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The Aquarium’s Concept Artist

Claire A.'s avatar

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Monday, August 22, 2011

Claire

We all know the main reason you come to the Aquarium is to see the real live animals, right? We’ve got about 11,000 animals at the Aquarium, but we can’t just put them in a room, can we? We need signs to identify the animals, we need to explain a bit about their habitat, and we like to give a little background on issues affecting the animals or the environment they live in. We also need to make the Aquarium galleries inviting spaces that look great and help educate the public about the Pacific Ocean.

One of the people that helps design our spaces and signs is Alice Hsieh, exhibit graphic designer. Basically, if anyone at the Aquarium needs an artistic representation of something, they go to Alice. As she describes it, Alice works on concept art that comes before the actual exhibit design, so it’s done pretty early in the process. She helps turn exhibit ideas into something for people to look at, sort of like an architect’s rendering of what a new building will look like before it’s built.

First, she uses measurements for the exhibit space to make a rough sketch. Then once that’s approved, she creates a more detailed illustration. Her main tools are Adobe Photoshop and Google Sketchup, a 3D drawing software system that creates models based on real coordinates. But depending on the project, if someone wants something that looks more like a painting, maybe for a presentation, she’ll still turn to good ol’ pen and paper (she’s quite an accomplished artist, after all). She also helps put together signage and collects photos, and sometimes gets roped into helping during special events as a live mural painter.

Alice majored in biology and minored in art in college. At UC Santa Cruz, she took a year-long certification course in scientific illustration, learning both traditional art techniques as well as some digital design methods. “It was definitely a fun class because you get to meet a lot of like-minded people,” she says. Some of her fellow classmates used what they learned in the course to become freelance illustrators or illustrators and art directors for magazines and other publications. But we’re glad Alice ended up with us here at the Aquarium!

The Aquarium’s Concept Artist
This is a Google Sketchup drawing Alice created depicting the new Ocean Science Center featuring the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration's Science on a Sphere®. She says this image was created a couple years before the exhibit opened.  | Alice Hsieh
The Aquarium’s Concept Artist
This is the Adobe Photoshop concept rendering for the Ocean Science Center. Alice used various reference photos to accurately depict the diversity of our guests.  | Alice Hsieh
The Aquarium’s Concept Artist
This painting created in Adobe Photoshop was compiled from separate pencil sketches of the animals, Alice says. It was eventually printed on a banner, which now hangs near the elevators outdoors next to Shark Lagoon.  | Alice Hsieh
The Aquarium’s Concept Artist
This is an example of signage identifying an animal in an exhibit. Alice used Adobe InDesign for the layout and created the range map image in Adobe Illustrator. She also took the photo of the frog and put her biology background to work in researching the range and size of the species.  | Alice Hsieh

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