Finalist 2023

Tyama: A Deeper Sense of Knowing

Museums Victoria Design Studio / S1T2 / Yaraan Bundle / Yoolongteeyt Dr Vicki Couzens / Colleen Burke / Dirty Puppet

Tyama blends the State Collection, ancient storytelling techniques, and cutting-edge technology in a full-bodied meaning-making journey through Victoria’s nocturnal worlds.

Tyama (chah-muh) is a world-first immersive gaming experience taking visitors on a narrative-driven journey through Victoria's vibrant nocturnal worlds. Uniquely Victorian, Tyama unites First Peoples knowledge, the State Collection, and local expertise to create a deeply spiritual experience of nature. From the Keerray Woorroong verb ‘to know’, Tyama is about knowing with the whole body. It recognises that knowledge is precious and earned through deep engagement with the world around us. It utilises bespoke animation and 360-degree interactive projections in six immersive worlds that respond to movement and sound, so visitors can play an active part in shaping their experience.

Design Brief:

Museums Victoria set out to design a new type of visitor-focused embodied museology to address the:

  • international shift toward narrative-driven experiential learning
  • desire for connected community experiences post-lockdown
  • pressing environmental and mental health benefits of reconnecting people with nature

The brief described a narrative experience that sought to transport visitors into enchanting multisensory worlds based on local First Peoples stories and treasured objects in the State Collection. Victoria’s natural worlds provided the backdrop for interactive play and discovery, weaving nature and humans together within the vast web of life. The experience would:

  • have a strong environmental message aimed at family audiences and tourists
  • leave visitors feeling a deeper personal connection to each other and Victoria
  • deliver an integrated physical and digital environment accessible to all ages and abilities
  • employ Victorians
  • be sustainably minded with reusable infrastructure and hardware
  • be innovative, embodied, spectacular, fun, multisensory, and boundary pushing

This project was developed by:

Design Process

The brief was generated through workshops with top creatives, knowledge holders, audiences, and thorough market research. S1T2’s tender response included an in-depth return brief with a strong visitor-focused strategy across visual, sound, technical, lighting, and experience design.

With a process founded on experimentation, iteration and collaboration, our two organisations developed an agile strategy to allow for fast-paced development to design, install, and execute Tyama in a 12-month timeframe. Museums Victoria’s multidisciplinary design team of spatial and communication designers, content experts and experience designers worked closely with S1T2’s design and technical teams to ensure a cohesive experience.

Core to Tyama’s design was First Peoples ways of Being, Knowing and Doing. Keerray Woorroong citizens Yoolongteeyt Dr Vicki Couzens and Yaraan Bundle co-created Tyama with us, from the initial concept to the fully realised immersive experience. Beyond sharing Indigenous stories, Tyama allowed visitors to engage in traditional embodied knowledge. Just as First Peoples paint ochre on their bodies before a traditional dance, visitors are painted in light with the markings of the animal teachers, transforming them into the creatures themselves. By embodying these storytellers, visitors can see, feel, and experience worlds usually imperceptible to humans. Their contributions also influenced communication design, artistic stylings, scripting, and soundtrack –with a possum skin drum keeping tempo in the bespoke orchestral score created with KLANG.

For the show’s climax, S1T2 partnered with Collingwood-based animation house Dirty Puppet. They translated the real-time gaming worlds into a cinematic experience, on two 26 x 8 metre screens.

The final design implemented 360-degree cinematic floor-to-ceiling projections in six distinct spaces, alive with vibrant, interactive digital experiences across the 1000sqm touring hall. The exhibition seamlessly blends real museum objects with interactive digital content, creating a cohesive and emotionally engaging narrative journey which exceeded our expectations and more importantly, those of our audiences.

Design Excellence

User-focused at its core, full-bodied engagement and visitor agency drove Tyama’s meaning-making. By experiencing the world like animals do, poetic manifestations of knowledge became conduits to wonder and deeper ways of knowing. Experiential learning has the ability to be inclusive and appeals to the broader community, including those who are historically underrepresented in Museums. Through prototyping and audience testing, the UX and narrative journey created a holistic visitor-focused experience.

Functionality is evident in Tyama’s interactive nature, allowing visitors to actively shape their experience. The one-way spatial flow guided visitors through the narrative.

Accessibility was key, with consultants engaged to meet the needs of diverse visitors and providing insights on spatial and communication design as well as the interactive elements in projections. Quiet sessions and social stories provided respite for visitors with sensory sensitivities. Industry standard safety measures were adhered to closely.

S1T2’s art direction was inspired by Tyama’s duality, weaving together realism and abstraction to embody the relationship between First People’s and contemporary sciences’ ways of seeing. Realism was found in anatomically correct proportions, colours and movements. Gestural abstraction was used to ignite imaginations and invite visitors to see the world differently.

Tyama’s aesthetics were visually stunning, with floor-to-ceiling responsive projections and cinematic soundscapes creating a captivating atmosphere. The design team successfully merged physical objects from the State Collection with interactive digital elements. Stylistically, the projections captured details of the worlds in which the animals exist – the dance of refracted moonlight, the pulse of flowing water. Depth, colour, texture and movement created a world of magic, one deeply grounded in real life.

Tyama's innovative design approach sets a new benchmark for excellence in Victoria and internationally. Cutting-edge technology combined with culturally rich narratives creates a model for future immersive exhibitions that transform the way museums engage with their audiences.

Design Innovation

Fuelled by trusted knowledge, Tyama gave visitors agency in their own meaning-making journey. Combining multiple ‘world-firsts’, Tyama pushed boundaries in immersive technology, embodied learning, approach to collections, and steps toward the decolonisation of storytelling.

Collections: Reinventing how visitors experience the State Collections, objects became conduits to worlds humans cannot perceive. Specimens provided real-world context, speaking to the visitors in first person through integrated graphics and text, and giving clues to the immersive environment, allowing for deeper sensory and cerebral engagement.

Technology: Tyama harnessed cutting-edge gaming and projection technology, using Unreal Engine Ndisplay and real-time tracking to bring interactive natural environments to life, creating “The coolest immersive experience we’ve seen at this scale.” (Epic Games). It features some of the largest screens in Victoria with 47 projectors and 80 speakers.

Custom software designed for spatial tracking and sound detection allowed for one-on-one visitor engagement with narratives in real time.

Audio design used 100 channels, seamlessly blending music with interactive sound effects. Recordings of Victorian animals and regional habitats, possum skin drums, and spoken voice were integrated, lending heightened veracity, authenticity, and hyper-locality.

Bespoke animations blended hand-drawn 2D techniques with 3D pre-rendered pipelines, all enhanced by real-time physics, sequenced animations, and particle simulations. Designing creatures that could deliver visitor agency while accurately representing animal behaviour was achieved through collaboration with MV’s species experts.

Designed with accessibility in mind, sensors were carefully calibrated to include responses from people wheelchairs and small children.

First Peoples: Immersive gaming allowed for steps toward decolonising museum story-sharing. Instead of simply ‘taking’ knowledge, visitors could ‘earn the learn’ to discover ‘Tyama,’ a deeper way of knowing and respecting the natural world. This co-creation process allowed for the world-first public sharing of a sacred story which, culturally, could not be shared without engagement in these ancient, embodied storytelling techniques.

Design Impact

Tyama was an all-round success, exceeding social impact, financial and visitation expectations and making waves in the cultural and entertainment industries both at home and abroad.

Commercially, Tyama's had impressive visitation levels (244% predicted visitation). It provided employment for over 100 individuals, primarily in Victoria, across the music, gaming, sciences, First People’s, animation, art, and sciences sectors.

Tyama’s local impact, and national and international touring interest, showcases its economic potential and further promotes Victoria's design and creative culture. It was highlighted as a commercial success story by Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, was the focal point of City of Melbourne's “Only in the City” campaign and was promoted internationally by Visit Victoria. Its recognition in conferences and interest from international entities (SXSW, PAX, REMIX London and Sydney, AMaGA, Fever) highlight its position as an industry-leading experience, setting new standards for museums and immersives globally. Peer recognition across the cultural and entertainment sector is testament to our highly innovative approach to experience design. See ‘confidential information’ for specific examples.

Socially, Tyama inspired hundreds of thousands of social media shares, increased the museums educational and programs engagement, and ultimately changed minds. Tyama received high visitor satisfaction ratings (80% rated it as ‘good’, or ‘very good), and visitor research discovered the unique approach to storytelling led to visitor’s deepened respect and appreciation for nature and the Indigenous cultures of Victoria. 67% of respondents felt they had gained a ‘better understanding of the way First Peoples know nature’ and 61% declared they ‘have greater empathy with the natural environments of Victoria’. This highlights the quality educational content embedded in the experience.

Tyama demonstrates the fruitful outcomes of investing in professional design, not only for creating engaging and innovative experiences, but also for providing meaningful and powerful connections between audiences, nature, and Indigenous knowledge.

Circular Design and Sustainability Features

Tyama demonstrates a commitment to sustainability by implementing a circular design approach. From inception to delivery, Tyama was completed in 12 months, within schedule and budget. This achievement was only possible using agile project methodologies. Taking an iterative approach to developing the experience allowed the team to respond to problems as they arose, and make more effective use of time and materials, with minimal wastage. Completion of the project in such a condensed timeframe called for incredible focus on resources and materials.

Tyama was the first in a series of immersive digital experiences at Melbourne Museum and its built form and technology were designed to be reusable for approximately 10 years. Projectors and other digital hardware were procured with a long-term lifespan in mind. Building materials were chosen for their ability to be reused where possible. When not possible, low-impact materials such as soft fabric screens were chosen as opposed to hard walls to reduce environmental impact. Walls and screens have been dismantled and stored for future use, and modular walls can be repurposed for future immersive experiences. Display cases used were repurposed from past exhibitions and were maintained to be reused in the future.

The exhibition's success reinforces the value of investing in a professional design process to create environmentally conscious and impactful experiences.

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