With a passion for conserving the oceans, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) is a leading center for ocean exploration and research. In order to educate the population and raise awareness about the state of the oceans, MBARI collaborates with California’s Monterey Bay Aquarium on interactive exhibits, sharing its knowledge about deep-sea science and teaching visitors how they can help protect ocean life.

Mission to the Deep at Monterey Bay Aquarium is one such exhibit and combines high definition video of deep sea animals with the hands on experience of using underwater robots, cameras and a remote controlled submarine to explore the ocean's depths. With three different missions, visitors can photograph deep-sea animals, map underwater mountains and monitor the sea life around a sunken whale carcass.

In order to bring Mission to the Deep to life, Monterey Bay Aquarium called upon Greg Leuenberger, CEO of Sabertooth Productions, Inc. and Ian Williamson, CEO of Whatever Digital, who were respectively responsible for animating and programming the exhibit. Having worked with the Aquarium for many years, Leuenberger and Williamson were well prepared with the technology and know how to make it all work. This included Blackmagic Design products, which have been involved in their work both inside and outside the Aquarium for many years.

Animating the Ocean
Using submersibles, MBARI captures live video of the ocean’s depths, which Leuenberger uses to create 3D animations and motion graphics for the exhibit. All animations are done with Luxology's modo and Autodesk Maya 3D animation software, while compositing is done with Adobe After Effects and editing in Final Cut Pro and Avid Symphony.

Leuenberger uses a Blackmagic Design DeckLink capture and playback device on his 3D animation workstation and an UltraStudio 3D for Thunderbolt based capture and playback on his iMac editing station. Both devices hook up to monitors via a Blackmagic Design HDLink DisplayPort, allowing Greg to view his work from the animation, compositing or editing stages in real time.

“With Blackmagic Design, I can play back the animations quickly and route them to the production monitors,” said Leuenberger. “In order to see what the final image will look like on a larger display, I also use the UltraStudio 3D to quickly feed an HDMI signal into an 48" LED HD screen.”

The result is spectacular 3D animations of the deep sea, such as a submarine’s sonar mapping underwater mountains, mixed with live video displayed on the exhibit’s four large overhead screens, which cycle through the three missions all day long. The exhibit also features four smaller screens running video loops of scientific graphics as well as six LCD touchscreens on which visitors can play interactive missions, thanks to Ian’s technical know how and programming expertise.

Programming the Exhibit
When Williamson first started working with the Aquarium, he faced challenges with transition paths, as the analog extenders didn’t produce the best quality images. In an effort to migrate the workflow to HD-SDI, he built one rack unit server for uncompressed HD with Blackmagic Design’s DeckLink HD Extreme 3D capture and playback card. With the DeckLink, Ian was able to easily run paths over 300 ft. and seamlessly use connectors. He was also able to save money on HD-SDI input panels. To Williamson, it made more sense to use a converter, which he found in the Blackmagic Design HDLink Pro DVI. The HDLink allows Ian to connect the HD-SDI feed to virtually any display he wants.

“When I first started with the Aquarium, I worked on increasing the quality and transmission path of the videos and getting rid of compression, and that’s when I came across Blackmagic Design’s DeckLink capture and playback cards,” said Williamson. “I tested one by connecting to a server and streaming HD video to the displays, and the result was amazing video quality. It’s HD at an affordable price.”

“The HDLink Pro DVI takes the HD-SDI signal and converts it to DVI for the monitors, while cropping the image to the monitors’ resolution,” continued Williamson. “Before, I had to resize the video in after effects since HD wouldn’t crop it perfectly. Now, the HDLink Pro DVI does the work for me and delivers perfect HD resolution, saving me time.”

Mission to the Deep includes four servers each using DeckLink HD Extreme 3D capture and playback cards steaming four channels of live video and 3D animations, playing in sync, to a video wall. An HDLink Pro DVI is used to convert the HD-SDI signals to DVI for the LCD screens and main projector.

Visitors can interact with the missions and photograph deep-sea animals, map underwater mountains and monitor the sea life around a sunken whale carcass on the six touch-screen computers. These touch screens also play in sync with the video wall.

“Blackmagic Design is a huge part of my everyday workflow outside of the Aquarium as well. I use the DeckLink and HDLink cards for development, webcasts and recording in uncompressed formats,” said Williamson.

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