This solution was customized for the Vanderbilt. We designed the technology to complement and to be unobtrusive.”

The kiosks have an intriguing feature. “Stoll’s family provided us with vintage on-location movie footage he and his wife shot on their safaris, when they collected these animals,” Brown said. “The film had been digitized and we were able to remaster some of it,” he said.

Knott said they create turn-key solutions. “Once the programs, video and narration were loaded into the kiosks and the system was tested, we turned it over to the Vanderbilt to operate,” she said. “Soon, visitors will be able to access the information on their mobile devices, and the museum will be able to manage the system on-line.”

The Stolls collected the exhibited animals in Africa, Alaska, the American West, the Arctic, British Honduras (now Belize), Canada, India and Nova Scotia. Specimens range from a blue wildebeest, polar bear, walrus and Cape buffalo, to a kudu, ostrich, jaguar, leopard and Bengal tiger.

The Stoll Wing complements the natural-history collections, Marine Museum and Habitat animal dioramas built by William K. Vanderbilt II – all key elements of the museum’s education programs. Stoll was also a lawyer and Nassau County judge who financed and led the famous 1928 Stoll-McCracken Siberian Arctic Expedition, under the auspices of the American Museum of Natural History. He served as a Vanderbilt trustee and board president (1967-1975).

Brown and Knott and their colleagues specialize in three-dimensional animation and projection mapping. In projection mapping, light is “mapped” onto the surface of any three-dimensional object and then displayed often on a large scale, with an everyday video projector, on a non-flat or non-white surface.

For one mapping project in 2014, the Ninjaneers created an imposing digital theater set. They projected sumptuously detailed, three-dimensional backgrounds, three stories high. The imagery transformed the empty walls behind the stage into a grand palace and later a spectacular moonlit garden for an opera set in China and Persia, performed at the Curtis M. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts in Gainesville, Florida.

The company, established in 2010, has clients that include the Kennedy Space Center, U.S. Department of Defense, Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh, and Orlando Science Center in Florida.

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