The sky is nearly black, with dark clouds skidding across the horizon, thunder rumbling, lightning flashing. Then a puff of wind ruffles my hair, drawing me deeper into the storm.
I'm not outside. I'm inside a jaw-dropping theater that adds wind, fog, scent and vibrating seats to storms playing out on a massive, two-story-tall screen. The theater is part of a new $53-million head-turning wing at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, which formally opens to the public Friday.
The 29,000-square-foot addition, which bears a striking resemblance to a blue whale, is the first expansion in the aquarium's 20-year-history. In addition to the 300-seat theater, the high-tech Pacific Visions wing contains:
— a changing exhibit gallery with multimedia displays and projected wall murals;
— an art gallery for cultural events and exhibitions, along with an orientation gallery with a 26-foot-wide media wall; and
— a new main entrance and front plaza with a larger ticketing area and members entrance. Much of the existing greenspace and plaza will stay.
Pacific Visions was designed to explore pressing environmental issues and suggest alternative pathways to a sustainable future.
The addition's main attraction is the immersive theater, which is 130 feet wide has a 32-foot-tall curving screen and a floor projection mechanism.
Currently, the theater is airing an eight-minute, multi-sensory film called “Designing Our Future.” Its message, like that of the addition itself, is that humans can create a better planet through creativity, innovation and willingness to explore and accept new ideas.
The show was developed by the aquarium and the multimedia design firm Cortina Productions in partnership with scientists, filmmakers, storytellers and digital artists.
There is no additional charge to enter the Pacific Visions wing, which is connected to the main aquarium. The film airs four times each hour; people choose which show they would like to attend when entering.
The museum is open daily, except Christmas. Tickets cost $29.95 for adults, $17.95 for children.