Titanosaur: Life as the biggest dinosaur opens at the Natural History Museum, London (NHM) with an exhibition designed like a pop-up book.
The Museum’s in-house team designed the exhibition, working with Clay Interactive for animated elements and DHA Designs for the lighting.
The interactive exhibition is designed to appeal to visitors aged five and up, explains Eleonora Rosatone, design lead and exhibition design manager at the museum. Its design language carries the concept through the exhibition in various ways, as visitors follow the life story of the 57-tonne dinosaur.
While the exhibition is “bookended” by the graphic hand-made feel already established in its marketing, the concept of the pop-up book evolves on entering the space. The build features angled walls with “folds” and layers of scenery, and angled inset areas featuring exhibition text give the sense of “an opening door”, to entice visitors “to go into the next chapter”, Rosatone says.
An initial space introduces the Titanosaur, featuring a real femur fossil specimen. Against its gigantic scale, a cylindrical panel that can be turned by visitors contrasts femurs from different animals, including the human, to put into context one of the largest animals to ever walk the Earth.
Then, in a “Mary Poppins moment” as Rosatone puts it, visitors enter a section that follows the life story of a Titanosaur from egg to adulthood. Here the colour scheme transitions to monochrome, with white walls covered in hand-drawn illustrations by Krishna Balakrishnan.
While appearing whimsical and light in tone, all of this had to be verified by the NHM’s scientists and dinosaur experts Rosatone says, in an “intense process” of back-and-forth to correct details such as the shapes of the dinosaur eggs.
Animations bring these drawings to life in interactive displays, where visitors are asked to press drawings of eggs to hatch them and embark on a “survival game”, which sees a herd of young Titanosaurs look for food and shelter. A highlight colour of orange indicates interactive elements, breaking from the otherwise monotone palette of the space.
The exhibition largely uses ply for the displays. Rosatone explains that the impact of the war in Ukraine made the materials “very difficult to find”; after sourcing the wood from Italy, “we had to make sure that we can trace it all back and that it’s all sustainable”, she adds.
Further interactive elements of various forms are found within the exhibition. Further on, as the Titanosaur of the narrative is getting older, a platform weighing scale is placed for visitors to measure their weight in relation to Titanosaurs of various ages. The more people join, the more an animated dinosaur “grows” in proportion to their weight.
Another interactive space simulates the bodily workings of the dinosaur. You can push a button to inflate the dinosaur’s lungs, press on its heart to pump blood, squeeze a fabric-covered tube to pass food along its intestines and – to the hopeful delight of young visitors – “finish off the job” – accompanied by sound effects and a brown light. Continuing the hand-made feel of the exhibition, this area, created in collaboration with Clay Interactive, features cut-out style shapes to represent the various body parts.
The final and largest space in the exhibition reveals the full-scale 2.67 tonne cast of the Titanosaur – so big that its tail snakes out above the enclosure. As its pose was also tested for accuracy by the scientists at the Museum, the options were to move a vertebra or have it escape the enclosure, Rosatone explains. Lavender lighting allows the skeleton to stand out from the neutral palette of the 3D displays.
Interactive footprints created by the museum’s internal SFX team are embedded in the carpet and vibrate when stepped on, evoking the sense of the dinosaur’s thundering footsteps nearby.
In this iteration of the travelling exhibition, the skeleton is mounted directly on the floor, and visitors are able to pass under it, thanks to a custom system of skaters underneath the floor.
Rosatone explains that although a temporary exhibition and therefore made of modular parts, the team was keen that it felt bespoke. This was one of the most significant factors in the design, she says.
Titanosaur: Life as the biggest dinosaur opens on Friday 31 March 2023 at the Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London, SW7 5BD.
All images courtesy of the Trustees of the Natural History Museum.