Active Ecosystem (SMF)

Camille Utterback & Michelle Higa Fox


Project Team:
Technical Consultant – Barry Threw
Concept Artist – Meghan Jean Kinder
Character Animator – Masako Miyazaki
3D Artist – Andre Salyer

Active Ecosystem (SMF) is an interactive art installation inspired by the cycles of growth, movement, and decay in the natural and agricultural environment of Sacramento. Located in the Sacramento International Airport’s new ticketing hall, the piece involves a series of 14 LCD screens mounted across the glass surface of a three-story elevator shaft. Animations controlled by the rise and fall of the elevator depict changes in different ecosystems, linking the human movement within the airport to the environment outside.

Conceptually, Active Ecosystem (SMF) continues the airport’s theme of “bringing the outside in,” while capitalizing on what interactive media and dynamic computer systems do best: visualizing time and movement in an open-ended, evolving way. The different scenes in the piece combine both pre-rendered and algorithmically generated animations. Leaves, seeds, fish and other natural elements are hand-drawn, but the movements of those elements are calculated dynamically to always create different behaviors as they grow or move.

Each of the different scenes in Active Ecosystem (SMF) contains multiple responses to the elevator. For example, in the “river” scene, passengers’ pushing a call button on any of the landings starts a series of ripples in the river. When the elevator moves to a new floor, a school of fish follow it. A large, curious fish investigates the elevator wherever it stops. If no one rides the elevator for an extended period of time, an abstract drawing of the river starts to flow. Similarly, in the “tree” scene, falling leaves are blown in different directions as the elevator rises and falls.

In each scene, the elements also change based on time of day and the seasons. The color palette changes from dawn to noon to dusk, mimicking the outside environment. Different local fish, such as king salmon or rainbow trout, swim in the river during the months when they are spawning. Falling autumn leaves are replaced by drifting pollen in the spring.

This piece marks the first collaborative artwork between longtime friends Camille Utterback and Michelle Higa Fox. The pairing draws on Utterback’s expertise in interactive and public art, and Higa Fox’s acclaimed skills as an animator.