Finalist 2023

Submerged: A Journey Through Living Light

TKM9 Group / Sealife Melbourne / Merlin Entertainment

'Submerged' dives into the world of living light, in a multi-sensory digital exhibition made for Sea Life Melbourne.

'Submerged' dives into the world of living light, in a multi-sensory digital exhibition made for Sea Life Melbourne.

From the bioluminescent shorelines of Toyama Bay, Japan, journey with the mysterious Firefly Squid to the Twilight Zone, 600m below, exploring the known and unknown parts of the ocean.

The digital exhibition comes alive with compelling stories, immersive projections and soundscapes, playful interactivity and an artistic spatial design; shining a light on the ocean's brightest creatures and the importance of preserving their delicate bioluminescent ecosystems.

Design Brief:

As one of Melbourne's top tourist attractions, Sea Life needed an alternative, but no less engaging ocean experience while its popular Oceanarium exhibit underwent upgrades.

The solely digital experience had no specimens to replace the live sharks and rays, instead relying on immersive content and lighting to create a new type of engagement.

The temporary installation needed to be accessible and educational for younger audiences and those with varied abilities, maintain visitor numbers over ten months, create multiple points of interaction in a narrowed footprint - all while acting as hoarding while renovations took place.


This project was developed by:

Design Process

Crafted to go deeper than any Aquarium tank, ‘Submerged’ used digital innovation to provide close-up encounters of both miniscule and gigantic animals and their hidden worlds - all within a 62m2 footprint.

The boundaries of the space were redefined while works were carried about behind the scenes. In this reimagined digital world, floors became canvas’, alongside walls, ceilings and human bodies.

To help make this world digestible and build empathy with younger audiences, the experience was curated around the Firefly Squid, with interactions built around where, what, why and how this 3 inch glowing anomaly survives in the harshest environments.

Blending physical and digital, creatives, designers and developers collaborated with local manufacturers to construct areas and content that leaned into its bioluminescent narrative: glowing waves receded into walls, people became bioluminescent creatures, fishing nets held glowing squid, a hanging orb became a glowing beacon to catch prey.

At its core, the Firefly Squid took a moonlit deep dive through eight magical ocean locations, in a 3600 projected film with custom soundscape. From a glittering neon shore in the midst of spawning season, the squids year long journey to the Twilight Zone is shortened to an impressive six minutes that can be viewed from a padded rock and glowing bamboo platform.

Functional, durable, safe, inclusive and easy to maintain, ‘Submerged’ proved that a placeholder could become a main attraction.

Design Excellence

Care was taken to tell a linear narrative that covered all aspects of bioluminescence, above the waves and below. Purposefully constructed as a hyper real digital experience, the content took guests to impossible and fantastical locations, intertwining creatures that could not feasible co-exist within the same location.

Paying homage to its tie to Japanese waters, with minimalistic graphics, textures, materials and sounds providing a point of connection between interactions.

Tunnels feature silhouettes moving through simplified coral forms, with holographic markings that glow under fluorescent light.

Two worlds exist within the ocean - those touched by light and those submerged in darkness. The spatial and content design mirrored this experience, blending contrasting styles: traditional versus modern, real versus hyper real, physical versus digital.

Traditional elements like bamboo and fishing nets were made to glow with fluorescent light. Content was initially realistic, before dissolving into an other-worldly dream. Featured seating created a physical focal point. All added layers and depth to an otherwise digital experience.

The exhibitions purpose was to engage families and tourists, with a focus on primary school groups. Clear messaging was framed for education and retention, with research undertaken to maintain accuracy. Content touchpoints were placed at accessible heights with analytics integrated into interactions to ensure engagement metrics were met.

Interactions were embedded into walls to keep user pathways clear, preventing chokepoints, while padded woollen seating was centralised in the cylindrical room to divide visitors in the space evenly, and to comfortably absorb content. Aluminium frames with removable canvas panelling doubled as both projection canvas and hoarding, covering walls and windows for a more premium finish.

It was delivered in under 4 months, from strategy to production, with only 2 days of revenue lost to installation.

Design Innovation

When a space is renovated, it is usually rendered unusable. But Submerged proves that creativity and opportunity can emerge from a place of logistical sensitivity.

Post-COVID shutdowns, Sea Life needed to regain lost revenue while also closing their main attraction for ten months while it underwent a multi-million dollar renovation. The costly upgrade had the added complexity of removing dozens of live sharks, rays and fish. To ensure their safety, the process would take several weeks.

The idea for the temporary exhibition arose from an idea to turn hoarding into canvas; with projectors, touchscreens, lighting and removable dressing used to transform the environment. Removable graphics covered glass tunnels, while weighted items, self-propping aluminium frames and braced truss work prevented the need to bolt-in to existing floors and walls. Aluminium frames were clad in a projection-friendly cloth, while others had edge-to-edge content printed directly onto the fabric.

To ensure continuous access to the tanks, the compact space was bumped-in quickly to act as a barrier to protect the animals, avoiding stress from projected light and public view. It is designed to be easily dismantled when the renovation is complete. All items were designed to minimise waste, with most items able to be retained or redistributed to other Sea Life locations when they undertake similar works.

The exhibition is easily replicated and can be translated to any market, with universal content aimed at educating visitors on.

Design Impact

With several years of downturn due to the pandemic, the closure of the underwater shark and ray tanks could have been devastating for the business.

After 1 month in market, visitation was down only 1% from 2022 - a sizeable achievement given theOceanarium's traditional pulling power as the core exhibit. Customers also rated it higher than the onsite sensory 4D cinema experience.

Aside from the financial benefits, our digital installation also provided the conservation and educational teams with the ability to talk about converging ecosystems, showing animals at varying depths and how they interact. Equally important, it gave people access to experiences they'd never normally see - like swimming through a pod of vertically sleeping sperm whales.

With aquariums all over the world, Sea Life enclosures will continue to require upgrades and maintenance. This temporary exhibit can be repurposed elsewhere onsite, or reused at any of the 53 sites globally - making it a sustainable and profitable option for future renovations.

Given its eco-message, it was important to the team to ensure the project was designed responsibly. Dressings were kept to a minimum and hardware rented, while all design, testing, manufacturing and installation was done by local contractors to reduce the projects overall carbon footprint.

Submerged continues to be an industry example of how responsible innovation can create opportunity and profitability, while continuing to push creative boundaries.

Circular Design and Sustainability Features

While the intent of the exhibit was to enthral and educate, it has already made a much larger impact in its first few months.

Not only did Submerged prove to be financially beneficial, it also provided the conservation and educational teams with the ability to talk about converging ecosystems, showing precious animals at varying depths and how they interact. Furthermore, our innovative solution gave visitors access to experiences they'd never normally have - like swimming through a pod of vertically sleeping sperm whales, safely without disturbing ocean-life.

It was important to the team to ensure the project was designed responsibly. Dressings were kept to a minimum and hardware rented wherever possible, while all design, testing, manufacturing and installation was done by local contractors to reduce the projects overall carbon footprint.

Sea Life aquariums are located all around the world and require upgrades and maintenance on a regular basis. This temporary exhibit was designed to be easily repurposed or reused at any of the 53 sites globally - making it a highly sustainable and profitable option during Sea Life's future renovations.

Submerged has proven that thoughtful and responsible innovation can create opportunity and profitability, all while continuing to push creative boundaries.

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