Sandpit creating animation solution for SA Museum


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By Belinda Willis

Sandpit is using its creative expertise to tackle a huge problem for museums and galleries around the world – limited space forcing large chunks of precious collections into storage.

The vibrant creative and technical business based in Kent Town is specifically working with the South Australian Museum to find an interactive animation solution for its indigenous collection.

“The indigenous collection of objects and artworks only has physical room for about 5% of the collection and most museums and galleries have this problem, we call it the iceberg problem,” Sandpit director Sam Haren says.

“We’re developing a product idea, something we are doing research on now is creating a visitor experience platform that helps address this problem.”

The innovative business was founded by Sam and Melbourne-based Dan Koerner in 2012, and also has fellow director Robin Moyer on board to lead the technical team, with offices in Adelaide and Melbourne.

It has tackled creative projects ranging from interactive solutions for the Melbourne Zoo and the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) for its Wonderland exhibition.

Sandpit’s work stretches interstate, including creating the Lost Map for visitors to the Wonderland exhibition in Melbourne.

Wonderland explores the history of the famed Alice in Wonderland tale and Sandpit’s role was to create the Lost Map for visitors that, in turn, triggers interactions with the Melbourne exhibition.

Sam says four different types of maps use near field communication technology to trigger “the magic”, different video, audio and interactive contents adding new layers to the exhibition.

The company’s expertise will soon attract a wider audience, as the exhibition is about to begin an international tour.

Work on the exhibition has also led to another major project working with the ACMI based in Federation Square in Melbourne to create the design concept to renew its permanent exhibition space.

The centre will close while Sandpit works in partnership with Second Story, an international company with three offices in the United States, on a nine-month concept around its layout and design.

It has been a creative journey for Sam to now be jointly running Sandpit; he was previously a board member of the Adelaide Fringe Festival for five years and also ran The Border Project theatre company.

He says it was during one of those fringe festivals that he was working with fellow Sandpit director Dan on an interactive, installation performance based at the Adelaide Zoo – and the idea for the business took hold.

Sandpit director Sam Haren.

Management at the Melbourne Zoo saw the show and asked if the two to create a more permanent experience for its own everyday visitors.

They formed a company named Sandpit – the name reflecting developing and playing with creativity but in a frame – and the ensuing project was in place at Melbourne Zoo for three years.

“We are actually working with Melbourne Zoo on some new prototypes for visitor experiences at the moment,” Sam says.

The client list for the business based in the architecture award-winning Base64 building in Kent Town is impressive.

It is working with the Google Creative Lab in Sydney to explore new ways to use technology and is also beginning another job with the ArtScience Museum in Singapore, but this is “very early days”.

Back in Adelaide, one of the company’s better known projects involved a realistic robot head called Josh, created for the Museum of Discovery (MOD.) on North Terrace until November last year.

The collaboration with animatronics props maker Marshall Tearle led to the creation of a highly realistic teenage head based on Australian actor Yazeed Daher of Safe Harbour on SBS and The Heights on ABC TV, and using his voice.

“It was created around what’s dubbed in Hollywood as Uncanny Valley, something that feels uncomfortable because it’s so real,” Sam says.

Onlookers interact with Josh, the robot at MOD. The installation was at the museum until November last year.

Josh’s eyes followed visitors, he whispered thoughts or phrases, sometimes amusing, pedestrian or surreal, and was designed to question empathy and compassion for robots and what the future of robot rights might look like.

Sam says there has been strong support for the company in SA with a permanent staff of four and more working on contract or on a casual basis, with the core production team based in Adelaide.

“We are looking to expand over the next 12 to 18 months, we’re increasingly doing more work in Sydney and Canberra,” he says.

At this stage, Sam says the creative business needed to remain nimble in a constantly changing technological world and Adelaide was a great base for its growth.

“In my experience and my career, Adelaide has always been a great place for realising and developing new and creative ideas, and having space and various ways to build on those ideas,” he adds.

Feature image: Sandpit’s Robin Moyer, Dan Koerner and Sam Haren.

Industry in focus: Creative Industries

Throughout the month of March, the state’s creative industries will be explored as part of I Choose SA.

South Australia is home to a thriving ecosystem of creative businesses and specialists who are delivering world-class works VFX, TV and film production, app development and the VR space. Read more creative industries stories here.

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