The former Discovery Times Square exhibition space in the heart of New York City has now been transformed into National Geographic Encounter: Ocean Odyssey. Officially opened on October 6th of this year, the newly designed space aims to recreate an underwater ocean experience for an audience of all ages. By combining extremely high resolution CGI, advanced sound design and 3D modeling, the National Geographic team and its partners have created an all-immersive “dive” that spans the California Coastline to the greater Pacific Ocean.
Before my visit to the Ocean Odyssey, I had intentionally stayed away from all previews and reviews of the exhibit. The heavily marketed attraction in the biggest tourist spot of Manhattan had claimed that the visit would recreate the closest thing to dive without getting wet, and being an avid diver myself I decided to “jump in.”
The 60,000 square-foot space is divided into multiple areas. Before entering the experience, visitors are brought into a narrow room with large horizontal screens welcoming guests in a multitude of languages, with a heavy emphasis on Japanese greetings and a quick summary of what the experience aims to achieve. Following this, doors open up to the first area, a giant-sized concave screen.
CGI images of a reef in the Solomon Islands are projected in front and on the floor below. A colorful reef bustles with tropical fish, and short sea grass seems to gently move beneath your feet. A predator comes into view, and we are in the front seat to witness an underwater hunt. We are then ushered into the next area. In a dimly lit room, a 3D printed reef envelops you in all directions. Projectors from above continue to display the CGI reef below your feet, mimicking plankton that illuminates with each step while screens in the walls show brilliant, languidly moving jellyfish.
The third room asks visitors to close their eyes, as sounds and faint images bring you to the dark depths of the ocean at night. The stage is set, and we then enter a room where a night feeding frenzy of the Humboldt squid becomes a fight for survival. After the dramatic end of the unpredictable hunt (which I won’t reveal), we walk down and through a kelp forest mirror maze that ends with an interactive area where visitors can play with digital seals and direct their movements using hand gestures.
The last attraction of Ocean Odyssey, and probably the most dramatic, is the “bait ball.” After receiving a pair of 3D glasses, visitors are brought into a theater with a massive rounded screen. A school of feeding anchovies dance seemingly right before your eyes, while a variety of predators attempt to dive into the bait ball and get a share of the fish for themselves. The final predator attack is the most memorable, and is sure to leave a lasting impression of the experience.
Upon leaving the theater, the Ocean Odyssey ends with an interactive area aiming to engage the visitor and raise awareness of the negative lasting impact of climate change and human activity on Earth’s oceans. Holographic displays and engaging quizzes challenge one’s knowledge, and testimonials from famed explorers and scientists spotlight the problems facing of our oceans.
The interaction of technology and science to bring about the experiences of Ocean Odyssey is quite an achievement, and even after walking out into the bustling streets of Manhattan, it achieves its goal of showing off the beauty of our oceans, and raising awareness to a global issue that should concern us all.
National Geographic Encounter: Ocean Odyssey is located at 226 West 44th Street. For more information and tickets, visit www.natgeoencounter.com.