The Magic Garden was a world first in design, containing many innovations. These next images show only a few innovations and images of how it was designed and made. Typically for each interactive element I documented a few thousand photos.
You can now see designs similar in functionality (yet still quite diluted) begin to appear at airports and shopping centers around the world.
Photo: Nyein Aung. Taken a few months after launch.
Launched end September 2008
The Magic Garden is an organic veggie patch with all kinds of oddly shaped fruits and veggies growing, a fish pond you can splash in and chase fish in real time.
Photo: Nyein Aung
The Globe Trotter and Fairy Mushroom Village
Each year on public holidays you couldn't see through the room for all the families that played and learned in the space.
The final concept of the Magic Garden contained 13 complex interactive experiences that worked both independently and together. (The 13th feature is the soft undulating floor.)
final concept hand painted
Diana Tran's awesome rendering that brings the labels and function of each interactive to life. Diana is one of those rare talents that can mimic any style with speed and her own hand drawn water colour paintings had the soft look many of us have grown up with as kids from reading story books - ideal for our instructional signage.
An earlier concept
An earlier concept showing the Cooking Tunnel and seating pods near it in the far right corner. The Time Machine (just above it) is then only a concept and we still hadn't found a way to present the Magic Garden's most complex health issues. This is when Sylvie Gustafsson came onboard and changed that - a major milestone was reached and an innovation created as she guided kid's own natural sense of curiosity using Children's Philosophy in interactive media.
We added children to the rendering to give the space a sense of scale. It helped us plan running corridors and active spaces, and we reduced the number of interactives.
The Globe Trotter is shown here as a yellow pod with the green leaves sticking out like seats near the bottom left. Kids would rock the Google Earth style globe inside by using the Globe Trotter like a seesaw. Its final design was a rocking cactus.
Earliest 3D rendered concept
The earliest 3D rendered concept shows a river as a conveyor belt for your food that would be floated down on a digitally projected gondola driven by a gnome. I had a thing with gnomes and fairies, they were a part of my Swedish heritage and childhood. The concept was an organic version of the Powerhouse Museum's focus on design and technology. The Globe Trotter here is the big brown excavating drill kids would use to mine their way and dig a tunnel to their destinations like China and Dubai where they'd see the healthy mealtime habits of families and kids. I based this on a childhood memory of digging a tunnel to China with friends. Sylvie championed the content of this and discovered that the Inuit's ice cream is berries mixed with seal blubber.
The Cooking Tunnel is in the top right, and kids were to finish up in the Time Machine to the right. At this early stage we were toying with the idea of letting children see in the Time Machine how they would look when they were older using the similar software used by detectives.
Earlier concepts than this were hand sketched.
Cooking Tunnel becomes Salad Tosser
The Cooking Tunnel began to take shape and turned into a Salad Tosser. As a child, you selected to be an ingredient among a range of different salads, stepped into the rotating drum and began crawling and rolling... being tossed in a soft space as the main ingredient of the salad. As you rolled about you also saw imagery of the salad being prepared stage by stage. When you were done, you were rewarded with how tasty you as the ingredient and the salad were and then left out the other end.
The ride was prototyped but cut short in development. The Museum wanted to resurrect its development a number of times to coincide with their desire to install the Magic Garden in a number of hospitals around the Asia Pacific.
The design was motor assisted for safety and to suit all ages and the spheres were made from patchwork of pressed aluminium.
Cool Carrot Picnic
Cool Carrot Picnic design
The Cool Carrot Picnic, a concept of 3rd year students from University of Technology was the earliest idea to be prototyped and built. Press down on the seed into the earth to grow a carrot, and up pops (grows) a carrot next to it.
Globe Trotter's final concept
The Globe Trotter as a final concept before development began together with John Levey of Levtec, a wizard in model making, prototyping with beautiful finishes, and problem solving. It was an incredible pleasure working with John, feeding each other with ideas and materials to till the end result came about.
Globe Trotter's conceptual workings
Drawings showing the final concept of the cactus shape. I knew the rubber pads would not be enough to limit the turning and "joystick" movement of the unit - a movement that was essential for tracking across the earth like you do using Google Earth. Each alternative solution was then prototyped.
Prototyping the Globe Trotter
Prototype maker John Levey (left) meets John Hirsch, electronics engineer, to explore physical boundaries and ways we can read the movement of the rocking cactus. We then conceived installing a joystick. Different versions here are shown developed over time for softening movement and limiting rotation (so as not to sever cables) and a white HDPE bridge was machined to house the screen displaying multimedia.
Globe Trotter electronics
The joystick was mounted directly below the screen and programming began on the globe Trotter.
Globe Trotter launched
The final design on launch day and a few cut scenes from the multimedia from when you visited a family in Paris... as well as a skeleton stranded on a raft when you visited food deserts like an open ocean. Sylvie Gustafsson's multimedia brief and Diana Trans' watercolour illustrations created a far more seductive and magical experience than the realism of Google Earth could have. - Being a culinary tourist can be offputting if you have a limited palate and you're learning about exotic foods you've never tasted. Illustrations subdue that affect while photography can be too impacting for beginner explorers like children.
2 friendly pumpkins
The Pumpkin Climbing Arch with 2 friendly pumpkins
1. A beat boxing pumpkin that kept rapping healthy rhymes so long as you danced.
2. A friendly confidant that offered secret pumpkin recipes and a clever #kitchenhack.
Pumpkin Climbing Arch with 2 innovations
2 Innovations: I designed and developed ways to increase the accuracy of working with HDPE (playground plastic) and introduced ways to attach metal components. HDPE is perfect for tough environments like playgrounds, but it deforms so easily that it's pain to work with. It's one reason why playgrounds are so clunky and ugly - they overcompensate with size because it's 'impossible' to achieve fine features. Here I proved playground designers wrong.
Without the accuracy we wouldn't have been able to achieve the magic and precision necessary to hide the structure. Hiding installation logic is so essential to making designs vandal resistant - what you don't see you don't know is there.
I had had great prototyping support from our workshop team (Geoff Drane and Steve Mason) and knowledge in plastic-welding from Rotadyne who moulded our spheres to drawings.
Making the Pumpkin Climbing Arc
The new construction technique I developed was perfected by our awesome workshop staff Geoff Drane and Steve Mason, and the arc built.
The photos also show Nyein hard at work in the late hours with me before launch, who supplied the awesome Magic Garden photography was and is one exceptionally creative and philanthropic industrial designer. His hand crafting skills and eye for creating comics were essential for shaping the faces and masking the insides with tape to block the light. Tape was the best option after trying many other methods.
Sweet treats looks like an ice cream
Sweet Treats was inspired by the image of a child that had dropped a melting raspberry ice cream (in a wafer cone) on the ground during a hot day.
Sweet Treats had 3 main experiences to form the game.
A tunnel with motion sensors detected your movement as you felt a replica of a sweet food. The registered detection then began the multimedia show. A speaker and screen rewarded you first with a show that confirmed what you thought you were feeling. You were then presented with what happens if you eat too much of the sweet food. - Too much ice cream gives you brain freeze.
The delectable dripping cream theme was carried through the interface. The theme played on children's love of mess. Playing with mess is a concept that never leaves us. That and many other forms of familiar play from our childhood lowers our inhibitions to take on risk such as trying new experiences. It's essential to being a culinary tourist.
Festivals ignite the child in you.
The design had 4 CNC machined interfaces delivered from Detekt in China on record time. Getting the 3D file right to suit the spheres that were dynamically different in form to each other, was a challenge. Working with HDPE (playground plastic) can be a challenge but can be mastered as well to produce a rewarding result. By the time I had completed the Magic Garden I became confident in designing beautiful and durable (vandal resistant) experiences using the material where most balked at the idea of trying.
Development of Sweet Treats
John Levey at Levtec at work producing an amazingly beautiful finish after a delivery of spheres from Rotadyne, our electronics, a spun aluminium cone (as the wafer cone) and the CNC machined interfaces from Detekt in China. It was a global effort, like so many of the other interactives.
Exhibitions usually take shape quickest the final days before launch.
I take these photos because I truly love doing production liaison and guiding the creative development of new technologies.
Time Machine Design
As more of the exhibition began to materialise, new challenges came to light. How were we going to nestle the grapefruit-shaped Time Machine so that it would appear to grow out of the undulating landscape. I quickly suggested that a tubular ring welded to the base would abosrb any uneven surfaces and gaps, and that we could rest it on struts so that the Time Machine could be carried away for repairs. We soon realised it would be easier to repair the unit on the spot. So a sacrificial hook up the top (used only for lifting the unit) was replaced with a leaf made from the leftovers of the sphere.
Time Machine construction
The sphere of Time Machine was made using a patch work of cold-formed aluminium pieces welded together by Dished and Flanged Ends in Victoria. We rolled a whole sphere into the workshop of Warringah Aluinium who did a beautiful job transforming it into the cave of curiosity we designed it to be. And all in under 10 days, and only days to launch. This style of patchwork is used for creating massive water tanks for cities as well as the end caps of tanks fitted to semitrailers.
Time Machine multimedia
The Time Machine was the master thesis of Sylvie Gustafsson.
A sense of magic was needed to help kids leave at the opening any preconceived ideas of what was healthy (prescribed by TV and adults) and step inside with the imagination and natural sense of wonder about what could be possible. By guiding Joey the kangaroo through his life story of making healthy vs unhealthy choices, kids explored questions that often go unanswered, questions that are important to children's development and reasoning ability.
The story was narrated by an animatronic wise kaookaburra - a reference to philosopher Immaneul Kant.
The Picnic Table
Kids love role playing with tea seats. Wanting to transform that concept into an outdoor setting made me reminisce childhood memories of having picnics by the lakesides and smooth granite rock islands in Sweden.
Cladding the Picnic Table
The oversized machine was difficult to fit physically and aesthetically into the space but we came up with the idea of making dressing it as a giant picnic basket with 2 picnic benches.
Picnic Table's game popular design
The Natural User Interface of the Picnic Table worked using continuous play - kids loved to be in a productive flow of unpacking a picnic. Being in a flow is a source of happiness and games that place you in such a flow are happiness engines. Tetris is one of those games you can play forever.
The Picnic Table remained one of the Museum's most successful long-term attractions.
To prevent the computer crashing from too many finger touches, we elegantly ended each game after a few minutes with approaching rain. We had also thought of having ants carry your food away if you didn't keep an eye on it.
The Picnic Table's workings
The game was developed using a Gesturetek SDK and the setup involved a projector and mirror, an array of LED illuminators built into the frame to highlight the touches for an infra red camera to detect from within the table.
Undulating floor system
Green hills and valleys and the natural experiences of growing up running over them was the inspiration for the design. It had a major technical and interactive benefits too.
Floor tiles assembled - first test
Creating an undulating floor is always a safety and maintenance risk, but the benefits paid off through several iterations of the design.
The floor system was so successful it became an interactive experience on its own.
This photo was taken as we tested in our workshop facility the strength of the glass fiber tiles before the R&D and heavy work began in laying down the softfall rubber.
Floor design and construction
We designed the floor as a system of glass fibre tiles that were then covered with layers of different Softfall rubber, coloured to look like grass. The interactive units would then drop into pockets holes left created by cookie cutter forms we designed. Hidden underneath these tiles were data and power cables running to each interactive experience from the big green title-wall you see in the first rendering and photos. Essential to the design was also the painted surface that gave us a screen to project the interactive rock pool. The system triggered me to create many unique solutions involving a lot of experimental work and testing done thanks to our awesome workshop staff Geoff Drane and Steve Mason.
The Garden Gate is a mixed reality experience where you see yourself on the screen, actively setting birds free. Rather than teach kids about exercise it gets them to move and connect it with fun.
Garden Gate's development
The Garden Gate used Gesturetek technology involving a projector, camera and game using edge detection of visitor's bodies as the trigger for animations of birds flying freely away.
A number of projection screens were tested and we ultimately chose an opaque finish for the 2 layers of bullet proof glass (to protect not only visitors but the film too).
Garden Gate installation
Just days prior to opening:
The projector had been installed in the ceiling.
The camera was angled to capture the children moving
The title-wall had been painted to create a green screen that would digitally be edited out in real time and replaced with a beach scene.
All the wires were running through the floor and ceiling to the computer services stored in the well ventilated cabinets hidden behind the title wall. Ensuring adequate ventilation for electronics in itself is way trickier than most would think.
Digital Rock Pool concept
Nyein Aung's first hand sketch of what the digital rock pool could look like. At this stage it was a pond.
Digital Rock Pool
The design went from being a pond to being a rock pool to inspire families to spend more time outdoors along Sydney's harbor and coastline of cliffs.
Like most interactive projections, the Digital Rock Pool used as much of the full real estate (projected area) available. All animated images used photography from Sydney's coastline.
Gesturetek technology comprising a projector, infra red LED illuminators to highlight children, and an infra red camera to capture the children moving in real time.
The design facilitated a great memory game of words.
A lot of work went into getting the plastic mushrooms touch sensitive without revealing the technology and still making vandal resistant. Creating the magic or an illusion is so important to suspend doubt and open visitors to play.
Each stalk like the Garden Gate was first air brushed with heat resistant paints to cope with a double coat of clear powder coating.
Step by step the exhibition takes shape.
The title-wall hiding the ventilated cabinet of PC's is painted as a reen screen for the Garden gate. The tiles are moved in, touched up, and painted to create a projection screen for the Digital Rock Pool. The Picnic Table, fairy Mushroom village and all electronics are calibrated in their new position.