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Digital Innovator Mindi Lipschultz Creates Interactive Media Experiences for New California Academy of Sciences


Emmy winning independent producer and digital media pioneer Mindi Lipschultz created 31 educational media pieces for the new California Academy of Sciences, which opened Sept 27 in San Francisco to worldwide acclaim. In a two-year project, Lipschultz transformed authentic historical source material – including 100-year-old camera stills, 75-year-old film footage and a number of documents from the Academy archives – into dynamic multimedia that captures the interest of 21st century visitors and serves the museum’s educational and scientific missions.

Lipschultz produced interactive games, video sequences and a series of mini-documentaries, employing cutting edge digital techniques and animation. Her work provided key components for 35, 000 sq. ft. of natural history exhibits on the main floor of the Academy. Appropriately for a museum that has recreated itself in a cutting-edge architectural envelope (Renzo Piano’s celebrated building with its famous “living roof”), Lipschultz’s work breaks some new ground through the innovative application of new media to science education, such as the use of infrared video-game technology to teach children about the study of insects.

“I love finding the old treasures in a museum’s archives and making really cool pieces of media from them, ” says Lipschultz, whose 30-year production career includes working as a broadcast editor and producer for PBS, BBC and HBO, garnering her two Emmy wins and one nomination. Her talent for making the most of the materials at hand is evident in the body of work she produced for the Academy: through digital animation and manipulation, a shot of a single elephant became three herds traversing the Africa plains in the Tusher Africa Hall, a collection of 100-year old photos became a 3D documentary of an Academy expedition to the Galápagos Islands, and researchers’ snapshots of insects in Madagascar became an interactive insect collecting game.

Interactive educational games

Insect Collecting (right) – Using infrared video game technology, visitors become virtual field scientists and learn what Academy researchers do on an insect-study expedition to Madagascar. The visitor selects from four types of insects and four corresponding collection tools, and then uses a handheld wand to interact with the images on the screen. In the “Islands of Evolution” exhibits.

Bee Game and Flower Guide

An interactive kiosk in Tusher Africa Center provides two animated experiences created from photos taken by Academy researchers. In the Bee Game, narrated by the Academy’s Dr. Kim Steiner, visitors learn to match up the bee with the flowers it has adapted to pollinate. In the Flower Guide, visitors access six different stories within a virtual book on the flowers of Cape Floristic Province.

Virtual safaris

In the recreated Tusher Africa Center are eight virtual safari adventures – short, POV documentaries presented in kiosks that adjoin the Center’s 16 dioramas, exploring the African country in company with a guide. Lipschultz and her team seamlessly combined stock footage of the terrain with newly shot sequences, and incorporated interactive elements.

African Elephant Walk

The largest, central diorama of Tusher Africa Center comes to life as three herds of elephants walk across it in a 10-minute video loop. Lipschultz began with footage of a single elephant, which was rotoscoped and duplicated in various sizes to create families and herds. She choreographed it in consultation with Academy scientists to depict realistic behavior. The high-resolution video animation is projected in an edge-blended horizontal strip across the mural.


Portal Galapagos takes visitors underwater to study exotic marine life, narrated by well-known Academy scientist John McCosker, one of the first people to dive to 3, 000 feet. Lipschultz oversaw production of the video from existing footage, much of it shot by renowned underwater cinematographer Al Giddings. It is presented on a circle-shaped screen about four feet in diameter, with the special effect of two animated “monitors” flanking it that provide the depth and water temperature. Within the “Islands of Evolution” exhibits.

Academy Schooner Expedition utilizes 100-year-old still photographs taken on glass plates by scientists who sailed in the Academy Schooner to the Galápagos Islands in 1905-06, plus genuine footage from the Academy’s 1932 Crocker expedition (Lipschultz discovered the 10 forgotten reels in the Academy library). She wove the HD video adventure using editing and compositing software to digitally separate out certain elements, blend photographs together, and render items in 3D. Part of the “Islands of Evolution” exhibits.

Historical extinctions timeline
– Animated sequences, drawn from scientific illustrations and existing footage, outlining the passage of species from 445 million years ago to the present, in the “Altered State” exhibits about climate change and California.

Baobab ( right) – a silent mood piece exploring the unique beauty of this “tree of life, ” which Lipschultz oversaw production of using new and existing footage. The monitor is installed into a fabricated replica of a Baobab trunk, along with other exhibit elements. In the Madagascar section of the “Islands of Evolution” exhibits.

The Media Production Team

Media Producer and Creative Director: Mindi Lipschultz
Video Producers: Carey Ann Strelecki and Marie Standing
Interactive Producer: Andrew Sacher
Technical Producer/Editor: Joshua de la Fuente
Visual Researcher/Assoc. Producer: Daryl Gammons-Jones
Graphics & Animation: Shawn Berry & Bruno Bruhwiler
Music Composer: Esther Galil
Lipschultz and her team were contracted to exhibit producer Cinnabar Inc., headed by executive producer/Cinnabar CEO Jonathan Katz.

About Mindi Lipschultz
Dubbed a “Digital guru” by Post Magazine, Mindi Lipschultz has been involved in the production of extraordinary and innovative media for television, museums and themed entertainment industries as a producer, director, editor and innovative thinker for some three decades. She recently completed a two-year project as senior media producer for 35, 000 sq. ft. of natural history exhibits at the new California Academy of Sciences, for which she generated 31 pieces of media, including interactive and documentaries. Lipschultz was creative director and senior producer for the design of more than 50 media segments for the Las Vegas Springs Preserve. She was producer of an 80-year retrospective of science fiction which is the centerpiece of Paul Allen’s Science Fiction Museum in Seattle and oversaw the development of its groundbreaking, five-projector format that displays the high-resolution video on a globe. Her awards include two contributing Emmys and one Emmy nomination for outstanding editing on three PBS television series, and five Telly awards for broadcast production work. Visit

About the California Academy of Sciences
Since 1853, the California Academy of Sciences has been dedicated to exploring, explaining and protecting the natural world. It is the oldest scientific institution in the West and one of the oldest in the nation. It has eight scientific research departments in the fields of anthropology, aquatic biology, botany, entomology, herpetology, ichthyology, invertebrate zoology and geology, and ornithology and mammalogy. The Academy’s research collections, which are among the world’s largest, include more than 18 million specimens – essential tools for comparative studies on the history and future of the natural world.

See also:
Visual Acuity realizes technical vision for California Academy of Sciences

Rana Creek Raises the Roof on the California Academy of Sciences
At the New California Academy of Sciences, Cinnabar’s Climate Change Exhibits Speak Up About State’s Environment and Future
More news from the installation front!
Cinnabar Installation Diary: The California Academy of Sciences

Collaborate, Design, Engage, Succeed! An Interview with Jonathan Katz
Cinnabar Inc. Executive Produces Major Exhibits For New California Academy of Sciences

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