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Mauri Activator

Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa - Te Taiao | Nature Exhibition

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.

Spatial design
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.

The media
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.


Project Managers

Raewyn Cummings, Te Papa, Project Manager

Andrew Croot, Storybox, Digital Project Manager


Concept and Development

Brad HaamiTe PapaLead 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