The Mauri Activator is one of seven unique digital development pieces we created for Te Papa’s new Te Taiao ❘ Nature exhibition. The Mauri Activator is a visually stunning, two-story high keystone interactive installation, that bought together multiple creative skills to develop, design and build something that would embody the sense of mauri.
In a Māori worldview, mauri is the life force that exists in all things in nature, and promotes abundance. The Mauri Activator was a collaboration where we worked closely with the team at Te Papa. Te Papa provided the concept, designed the space, and commissioned all artwork and design in the physical space. Our brief was to execute the digital development, making this intangible idea of ‘mauri’ real and immediate for museum visitors, and encourage people to work together to nurture the environment.
Simple, intuitive interactivity
The activator communicates the idea of mauri not through words, but through action. When visitors place a hand on the carved wooden plinth, they trigger a sensor that causes an immediate onscreen effect – more life energy is manifested through thriving birds, plants, and animals. Embedded LED lights on the plinth, along with immediate audio feedback, signal clearly that the activator is responsive to touch. Trees, birds, fish, insects, plants and even fireflies all become more abundant as the scene reaches a ‘peak’ state. Each additional hand placed and held on the activator generates more mauri, until where there was once an empty ocean or forest, huge whales or lively groups of kākāpō appear.
The installation centres around a seven-metre-high curved translucent screen built from sail cloth. The screen is held in place by two large timber pou and framed top and bottom by illustrated representations of the cloak of Papatūānuku (earth mother) and the face of Ranginui (sky father). Their placement – floor and ceiling – alludes to their separation, which created space for all living things. An intricate hand-carved wooden dome stands in the middle of the space, its natural, tactile wooden surface providing an irresistible invitation for connection.
Onscreen content cycles between three expansive realms – earth, sea and sky – and is a combination of generative 3D material, nature footage, animated assets and responsive sound design. The interactive playback system is built using the non-linear software tool touch designer and a generative approach – meaning that the result of connection, or disconnection from the interactive is registered immediately. Being able to build each of the three worlds with this layered approach meant that we could create an experience that was truly generative and surprising for visitors. It feels organic, as if the changes you see are flowing directly from your connection to the interactive.
A social heart to the exhibition
The mauri activator can accommodate up to six users at a time. Strangers come together to contribute as a group, discovering together. Those watching learn about how the interactivity works, and either continue to observe or take a turn themselves. The interactive introduces key exhibition themes early in the visitor journey: connection both to nature and collective action. Its natural, warm soundscape creates a calm atmosphere in a busy exhibition space.
Raewyn Cummings, Te Papa, Project Manager
Andrew Croot, Storybox, Digital Project Manager
Concept and Development
Brad Haami, Te Papa, Lead Mātauranga Curator
Leon Perrie, Te Papa, Lead Science Curator
Frith Williams, Te Papa, Creative Director
Rob Appierdo, Storybox, Digital Creative Director
Clayton McGregor, Design+Space, Lead Designer
Ralph Upton, Te Papa, Exhibition Developer
Puck Murphy, Storybox, Digital Design Director
Hannah Walker, Storybox, Digital Design Producer
Will Ricketts, Storybox, Audio Designer
Olivier Jean, Storybox, Digital Design Technician
Jun Lee, Storybox, 3D Generalist
Andy Allison, Activation Programming
Commissioned Artwork, Fayne Robinson and Riki Manuel
Joinery, Sail Screen, Ceiling Graphic Screen, Carpeting, Anderson Design
Projection and Lighting Design, Toulouse Lighting
Pou, TTT Products Limited
Engineering, Silvester Clark
Rigging and Metalworks, Aztech Engineering