California Academy of Sciences

California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park

California Academy of Sciences logo


"Dolby was the only system that allowed us to connect an external 3D computer graphics cluster to the display and allow it to be used in 3D mode." 

Blair Parkin,
Founder of Visual Acuity, California Academy of Sciences

Outstanding performance, a hassle-free setup, and superior customer service—those are a few of the reasons that one of the world’s leading museums selected Dolby 3D for its in-house theatre.

Since reopening in September 2008, the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park has been praised for its innovative architecture and ingenious design. The new building, by renowned architect Renzo Piano, features a state-of-the-art planetarium, a four-story indoor rain forest, and a "living roof" equal in size to two football fields and seeded with native plants. In such an exceptional environment, a run-of-the-mill cinema experience would be underwhelming at best.

To insure that its educational films were as compelling as the rest of its displays, the museum turned to the veteran media and technology consultants at Visual Acuity. As Blair Parkin, founder and Managing Director of the firm, explains, "For each project, we work with next-generation technology, covering everything from computers and networks to projection, displays, lighting, and construction materials. If you build something specific for today, it won't be right, so we have to be futurists, looking at what's likely to be created tomorrow."

For Hearst Forum, the museum's 140-seat theatre, Parkin and his colleagues recommended Dolby 3D. "The principal selection criteria were quality of image, simplicity of setup, and the willingness of Dolby personnel to get involved in this exciting project," says Parkin. "Visual Acuity works with 3D displays on projects all over the world and has been very impressed with the 3D implementation that Dolby does. The colors are pure and the contrast is exceptional with little or no crosstalk between the eyes."

Blair Parkin, Founder of Visual Acuity

Blair Parkin,
Founder of Visual Acuity

Visual Acuity logo

The installation at the California Academy of Sciences is understood to be the world's first fully DCI-compliant cinema within a science institution. In addition to a Barco DP-2000 digital cinema projector, AMX® controller, and Meyer Sound 7.1 system, the setup features an HP®/Nvidia® real-time graphics cluster and SCISS AB's Uniview 3D visualization software. These latter components support lectures and presentations—critical to the museum's mission of bringing audiences closer to nature, and something that Visual Acuity discovered only Dolby 3D could handle.

"Dolby was the only system that allowed us to connect an external 3D computer graphics cluster to the display and allow it to be used in 3D mode," says Parkin. "All of the other 3D cinema systems only permitted auxiliary display of 2D sources. This 3D arrangement had never been done before, and makes a real difference for a museum using DCI theatre technology."

The screen in Hearst Forum measures 13 by 24 feet, and more often than not stunning images from the tropical forests of Borneo can be seen gracing its white, nonperforated surface. The specially produced 3D feature Bugs has been showing seven times a day since the museum opened, and every show has been a sellout.

Not surprisingly, the reaction thus far from viewers and staff alike has been overwhelmingly positive. Even handling the reusable 3D glasses has proven to be surprisingly easy. Twice a day an usher wheels a trolley of used eyewear to the museum's basement for washing. "The academy looked into allocating additional resources for issuing, collecting, and cleansing glasses," says Parkin, "but it has all gone perfectly smoothly without additional dedicated staff for cleaning the eyewear."3D glasses

The reusable glasses also help the museum in its efforts to protect the environment. Officially recognized as the greenest museum in the world, the building is a model of energy efficiency and environmentally responsible engineering. A 3D system that relied on disposable glasses would generate considerable waste—more than 300,000 pairs of glasses every year. Dolby 3D offers a clean, environmentally sensitive alternative.

Museum executives are understandably pleased with their new Dolby 3D theatre. The key to the project's success was making quality a top priority, according to Ryan Wyatt, Director of Science Visualization at the museum. "We wanted to use the latest technology to bring science closer to people, to immerse them and encourage them to participate, and to make them aware of their environmental responsibilities. To do that, we knew we would need to work with best-of-breed suppliers from around the world." And for 3D digital cinema, of course, that meant Dolby.