Nat Geo unveils digital ocean experience in Times Square

An interactive exhibit lets visitors induce sea creature movement.
An interactive exhibit lets visitors induce sea creature movement.

NEW YORK -- National Geographic executives and New York City officials "cut the kelp" on National Geographic Encounter: Ocean Odyssey, Nat Geo's first entertainment space. It opens to the public on Oct. 6. in Times Square.

The 130-year-old company, whose name is synonymous with nature, made a pointed decision to use no live animals as part of what it calls a "digital underwater dive" through the Pacific Ocean's Solomon Islands and the west coast of North America. 

"Technology is at the point where you don't need animals in captivity to experience them," said Lisa Truitt, chief creative officer of SPE Partners, the company that produced the show along with the visual effects team behind Game of Thrones.

Ocean Odyssey uses a combination of National Geographic photography and animation to create a series of underwater experiences using screens, some as tall as 40 feet, in an interactive exhibit that lets visitors induce sea creature movement, such as using hand motions to make sea lions flip and do tricks. It's especially fun for kids.

Other highlights include a battle between life-sized Humboldt squids on large, opposing screens; a kelp forest maze; and the grand finale, where guests donning 3D glasses step into a smaller version of an IMAX theater (which Truitt says feels like being in a submarine when in the front row) where sharks, a 50-foot humpback whale, and 120,000 fish make three-dimensional appearances.

The exhibit includes ocean education exhibits with commentary from marine biologists.

Nat Geo is touting advanced technology used to create the exhibit, such as "photogrammetry", a process that used more than 1,300 photos taken of a coral reef on location in the Solomon Islands used to construct 3D models of coral here.

The experience costs $39 per adult and $32.50 for children, and takes about 90 minutes to complete. 

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