The Nemours Children’s Hospital : Living Garden
Creative Director and Interactive Exhibit Designer
2012 – 2014
Installed in a new children’s hospital, this 60’ long interactive wall is the largest Kinect camera installation in North America. Designed to entertain children of all ages, the fantasy landscape responds to gesture-based interaction, encouraging kids to move their bodies in an immersive social experience.
Presented with the challenge of designing an experience that always felt different, we developed the idea of a game in which children could genetically modify their own plants, so every interaction enhanced and evolved the visual display. Children are able to nurture their plants with virtual water and interactive sunshine, bringing a sense of life and vitality to the scene. Later on in the game, participants are transformed into flying avatars, releasing fruits from the newly grown plants, feeding hungry creatures that emerge from the undergrowth. The wall changes appearance throughout the day, with shifting hues caused by the movement of a virtual sun and realistic weather effects. Then at dusk, all the plants change color, twinkling bioluminescent hues as people’s silhouettes become sources of light, illuminating the magical scene.
Our initial strategy was to create a rich visual narrative using collaged elements taken from 19th Century illustrations. Inspiration came from the stunning drawings of Ernst Haeckel, a 19th Century naturalist (and biologist, philosopher, physician, artist and professor). These richly observed and detailed renderings of scientific wonder felt perfectly suited to the context – a scientific institution with a need to provoke wonder in their patients. Our graphic designers artfully dissected these beautifully observed forms, rearranging them into fantastical plants and creatures. Spontaneous bursts of laughter in the studio would signal the creation of another wonder, which would then have to be named.
One of the creative challenges of the Kinect camera is that the participant, or ‘interactive character ‘, always feels fixed within a scene. It’s hard to use the language of cinema when there’s no exit stage left or right. This is why we developed the idea of interactive characters that could propel the narrative along themselves – autonomous animations with just enough AI to have a personality and show motivational behavior. The Kinect cameras are installed below the display, pointing at the players. By using the Kinect to count how many people are engaged at any one time, we can help steer the course of the story, altering the quality of the interactivity to better suit the number of participants.
Video : Making the Interactive Wall
Motivating Physical Therapy
The Living Garden was also designed to enhance the hospital’s physical therapy program, helping motivate children to move their bodies. We worked with physical and occupational therapists to understand what kind of movements should be encouraged, and where others should be avoided. We achieved full accessibility by testing the experience thoroughly in our studio. The Kinect camera is a surprisingly robust platform, able to pick up sitting and standing people, and usually does a good job tracking bodies as they pass in front of one another.